Lindsay Japal is out to explode a few stereotypes about what it really does mean to be a beauty queen these days.
“Pageantry has lost its stigma,” the reigning Miss Cayman tells Weekender. “It used to be that you associated it with airheads; superficial, vain girls who were not down to Earth. But as a world we have moved forward. Those girls just do not win any more. It’s about being able to go to the glamour events, sure, but also to go to Africa and dig wells like Miss Angola.”
That Angolan, Leila Lopes, became that country’s first ever Miss Universe in 2011 and is an inspiration to Lindsay, who jets off to Las Vegas on Saturday, 1 December to prepare for the 2012 Miss Universe pageant.
“There is a top 15 based on interviews and the judges but also a people’s choice based on online votes. Cayman is a small population but because of that people know me – it would be really amazing wouldn’t it if Cayman could win!” That’s far from out of the question; each e-mail address can vote 10 times per day so a concerted effort could propel the Caymanian to starry heights.
Originally, Lindsay says, she had to be persuaded to enter Miss Cayman.
“I won a great scholarship, which was one of the motivations. That will enable me to finish my finance degree as I am close to it,” says the 24-year old, who is employed by the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism in the human resources department.
It’s an interesting job, she says, which gives her the experience and context to better answer questions about Cayman when she travels.
“People say to me that I live in paradise,” she muses. “I say, ‘well, yes I do and please come and visit’! People can be misinformed and think we’re all about money laundering, but I tell them that since the 1990s particularly we have been one of the most regulated areas. Then people think we are this tiny, undeveloped place so I tell them the truth which is that compared to many other Caribbean islands we are metropolitan.
“And I tell the truth that we are grateful; not everyone gets to wake up with all this every day.”
Lindsay is clearly proud of the Cayman Islands – as you’d probably expect – but also displays a level-headed approach that allows her to take a half step back and see the world through others’ eyes.
The undeniable fact is that she’s naturally bright and does present a rather more modern view of womanhood. Being a pageant winner is not about looking good in a swimsuit, giggling and crying about the poor puppies who don’t have mummies and daddies anymore; you won’t get very far without intelligence, openness to new experiences, strength of character, genuinely liking people and being interested in not just your own place in the world, but what it all might mean.
Lindsay ticks all boxes, plus, of course, there’s the small fact that she is spectacularly beautiful, which helps.
Swimming in glory
She says she’s enjoyed her experience as Miss Cayman, for example, by reading with children; she says that they always make her day.
“I got to judge their costume competition at Pirates Week. I nearly cancelled because I really was not feeling great, but they had me going from the start. They really do say the funniest stuff and they all got right into the pirate character.
“The year has been great. I got to go to New York City for Miss Universe training and met Sherry Hill, who designed my dress for that pageant. She also sponsors the opening number and she said she wants to work with me in the future, which really is great,” Lindsay smiles.
Another highlight was at the Miami Swim Show working with Tosca Delfino, the Toronto-based designer who created a swimsuit line exclusively for the Cayman Islands. And, yes, she does look great in a swimsuit. Lindsay is also active locally, appearing at numerous charity and community events. The experience in general has left its mark on the reigning queen.
“The cool thing about this is that I have seen so many new doors open and new opportunities out there. A finance degree, for instance, doesn’t have to mean that you are stuck in an office. I’d like to be a food critic – that is my dream job – or a National Geographic journalist. I’ve spent some time in Italy and I love to eat,” she says, revealing her true Caymanian soul.
Lindsay concludes that she feels that she is definitely a more developed person through the whole experience and that it has been “definitely worth it”.
“My advice to my successor is to soak it up, be open to everything you do even if it seems silly or overwhelming at first. There is so much to learn and it really is true that time flies by.”
And only time will tell if the stars line up, to enable Lindsay Japal of the sunny, tiny, beautiful Cayman Islands to don the crown as Miss Universe on Wednesday, 19 December. Cayman, and Weekender, wishes her all the very best.
You can vote for Lindsay by clicking here.