Bring It On!

Un­lock your in­ner badass with Miss Uni­verse, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters’ play­book

Women's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

DEMI-LEIGH NEL-PETERS, AKA MISS UNI­VERSE, IS THE EMBODIMENT OF BEAUTY, POISE AND EL­E­GANCE. BUT SPEND A BIT OF TIME WITH HER AND YOU’LL DIS­COVER A TOUGH AND TENA­CIOUS WO­MAN WITH STEELY DE­TER­MI­NA­TION. SHE SHARES HER RECIPE FOR UN­LOCK­ING YOUR OWN IN­NER BADASS

It’s a crisp Fri­day morn­ing in Joburg when the phone rings. It’s Demi-Leigh’s man­ager call­ing to say our cover star is run­ning late for her shoot. Whispers churn through the air from peo­ple who’ve met her be­fore, won­der­ing whether be­ing crowned Miss Uni­verse and liv­ing in New York City for al­most a year has changed her. Sure enough, when the beauty queen ar­rives, she’s pre­ceded by an en­tourage of se­cu­rity and pub­li­cists from both the Miss Uni­verse and Miss South Africa fran­chises. Then, an un­ex­pect­edly heel-less DemiLeigh dashes into the stu­dio and heads straight to­wards the crew. “Sorry to have kept you. Thank you so much for wait­ing,” she says. She’s flaw­less and knows how to com­mand a room. But the minute she opens her mouth, it’s like you’re chat­ting with a friend. She speaks with the prac­tised ease of some­one well-ac­cus­tomed to be­ing in the spot­light – each sen­tence con­sid­ered and per­fectly ar­tic­u­lated. But the charm and open­ness are gen­uine. At heart, DemiLeigh is most def­i­nitely still the girl next door. But with a drive and de­ter­mi­na­tion that means she was never go­ing to stay next door for long.

IF YOU WANT SOME­THING, BE PRE­PARED TO WORK FOR IT.

Grow­ing up, Demi-Leigh al­ways sought out lead­er­ship po­si­tions. She’s al­ways looked for an op­por­tu­nity to do more, to serve. “I was head girl of my high school, my board­ing school and the deputy ju­nior mayor of the Ge­orge City Coun­cil in my ma­tric year. I had to bal­ance my aca­demics, sports and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that came with the mul­ti­ple lead­er­ship roles I held. I was def­i­nitely un­der a lot of pres­sure to per­form well in all these ar­eas. That was a year where I re­ally learnt about pri­ori­tis­ing – the hard way. It made me stronger and wiser and taught me so many things about my­self I never knew I was ca­pa­ble of.” It’s these lessons learnt by her younger self that paved her road to suc­cess. There’s a cyn­i­cal per­cep­tion, par­tic­u­larly around pageants, that good things come to those with a pretty smile. But Demi-Leigh is proof that it takes a lot more to suc­ceed – even in the world of pageants. “I have had to work re­ally hard for every­thing that has ever come my way,” she says. “That is why I never take any vic­tory for granted. I be­lieve ev­ery sit­u­a­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve lived has pre­pared me for the present and made me the wo­man I am today.” And while her In­sta feed is the def­i­ni­tion of liv­ing the high life (check out @de­mileighnp), she’s also a pow­er­ful am­bas­sador for South Africa – a role that she takes very se­ri­ously. “Beauty queens are so much more than just a wo­man with a crown and a sash and pretty hair and make-up. I’m a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for my coun­try first and fore­most – and I get to rep­re­sent my coun­try all over the world.”

BEAUTY IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT.

Younger Demi-Leigh was a sporty girl. In the small, West­ern Cape coastal town of Sedge­field where she was raised, she spent her af­ter­noons on the sports field. “I was al­ways the ath­lete, al­ways the hockey player, al­ways the cross-coun­try run­ner. So I was more health-ori­en­tated,” she re­calls. Beauty aware­ness came later. “I never did many pageants,” she ad­mits, re­call­ing the pageants she has en­tered – in fact, “I re­mem­ber be­ing at a car­ni­val type of fes­ti­val with my par­ents in my home town, and we were watch­ing a beauty pageant on one of the stages. I was wear­ing khaki shorts, a T-shirt and takkies. I got pulled up on stage and I ended up win­ning,” she laughs. Af­ter that she took part in her school and town pageant, Miss Var­sity Cup, Miss Teen South Africa, Miss South Africa and then Miss Uni­verse. There was a lot of learn­ing that had to take place for the fresh-faced ac­tive young wo­man. “I had my first make-up class just be­fore I did Miss South Africa,” she re­calls as she’s get­ting made up for the shoot. And while she has learnt how to keep her­self look­ing flaw­less, for Demi-Leigh beauty is more than just about how you look on the out­side – she sees it more as a ra­di­ance em­a­nat­ing from within. “Beauty is about be­ing healthy, feel­ing good, be­ing en­er­gised and glow­ing from the in­side out. It’s be­ing able to take care of your­self and your body and giv­ing it the nu­tri­tion it needs. I mean, it’s the only body you’ll ever have,” she says.

SHOW YOUR BODY SOME LOVE.

There’s no doubt that Demi-Leigh has good genes on her side, but that doesn’t mean she can get away with not work­ing on her physique. And while a glo­be­trot­ting life­style has many perks, it also wreaks havoc on any at­tempt at a healthy rou­tine. “It’s dif­fi­cult when you’re trav­el­ling to dif­fer­ent coun­tries and they want to spoil you and make you some food. You can’t be rude; you have to try some.” Plus, Demi-Leigh has a sweet tooth. Her MO: sam­pling local cui­sine in small doses when she’s trav­el­ling and get­ting straight back to ba­sics when she’s home in New York. “I try to eat re­ally clean and healthy. So when I’m home I’ll al­ways steam or oven­bake veg­gies, chicken and red meat. I love red meat.” she says.

Clean eat­ing aside, she also makes time for ex­er­cise. “I do a lot of car­dio and only body-weight strength train­ing. Ex­cept for arms, I’ll add a lit­tle bit of weights,” she says. Demi-Leigh likes to look toned and strong, but not bulky. She fol­lows the lis­ten-toy­our-body phi­los­o­phy. And her body says high­in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing and body-weight work­outs are where she thrives. “I try to get in an av­er­age of four work­outs a week,” she says. Al­though, if her sched­ule al­lowed, she’d be work­ing out on the daily. “I used to train ev­ery day be­cause I love it and it’s my es­cape.” The Miss Amer­ica pageant made head­lines ear­lier this year when or­gan­is­ers an­nounced that they’d be scrap­ping the swim­suit seg­ment – a seg­ment that has al­ways been con­tentious. But for Demi-Leigh that part of the com­pe­ti­tion was an­other op­por­tu­nity to show­case her hard work. “Hav­ing first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pageant, specif­i­cally the swim­suit por­tion, I know how em­pow­ered it made me feel to cel­e­brate my hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to phys­i­cal fit­ness. I was able to bet­ter un­der­stand and value what my per­sonal fit and healthy feels like.”

DIS­RE­GARD STEREO­TYPES.

For Demi-Leigh, win­ning the sash and tiara has al­ways been a be­gin­ning, rather than the goal. “Just look at Halle Berry and Gal Gadot. They’ve gone on and started re­ally great ca­reers,” she says. “And very few peo­ple re­alise that it all sprang off beauty pageants. They both com­peted at Miss Uni­verse. And I just look at the pre­vi­ous Miss South Africas; the en­trepreneurs they’ve be­come,” she says. “Be­ing Miss Uni­verse is a full-time job. I don’t think a lot of peo­ple re­alise that. [But] I see this as a spring­board for win­ners to even­tu­ally do what you want to do.” When Demi-Leigh talks about her ca­reer, you get a glimpse of the take-my-ti­tle-se­ri­ously, suf­fer-no­fools busi­ness­woman be­hind the per­fect smile. “I’m my own brand man­ager, my own mar­ket­ing man­ager, my own so­cial me­dia man­ager. The most valu­able thing I’ve gained [dur­ing my reign] is business ex­pe­ri­ence... I’m my own CEO,” she says. Im­pres­sive stuff when you con­sider how many celebs – with fewer com­mit­ments – have teams man­ag­ing their brand. And she’s only 23. Of course, the ques­tion of whether pageants have any rel­e­vance in the world can’t be avoided. “Well, I’ve been able to raise just un­der a mil­lion rand for fire vic­tims in Knysna... In just six hours,” says DemiLeigh. She also works with an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Smile Train that works in more than 85 coun­tries pro­vid­ing cor­rec­tive surgery for chil­dren with cleft lips and palates. “I work with var­i­ous HIV/AIDS or­gan­i­sa­tions to cre­ate aware­ness. And I wouldn’t have had the op­por­tu­nity to do all of this if it wasn’t for my ti­tle. I would have got­ten there – but it would have taken me a lot longer.”

FIGHT FOR YOUR­SELF AND BE UNAPOLOGETIC.

“I “I WILL WILL NEVER NEVER TOL­ER­ATE TOL­ER­ATE BE­ING BE­ING OBJECTIFIED OBJECTIFIED AS AS A A WO­MAN. I FEEL THAT ALL WOMEN SHOULD BE TREATED WITH THE RE­SPECT AND DIG­NITY THAT THEY DE­SERVE.”

In June 2017, Demi-Leigh was hi­jacked, held at gun­point and nearly kid­napped by five armed men. “I had at­tended a work­shop by an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Wo­man INpow­ered a few months prior to my or­deal that equipped me with knowl­edge to han­dle dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions such as a hi­jack­ing,” she re­calls. At the work­shop Demi-Leigh learnt a self-de­fence tech­nique that would save her life – throat punch­ing. It’s a move that’s only to be used in an ab­so­lute lifethreat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion and doesn’t re­quire spe­cialised train­ing or skills. “In my sit­u­a­tion, I sur­ren­dered and gave up my car with­out hes­i­ta­tion. How­ever, as soon as I tried run­ning away, I was grabbed and pushed back into the car. In that mo­ment I did every­thing and any­thing I could to get out of the car be­cause the sec­ond des­ti­na­tion, I knew, would not be bet­ter than the first. I man­aged to pull my­self back up and punch my at­tacker in the throat, like I was taught. He backed off, which gave me a small win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to run away.” The trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence has not slowed the even-keeled Miss Uni­verse’s fu­ture plans. (“I am an in­de­pen­dent wo­man and I have made [my­self] the prom­ise that I will not live my life in fear.”) In fact, it prompted Demi-Leigh to start a move­ment of her own – the Un­break­able cam­paign – through which she hosts work­shops to em­power women all around the world with the same skills and knowl­edge that helped her es­cape. “To date, we’ve hosted 12 work­shops in South Africa and one work­shop in In­done­sia, Mex­ico and the USA. I’m grate­ful for the global plat­form that I have with the Miss Uni­verse ti­tle and I have ex­cit­ing plans for Un­break­able. I look for­ward to see­ing how Un­break­able will ex­pand and make an im­pact on the lives of women across the world,” she says.

PLAN FOR THE FU­TURE.

“I think a lot more has hap­pened than I ever thought would,” says Demi-Leigh, re­flect­ing on the year of her reign. Yet as much as she’s seen, achieved and ex­pe­ri­enced al­ready, you can bet she al­ready has plans to push even more doors open and un­earth more op­por­tu­ni­ties. “I’m very hard on my­self. I al­ways want to do more and achieve more. I feel like I’ve achieved a lot, but there’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment. There’s al­ways next year.” Demi-Leigh’s reign as Miss Uni­verse may be coming to an end, but her role as ex­tra­or­di­nary wo­man is one that will be in­spir­ing us for many years to come.

BY GOTLHOKWANG ANGOMA-MZINI PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY SEAN LAURÉNZ

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