Miss Lisa Marie White is counting down the days until she represents Singapore at the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas on Dec 20.
It has been two months since she was unveiled as this year's Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) at a Formula 1 after-party and catwalk show at Amber Lounge after going through a closed-door selection process.
Since then, the 22-year-old pageant newbie has gone straight to work to prepare for the competition of her life. She will leave for Las Vegas at the end of the month.
Backing Miss White is an A-list team who are set on grooming her into a possible top 15 finalist at the international finals.
They include MUS' new national director and 2002 winner Nuraliza Osman, who doubles as Miss White's mentor, Level fitness gym owner and former US army coach Alexander Salihin, who is her trainer, local couturier Frederick Lee, who designed her evening gowns and national costume, and former supermodel Hanis Hussey, her catwalk coach.
To build up her portfolio, Miss White posed in several exquisite gowns from Lee's Frederick Lee Couture collection at Singapore Polo Club for a photo shoot organised by the team last month. Her hair and make-up were done by Grego Oh.
Last week, she did another photo shoot, this time in swimwear by Silvian Imberg. The shoot was to build her confidence and give her experience for the swimsuit segment of the pageant. The make-up and styling was done by Mona Gill and Motives cosmetics
Miss White, who is of Malay-Kiwi descent, told The New Paper: "I'm fortunate to have such an amazing group of people behind me who just want the best for me and our country.
"Before the training, I would describe myself as 'skinny fat'. One of the biggest improvements so far is that I've become leaner.
"Attaining the 'perfect body' would have taken at least six months and I had only 1½ months' worth of training, but my body is definitely a lot better. The squats have also improved my posture.
"Mentally, I've learnt to be a lot stronger. I have always been quite sensitive so I've learnt to toughen up."
Working with MUS' adopted charity, Compassion Fund, which offers emotional and financial support to students from lower-income families, and making house visits to beneficiaries have also made her appreciate what she has "taken for granted".
But the 1.73m-tall freelance model and aspiring actress-host admitted that some days are tough.
"Recently, I had a little 'breakdown' because everything got to me. I felt so much pressure to look good and be perfect when perfection is unrealistic. I have to be the best version of myself 24/7.
"It's super stressful, but I was probably just overthinking it. I told myself that I can do it and I should make the most of the experience, which I am grateful for."
On top of that, Miss White continues to battle hurtful comments from detractors on social media who slam her for being an unworthy representative of Singapore.
"It can be quite upsetting that even my own countrymen are not supportive, yet I get nice comments from people in Indonesia," said Miss White.
"I've learnt not to let the criticism affect me and to stop reading these comments. What is more important is the support that I do get."
Asked about her chances in the competition, she said: "If I don't make it to the Top 15, I'm still grateful to all the people who have helped me and this learning experience."
Lee makes her feel like a million bucks
Every Cinderella needs a fairy godmother and luckily for Miss Lisa Marie White, she has local couturier Frederick Lee to thank for his magic touch.
Lee, 45, is providing her with a selection of evening gowns, both custom-made and ready-made from his Frederick Lee Couture collection, for next month's Miss Universe international finals.
He is also the man behind her national costume.
Last year's Miss Universe Singapore winner Rathi Menon donned a glitzy, star-spangled gold bodysuit with matching thigh-high boots and sported a giant crescent and stars on her back. It was designed by Spanish-Venezuelan celebrity designer Alejandro Fajardo, who has created outfits for US singer Jennifer Lopez.
This was partly why Lee, who has designed evening gowns for past MUS winners like Nuraliza Osman in 2002, agreed to come on board again this year.
"Do we really need a foreign designer to design our very own national costume? It's very sad. It bothered me because nothing about the costume screamed 'Singapore'," he told The New Paper.
He agreed to sponsor Miss White's pageant gowns after she impressed him with her confidence and positivity when they met last month. "She's very down-to-earth and beautiful, a pleasant person with good character who makes people around her feel at ease," he said.
One of Miss White's evening gown options is a white dress that took over 300 hours to make. Hand-sewn with Swarovski crystals, it costs about $9,000.
Miss White gushed: "He's like a haute couture fairy godmother, his outfits make me feel like a princess. They are very royal and elegant.
"These are gowns that I probably wouldn't even afford, let alone wear, had it not been for this competition.
"I feel like a million bucks when I put his gowns on. I feel like Miss Universe."
This article was first published on November 19, 2015.
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