Miss Universe China: A brainy beauty

China: Miss Universe China Luo Zilin captures hearts whether she smiles or not. Procrastination is Luo Zilin's "strength" and it has worked to her advantage. Looking back, the Miss China 2011 and the fourth runner-up of Miss Universe 2011 in Brazil is glad she took her own sweet time to think through before deciding to join the world's most watched beauty pageant. For someone "who would shilly-shally between vanilla-flavored ice cream and chocolate for hours", "her own sweet time" means several months until six hours before the flight took off to Beijing for the nationwide finals. "Although there was nothing to weigh against the month-long contest, I needed time to think before deciding. And, it turned out to be an ugly duckling-to-a black swan experience for me," says the 24-year-old Shanghai native. Luo is blessed with a perfectly-tanned skin, Angelina Jolie-like lips and an officially-taped height of 1.82 meters. The former model has been a frequent face on the catwalk for nine years. Despite that, the contest turned out to be a lot tougher than Luo could ever imagined. "I am glad I gave enough thought and did my homework before the contest. If I had missed the contest, it would have been the greatest regret of my life watching on television how other girls made it." Among the challenges Luo faced at the San Paulo finals in September 2011, were smiling and walking simultaneously, to competing with the other 80 contestants from around the world in answering the questions asked by the judges. "I always forget to smile because as a model, I can be or must be as cool as possible on stage. While for the contest, I had to hold my smile for two hours. But before that, I needed to find the most natural looking smile first," Luo says. No contestant from China has ever been crowned Miss Universe, since the contest kicked off in 1951. The best record was Zhuo Ling, also a Shanghai native, who was crowned second runner-up at the Miss Universe pageant in 2002. All eyes were on Luo in 2011 as her popularity rose, partly because of the explosion in social networking such as Sina Weibo and the successful media publicity arranged by Yue-Sai Kan. The latter, a famous Chinese-American television host and a beauty guru, was appointed the director of Miss Universe China, an annual national beauty pageant that selects China's representative to the Miss Universe pageant since 2002. A typical pre-contest training day for Luo starts with morning exercises at 5 am and the day does not end till midnight. The last few weeks were spent in New York, where Luo was coached by a galaxy of experts including five-year Miss Universe trainer Akiko Shimizu, who is also the author of Hello, Elegant; chief fashion stylist Lizzette Kattan, who used to be fashion director and editor-in-chief for Harper's Bazaar France; and make-up artist Yuko Takahashi, who has worked with pop divas Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Despite the punishing schedule, which included practicing how to answer 500 questions a day, Luo described those days as "sweet memories like an all girls' boarding school", although there were nasty occasions such as gossip and jealousies among the girls.  "Jealousy could also mean you are getting the attention and that you are a threat to others, which could be confidence-boosting," says Luo, adding that she has also learned to "hold a smile offstage, when faced with challenges."  Lu Kun, one of China's most celebrated and innovative fashion designers, when asked about his first impression of Zilin said: "It has to be her overwhelming height. Even when she is among a forest of models, Zilin stands out," he says. Having known each other for nearly a decade, Lu, a Shanghai-based designer who shot to stardom after his first fashion show in 2003 at the age of 23, has been a supportive partner of Luo on stage and also her close friend offstage.  "But a second meeting with her will make you forget all about her height, which is overshadowed by her high EQ (emotion quality) and her professionalism," says Lu. "Her becoming Miss China doesn't come as a surprise to me at all because success rewards girls as smart as her."  Staff from Kan's promotion team shared a similar view: "Luo is smart and diligent. 'Brainless beauty' can no longer walk that far in the global arena."  But Luo says she is fine with stereotypes like "beauty is only skin deep".  "There is nothing wrong with being beautiful and attracting attention with looks. If we use the attention the right way, like for charity, it is good," she adds, having been devoting much of her time, both during and after the contest, to helping others.  A brainless beauty she certainly is not. After handing over the crown to the Miss China of 2012, Luo says she will continue devoting her life to charity and hopes to start her own fashion accessory store - a plan she nurtured even before applying for the contest. Source: China.org.cn

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