Two months into her reign, 2017 Miss Cayman, Anika Conolly, took a break from the crown and sat down with the Weekender to catch up about life as queen. From the National Gallery, Conolly reflected on her win, Cayman culture and bucking industry beauty standards.
Weekender: You’ve been the queen for a few months now. How has the crown treated you so far?
Anika Conolly: It has been wonderful. The people who have reached out to me, the events that I’ve gotten to go to. I went to Krav Maga self defense. I got to visit a day care and spent time with the little kids. I love kids, so that was very dear to me. And I was chosen to give a speech at the annual HR conference, which I gave yesterday (May 26). I had the opportunity to meet Grace Byers, so I think the crown has been treating me well.
Weekender: How did it feel when you were on stage and they announced you were the new queen?
Anika Conolly: I talk about this moment a lot with people. It was a delayed reaction for sure, because in my mind I was trying to maintain my composure if I didn’t win, how I would give well wishes to the winner. So that’s all I was thinking about in my mind. … So when they actually announced I was the winner, it took me a second. It felt very surreal, very much unexpected and just wonderful.
My favorite moment after that, I was on stage taking pictures with all the people from the audience and the crowd parted and through the crowd came Francine Jackson, who is an avid member of my church and she’s an older lady. The fact that she came out to see me win the Miss Cayman Islands title was a testament to how hard I had worked and how much we value the Miss Cayman Islands title. I was just awed that she came out just to see me.
Weekender: I was taken aback by the crowd reaction. They went wild when your name was announced.
Anika Conolly: I know. When they tested the waters for the loudest fans, they went on and on, but I loved it. They were cheering, they were jumping, they were dancing. It was amazing. I love my supporters.
Weekender: You won best smile. What it is that makes you smile from day to day?
Anika Conolly: For people who know me, they will know that anything and everything that happens will make me smile. But if I had to give one reason or the one thing that makes me smile regardless of how the day is going, it would be the knowledge that God is in control of my life. He has a plan of nothing but greatness for me. Even though times may get rough, I will pull through. I always try to look for the silver lining in the gray cloud and that pulls me through.
Weekender: You are very active in Cayman’s community. How does it feel for you as a Caymanian woman to be able to represent your culture on a world stage?
Anika Conolly: I think being a Caymanian woman is that; she’s a very active person. I don’t know a Caymanian woman that’s not always doing something. We have that nature that we care about everyone. We want to help everyone we come across. That’s why we stay so active because there is so much to be done to help others. I’m a volunteer with the Cancer Society. I’m a youth leader, a mentor. I volunteer with various causes and for me, I think that representing what it means to be a Caymanian woman on a world stage is a privilege, that I am the chosen one to tell the world all about what makes Caymanian women so unique and so special, because we are.
Weekender: We’re here today in the National Gallery, a hub of Caymanian culture and art. What would you like the world to know about Cayman’s culture?
Anika Conolly: So much. We have so much culture and so much heritage in Cayman. One of the things I like to emphasize when I’m talking about my culture is, we came from a country with very limited resources in terms of what’s a natural resource. We were able to work with that and create a budding community, a vibrant industry, and today we have become one of the top financial centers in the world and we’re also one of the top tourism destinations. All of that is linked with our culture of creativity.
Weekender: Pageant contests naturally attract the public gaze and with that, a lot of analysis, positive and negative. How do you deal with that and what advice would you give young women about staying confident and maintaining a positive body image?
Anika Conolly: I did have a lot of difficulty with that growing up and even up to the first time when I entered a pageant. The industry with pageants and modeling is one where you have to be a certain body image, a certain size, a certain skin color, a certain hair type. But I rest in the knowledge that the industry is changing. When you look at Miss Universe, this past year they had so many girls of color. Miss USA had so many girls of color being recognized. The current Miss USA is of mixed race. The contestant Miss Canada, she was a full-figured model.
So you see that the industry is recognizing that beauty is so much more than what you have on the outside. Beauty comes in different shades. Beauty comes in different sizes. I rest in knowledge that I am accepted for who I am. Even if people don’t accept me, I accept me. I am the one who has to live with me at the end of the day and I am happy with who I am. That would be my advice to girls who struggle with body image in the world of peer pressure. Because it is a lot of pressure. But just stick with it and believe in yourself and know that you are enough and that’s all you can ask.