In line with this year's theme, The Beauty of Empowerment, Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) 2018 has opened up the national edition of the world's most prestigious beauty pageant to feature women who may fall outside the conventional idea of a beauty queen.
Miss Nicol Hunt has prominent tattoos on her right rib, right arm and upper back, and feels the inkings are a form of self-expression and body art.
She was one of 15 finalists unveiled at a media session last Friday on board the Genting Dream, a mega luxury cruise ship with 18 decks and over 1,600 cabins.
The 25-year-old photographer, who is of Chinese, Malay, French and Irish descent, told The New Paper: "Tattoos have been around (since) the Stone Age, and they are an expression of beauty for some tribes. It is how I (choose) to express myself. I can understand why some people would not accept it but I am fond of my (body) art.Nicol HuntPhoto: The Straits Times
"At the end of the day, MUS is embracing diversity and tattoos (are) another form of beauty - that is empowerment."
Miss Hunt admitted: "(My first tattoo) does not have a meaning, I got it as an act of rebellion as a teenager. (Sometimes) I wish I could remove the ink because of the dirty looks (I get) from some - especially older people - but the tattoos are me and I do not intend to cover them up as (they are) a reminder of what makes me who I am."
MUS national director Nuraliza Osman said: "We chose Nicol because aside from being beautiful, she is also different and relevant. While tattoos were frowned upon and associated with gangs and secret societies in Singapore, this is no longer the case.
"Reflecting the evolution of society in that regard, beauty does not equate with perfection, (so) we decided to give Nicol a chance."
Ms Nuraliza clarified that The Miss Universe contest does not have strict regulations against tattoos.
"Traditionally, contestants have not had tattoos, but again, the competition seeks to remain relevant to women all around the world and looks for more than superficial beauty in identifying a winner."Hilary Rupawalla Photo: The Straits Times
Other finalists who do not conform to traditional beauty standards include Miss Hilary Rupawalla, a family lawyer who deals with divorce proceedings.
The 26-year-old, who is of Chinese and Indian descent, said she has always looked different from her peers growing up.
"I am curvy and I have curly hair. Back in school, I was teased about my race and size. (These differences) were definitely in my mind when I applied for MUS - they have always been throughout my life and they (have) never (gone) away.
"I have even seen some comments on online forums saying (of me), 'What is that?' and those are the (type of) comments that would bring girls down," said Miss Rupawalla.Tyen Rasif Photo: The Straits Times
Miss Tyen Rasif feels that having a muscular, toned physique does not undermine a woman's femininity.
The 22-year-old fitness buff and bodybuilder said: "I am aware that my body type is more muscular. I have developed shoulders and a wider back. I do not fit the mould of a typical pageant girl but MUS is more than just being a model - she is a role model. There is beauty in being fit and healthy, and in embracing all body types."
The top 15 finalists will be vying for the crown at the grand finale on Aug 31 at One Farrer Hotel. It is a ticketed event and tickets can be purchased at tnp.sg/mus2018tickets.
Organised by The New Paper and MUS Organisation, MUS 2018 is presented by Dream Cruises for the first time this year.
Mr Michael Goh, senior vice-president of international sales at Genting Cruise Lines, said: "Dream Cruises believes in bringing dreams to life and fulfilling the dreams of others, and the empowerment theme of MUS 2018 is in line with our brand's beliefs.
"We are an equal opportunity employer with a large number of female crew and staff throughout all career levels, and are proud to be part of this international event."
This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.