FOR YOU, NOT TO YOU!
Over the years, I've been privileged to have had the opportunity to observe her metamorphosis from simply gorgeous to universallyadmired woman of many talents. Peter Elias, a mutual friend, had introduced us while I was in Trinidad on an assignment for SHE Caribbean. Already she had been chosen to represent her country in the Miss Universe pageant. The venue was Vietnam; the year 2008.
Anya Ayoung-Chee was not your typical Miss Universe contender. The average aspirant is around five-ten, five-eleven tall; this beauty from the Land of the Hummingbird stands at just about 5'6”. But the experienced Elias was confident she would more than make up for the height difference with her “obvious class and pedigree.”
In Peter's understandably bedazzled eyes, Anya was a star waiting to be discovered. By her own account, she agreed to be Trinidad's Miss Universe candidate mainly because she has always been extremely patriotic.
“I love Trinidad,” she told me recently, her eyes reflecting the undeniable patriotism in her soul. “I felt so honoured to have been asked. How could I say no?”
She pauses, as if revisiting the moment, then chuckles: “I have to admit that I didn't enjoy the preparations. I couldn't help thinking it was all—well—a little silly!”
Knowing Peter Elias as I do, I had no trouble imagining him in his role as Anya's coach—and her predictable reactions: “What do you mean I can't walk? How do you think I move around?”
The pageant itself was not without its disappointments, she recalled, but nothing she experienced in Vietnam could eclipse the overwhelming pride she felt wearing her Trinidad & Tobago sash. She failed to make the top ten finalists but what bothered her more was “being objectified in that way.”
She returned home, fully aware what occupied the minds of her fellow Trinidadians was not her onstage performance. An almost forgotten sex tape featuring Anya had somehow surfaced, and now more fame than she'd ever dreamed of awaited her at home— for the worst reasons imaginable.
“The release of that tape caused a lot of pain and shame,” she recalled, bowed head in her hands. “Especially to my parents.” Nevertheless Anya was, quite characteristically, up front about the scandal du jour. Looking back, she says she was devastated when the tape first surfaced and for a long time afterward, not so much because of her contribution to it as for the possible impact on those who might have seen it.
“There are so many different layers to us as human beings,” she mused, “so many aspects. That anyone should be cruelly labeled for one mistake is so wrong, so unfair. No person is one-dimensional but people tend to forget that.”
The wonderful news, by her own account,
Anya representing Trinidad and Tobago at the 2008 Miss Universe Competition held in Nha Trang, Vietnam.