Next Miss Universe India from a law school? Meet Shivangi Desai

An applicant for Miss Universe India 2024, Shivangi Desai reveals how she balances pageantry and law school work.
Shivangi Desai
Shivangi Desai

Shivangi Desai, presently a fourth year law student at ILS Law College, Pune, hails from a family of doctors and engineers.

Before joining law school, she entered the world of pageantry as a 17-year-old, after being encouraged by her parents. 

In this conversation with Bar & Bench’s Jelsyna Chacko, Desai shares her journey through the world of pageantry, winning Miss Teen Diva in 2021, being a finalist for Miss Grand India, the support system that got her this far and more.

Jelsyna Chacko (JC): When did you develop an interest in pageantry?

Shivangi Desai (SD): The seed of pageantry was sown when I watched Miss India in 2010; I was 8 years back then. I remember being in awe when I witnessed how women were carrying themselves. The interesting part was how each woman looked so different from each other, so there is no set standard for what is considered beautiful. The time I got really interested in pageantry was when Manushi Chillar won Miss World in 2017. It made me realise that if she can do it, I can do it too. My parents always encouraged me to pursue this. My mother felt pageantry would help me groom myself and teach me how to be responsible and at the same time it would teach me time management. And boy, did it teach me all of this and more!

JC: What made you choose law?

SD: I was always fascinated by how the world around me works and how the law revolves around the society we live in. In school, social sciences was my favourite subject. The more I read about it, the more it got me interested.

JC: Can you take us through your journey in pageantry?

SD: My first pageant was May Queen in 2018. My father was a naval officer and within the forces, we had the May Queen Pageant which takes place at Officers Institutes in different parts of the country. I took part in the Pune edition in 2018 and emerged as the first runner-up. Even though I didn't win, it ignited something within me that just made me want to do it more. I also won Miss Photogenic, and this felt like a big deal especially since I don't come from a modelling background. After this, Miss Teen Diva was a turning point in my life. It happened during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Shivangi Desai walking the ramp at Miss Teen Diva
Shivangi Desai walking the ramp at Miss Teen Diva

JC: What did pageantry teach you and what did your support system look like throughout your journey thus far?

SD: Pageantry is overall grooming for life. I could write a book on what pageantry has given me – how to foster friendships, goal setting, discipline, how to focus on things, delayed gratification and self-care, responsibility, time management and so much more. If I ever have a daughter, I would send her for pageantry at least once in her life. Pageantry is about being the best version of yourself and developing your overall personality. I also found my best friends at Miss Teen Diva.

The support I have received from my parents, my younger brother and all my aunts has been unbelievable. During online voting for Miss Teen Diva, my entire family campaigned. They weren’t just spreading the word on social media, but they started an actual campaign. Even my father’s coursemates who studied with him in the Indian Navy made instagram accounts only to vote for me. I am so grateful for having this kind of support system. Just having this backing makes me feel like I can do it.

Another aspect of pageantry is social work; you are expected to support a social cause. My social cause during Miss Teen Diva was women empowerment. I partnered with GirlUp, an organisation hosted at the United Nations Foundation. So we did a few workshops on how to encourage women in STEM and generally engaged in gender sensitisation. 

JC: What are some of the initiatives you have participated in?

SD: Most recently, I launched Project Minakshi, a legal aid initiative. India has one of the finest Constitutions in the world. It is flexible yet rigid where it is supposed to be. But the law is only useful when people are aware of it. It is surprising how little legal awareness people in general have. I wanted to change that through this initiative. The project is named after my late grandmother. She taught me how important it is to give back to the community. The name ‘Minkashi’ means a fearless warrior. So just like the law gives one the tools to fight against injustice, this project name gives a deeper meaning to what I am set out to do. I have visited some schools and colleges and tried to educate students on their rights and duties and what needs to be done in case their rights are violated. 

Shivangi Desai winning Miss Teen Diva in 2021
Shivangi Desai winning Miss Teen Diva in 2021

JC: How did you marry your interest in law with pageantry?

SD: Interestingly, another thing about pageantry is that it made me fall in love with fashion and entertainment law. So I knew what my niche interest in law was even before starting law school. 

My first internship was in fact in the first year with Glam Anand. This gave me exposure to fashion and entertainment law. When I realised something like this existed, it completely blew my mind. It’s a field that is so glamorous but it's also a lot of hard work and has many legal intricacies. During my year-long stint I got exposure to contract drafting, copyright laws, licenses, the needs of the fashion industry and many more aspects. I was also exposed to environmental concerns that the fashion industry poses, given how fast fashion is such an important topic right now. It made me realise how law and fashion lawyers can help cut down on the wastage. 

Later, I also worked with Fashion and Law Journal for about two months, where I got better insight into the intersection between fashion and law. 

One of the lawyers I really want to work with is Priyanka Khimani. Her story is just so inspirational. She has worked her way up and established an all-woman law firm. A lot of women are not really welcome in the law firm space. So I find her story very inspiring. 

Priyanka Khimani
Priyanka Khimani

JC: What does a usual day in your life look like?

SD: My day starts at 5 AM with a short workout and catching up with the news. I then get ready and rush to college for 7 AM lectures till noon, after which I sit in the library and try to study or research/write a paper. I also do a little bit of Q&A practice, and update my social media. Once I am back home, I go for pilates, which is a great exercise. I then catch up with my friends, do some reading, practice my walk till about 7:30 PM, and then go to the gym till 8:30 PM. On weekends, I practice my hair and makeup grooming. I feel its very important to have a proper routine in place. Even if you do a little bit everyday, it still amounts to a lot at the end of the week. If there is anything that gets missed during the week for my law degree or pageant prep, I do it over the weekends.

JC: What advice do you have for someone wanting to set foot in pageantry?

SD: For anyone who wants to get into the pageant industry, they should know themselves very thoroughly. Contrary to popular belief, you can't fake it in pageantry. There’s also so much pressure and so many rounds of judging that eventually, the real you gets exposed. The more you know yourself, the more confident you are. You need to have unshakeable confidence, because you are competing with some of the most beautiful women not just in your country, but across the world. There will always be someone better than you, taller, skinnier, prettier, but its so important to be grounded if you have to be in that cut-throat competition and still believe in yourself and not pay attention to other things that distract you. You also need to have a reality check - take a long hard look at yourself and know what are your strengths and weaknesses are - and this comes only from getting to know yourself. Once you know yourself, you need to work on enhancing your strengths and covering your weaknesses.

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