Meggy Pyaneeandee: Miss Ile de France 2017 was never my dream

Meggy Pyaneeandee
Meggy was set on getting the best grades and never thought of contesting for a beauty pageant Click To Tweet

“Miss Ile de France (region of Paris) was never my dream but it became one as I realized what it could mean for women of colour to represent beauty in a supposedly “white” region.” These were the words of Meggy Pyaneeandee when she spoke of her election as a representative for the region of Paris in Miss France 2017.

Meggy, who grew up in the hood of Paris (in the suburb of Paris) has always had one dream and that is to get into a prestigious university, excel and help educate other children in the hood as she believes education is the only way out for people who are not part of the elite. Born to Mauritian immigrants who moved to Paris when they were just 20, Meggy witnessed firsthand the hardships of living in the hood and as her parents never got the opportunity for higher education, their dream was to get Meggy the best education they could.

Meggy through ambition and positive action got into Sciences Po – one of the most prestigious universities in France which used to be restricted to the elite. This was the first step to reaching her goals as she got the opportunity to live and work in New York for a year which was on her dream board.
With Meggy set on getting the best grades in the field of Marketing, she never thought of contesting for a beauty pageant.

That was until she chanced upon French journalist, Francois Durpaire who made her understand that her personality would make a great difference as no one has a story like hers. Then Meggy realized that representing beauty for the region of Paris as a woman of colour would not only empower women like her but it would also encourage the children in the hood to dream bigger.

How and why did you join Miss France 2017?

I walked for a fashion show in March 2016 for a friend who needed models at the last minute. I didn’t know how to walk or anything but I did it to help her and that’s where I met a French journalist called Francois Durpaire. We had the opportunity to talk at the after party and when I told him I was in Sciences Po, he told me he was going to come for a conference in a week.

I attended the conference and we talked again, that’s when he told me about being a member of the “Miss Ile de France” committee. I found it funny that a serious person like him would be a part of something superficial like a beauty pageant. When I shared this with him, he told me to just give it a try. I then spoke to my parents about this opportunity and my mom basically told me she wouldn’t speak to me if I don’t go for the casting. And so, it began.

The reason I agreed to join was because I knew from the beginning that my participation was going to be different as I was different. Most of the girls in the contest had dreamt of this day while I had never thought of it. I never even thought I had a chance to compete because I didn’t think I was “beautiful enough”. But when Francois told me that I had my chances and that my personality would also make a difference, I realized how big this could be.

There was something symbolic about representing beauty for the region of Paris because I am a woman of colour. Some would hardly call me black because I also look Indian but to me, my skin tone is dark, I am Mauritian and because of it I’m a mixed girl. I grew up with immigrants in the hood. I entered one of the most prestigious schools in France and I am still living in the hood. I knew there couldn’t be another girl like me in the contest with the same speech. From the beginning I knew my body would not be my chance to stand out. My speech would and I was right.

There was something symbolic about representing beauty for the region of Paris as I'm a woman of colour Click To Tweet

What did being elected as Miss Ile de France mean to you? What kind of responses did you receive after the election from the community and other contestants?

It was such an honor and a pride. I know I won thanks to my speech and it was empowering to people like me who come from the bottom and sometimes feel like it’s forbidden to dream. I just wanted to let everyone know that you can do whatever you want to do if you work and if you are well surrounded.

With regards to the responses, I received all sorts. To be honest I mostly saw, in the beginning, nice comments. People were very surprised that I would be elected. Unconsciously, no one expects a non-white girl to be elected. I remember when I posted my official photo on Twitter, I had a lot of retweets and most of them were black people.

But the show isn’t popular in my region so I wasn’t the girl everybody would hear about suddenly. The Mayor of my city got very excited and immediately asked to meet me and write about me on the journal. There were also the racist comments I would rather forget. I received very different responses from the contestants. We were 30 in number – some were indifferent, others adored me. I, however, got close to 3 girls during the entire month and we cheered each other.

What was the criteria for your election? What preparations/sacrifices did you make towards both Miss Ile de France and Miss France?

It was a beauty pageant contest so we needed to be at least 170cm tall, pretty, slim, mostly with a nice body and elegant. The show for the contest is made up of several dances, walks, and speech so they wanted cheerful and self-motivated women.

For my preparations towards Miss France, I had to gain 5kgs because I was always a little too skinny. I had to work out and eat way more to do so. I also learned how to catwalk; walk in heels and hold myself right. These were things I had planned to do at some point in my life so I was happy to finally do so.

I was lucky I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. It was my gap year and I was supposed to do internships. I told my school about my election and asked them to give me 5 months off and consider it as an internship. I was going to be away for a month during the Miss France contest so I knew no enterprise would seriously hire me for 3 months. I was lucky my school supported me.

What was your biggest challenge and achievement in the contests?

My biggest challenge was being on stage and looking confident in my body when I wasn’t. I’ve always been bullied about being too skinny so being in a “beauty pageant” was hard to believe. I also had to show my body with a smile in front of millions of people which was unnerving but I knew why I was doing it. I also knew that though I had been selected on physical aspects, I could tell people how I feel about beauty.

My biggest achievement was my speech. Also, that I remained myself the entire time. Even though people saw me differently, I was the same Meggy and I’m proud of that.

My biggest challenge was being on stage and looking confident in my body when I wasn’t Click To Tweet

How has life been after the pageant personally and professionally? Will you say you have achieved your goal with this pageant?

Professionally nothing happened to me related to Miss France. I had to find an internship on LinkedIn. I worked for an audiovisual production company. But I met interesting people who are now a part of my network and can help me someday. Francois Durpaire is first on my list.

Personally, I’m still the same Meggy with a dream to excel in school but also a representative for my region as I am sometimes invited to events where I have to wear my sash. I am sometimes recognized on the streets and people take photos with me. It’s so weird because I feel like I’m nobody but it seems I’m ‘famous’ to the people who saw me on TV. When I have autographs sessions, it sometimes gets very emotional for those who relate to my story.

Have I achieved my goals? Yes and no. I achieved my goal of delivering my speech in front of millions of people (Miss France is the most watched show of the year on TV) but I feel like people didn’t get it because I was giving it at the wrong place. I was hoping a woman of colour being a contestant at Miss France would make a difference but obviously, it did not. I made it to the top 10 and that was it. I did not have many votes. And given the racist comments after my election, I felt like I did all of this for nothing (which is wrong of course). But imagine giving an empowering speech and all people can see is your skin colour, body size, and looks? I suppose I was expecting too much. I should have known that it is a beauty contest and people only care about physical beauty and that’s that!

Maxima Nsimenta: How to build a successful cosmetic brand

maxima nsimenta
Maxima Nsimenta is proving to herself & the world that quality can be made in Uganda Click To Tweet

Ironically, some young people are spending countless hours drafting and sending job application letters in search of white color jobs, while those employed, are quitting pursuing their passions in businesses. What’s more, the latter are not only becoming regional brands but also going ahead to create employment.

With the ever eluding job opportunities and increasing cost of living, it is time young Africans started thinking of what “they can do to their countries” instead of the other way round. That said SLA contributor Maureen Murori caught up with a young entrepreneurial Ugandan lady, whose life’s motto is: “Why not?”

Maxima Nsimenta is the CEO and managing partner at Livara, a cosmetics company dealing with natural skin and beauty products. The Steve Jobs inspirational quote: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me,” is what keeps Maxima awake striving to do something different but wonderful!

Maxima and Maureen spoke extensively about founding Livara and Maxima’s personal growth since the venture. Here is what Maxima shared:

For some young people, starting and running a business is a challenging task that they would rather not take up. What was/is the inspiration behind your venture?

While I was still employed as a Field Engineer at one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies, I had the opportunity to travel vastly. During my travels, I noticed that some of the high-end cosmetics products used oils and ingredients from Africa. It is these oils that especially made the products that much more valuable.

Whenever I’d return home, I’d notice that we weren’t adding value to these oils locally. This seriously perplexed me. In addition to this, after about one and a half years of employment, I stopped getting the fulfillment I initially had with the job. I felt empty and purposeless. It started becoming more of a mechanical aspect of my daily life.

Yet, when I indulged myself in beauty and cosmetics, I felt content. I then proposed to build a company that would manufacture top quality natural and organic cosmetics that would compete with the international brands. However, I’d do it from my country, Uganda. I planned to prove to myself and the world that quality can be made in Uganda. It took me about a year to prepare for Livara; mentally, financially, structurally. Then when I had my minimums in place, I took the leap.

When people are starting out a business, there are several things that they learn on the job. What are some of the things (positive or negative) that you learned about your business or self since starting your venture?


Before I started out in business, I was used to getting what I wanted when I wanted and how I wanted it. In business, especially the manufacturing business, everything is based on processes and systems. Given that I’m building my company based on systems, it always hits me at home where it hurts. Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait.

I have learnt to respect people’s time and competencies a lot more. I have also come to understand and learn the value of teamwork from a front row seat, I cannot do everything alone. Business has taught me to learn to trust and rely on people to do their job, a lot more than I used to before.

I have become addicted to knowledge acquisition. Nowadays, I read a lot more to be on top of my game. However, because of this, I realize that I have less time to build my other personal relationships -many of which have been affected. I hope it pays off eventually.

Most importantly, I have become more spiritual than before. I have put my hope and trust in God, to guide and help me with the things that are beyond my control. There are several things that could have gone wrong but suddenly and unexplainably did not. For me, that is my God at work; leading me through this journey.

Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait Click To Tweet

What skills did you acquire either through practice, work placement or learning institution to improve business?

I’m not certain if research is a skill or a culture! But it is the most important thing that I picked up from my previous jobs. I only executed plans after more than adequate research had been carried out.

Before my business, I had three jobs that were all scientific and research based. I’d literally spend nights up learning about different things related to one particular aspect of a bigger picture. It was my job to adequately understand the pros and cons and have a comprehensive yet conclusive position on any decision I made. This research-based decision making has been a fundamental skill for my business today.

Presentation skills: Many may overlook this, but this is crucial. Although acquired and built over time since my university days, presentation skills have become a great acquisition that has helped me to negotiate better deals for myself and my business.

Report writing: This includes writing project studies and reports. This is a skill that helped me write my business plan that won me incubation space at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute where we are based. Had I not known how to write a business plan and adequately present it, I do not know how far I would have come by now!

Communication and interpersonal skills are other skills that keep on resurfacing and pushing me forward. The two keep evolving and changing with different circumstances. So, the basics molded me. And they continue to do so, even today. In the end, I’ve learned that it is always the relationships we have that help to either build us or break us in life.


What is the greatest challenge you have experienced so far and how did you, or are you handling it?

Opening my first store has been my greatest challenge since I started Livara. To open up a store required me to have a substantial amount of money in place, a good variety of products; an effective low-cost marketing strategy and it would also mean an increase in the number of employees.

Opening the store was imperative for growth. However, it meant that my costs would increase drastically. I had to study the company’s growth since the release of our first products on June 25, 2015. Then weigh the pros and cons of opening a store. In the end, I had to risk it and take the leap. I opened my first store on December 2, 2016.

My dream is to have 6,000 Livara stores around Africa. I also realize that this dream started with the first store, and for me to achieve my dream, I needed to stop procrastinating and open shop!
I continue to review the company’s growth financially and market wisely as we look for ways to expand at the least possible cost.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

My most rewarding experience is when someone sends me a message telling me how my products have improved their life. I started Livara to make a difference in Africa and to impact people’s lives positively. So, when a mother writes to me mentioning how her daughter’s skin is much healthier since she used Baby Opal; or how her daughter’s hair has grown and is more manageable since she started using the Livara hair care line; or when a young gentleman calls me to tell me that his formally receding hairline is back and his hair is thicker; or when a young lady sends me a picture of her smile while wearing one of the Livara lipsticks and thanks me for it; it makes me get up every day and work even harder.

The joy that people get after using my products is the greatest reward for me. Luckily, I live this experience almost daily, and this has helped me go through the challenging moments with more ease.

Maxima Nsimenta started @livara_beauty to make a difference & to impact people’s lives positively Click To Tweet