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Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu has gained weight since winning the crown in December – and online bullies have relentlessly targeted the star.
“Physically, I’ve kind of grown, put on more pounds and gained weight, which makes me totally comfortable right now,” the 22-year-old told the people magazine.
The real problem, she said, has been the constant criticism on social media.
“I was bullied because I gained weight,” the Indian-born beauty queen said. “It was a little uncomfortable and really surprising to me how people started having opinions, which shouldn’t really matter. It’s not about how you look, it’s about who you are. from the inside and how you treat people and what you believe in.”
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Sandhu said before the competition she took a pragmatic approach to diet and exercise in hopes of winning. After achieving her goal, she was able to relax for almost a month.
“During this time, I was not exercising, I was eating and just enjoying this time with my family,” Sandhu explained. “I never realized it would start showing up on my body.”
Sandhu told the outlet that some of the comments were so cruel that she would cry.
“I’ve definitely snapped so many times,” she admitted. “Sometimes in the most unexpected moments. I’m about to go on stage or something and then everything comes [to] my spirit. It’s truly sad.”
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Sandhu wasn’t feeling well either. A doctor diagnosed him with allergies that were affecting his health.
“I can’t eat wheat or anything that has it in it,” she said of her gluten allergy. “Apart from that, I also have a soy allergy [and] allergic to coconut. I’m allergic to eggs and I kind of realized that when I got to New York… It took me a while to realize that the things I was allergic to, I still had. I did not know.”
The 70th Miss Universe titleholder said she now has a different mindset about her body, noting, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad.”
The Bollywood actress also hopes her story will inspire others struggling with their body image to embrace themselves, regardless of their size.
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“We are all imperfect,” Sandhu said. “We have to realize that there is a time when we understand that we have to embrace our flaws and when you do that you can conquer anything in this world.”
At the time of her win, Sandhu said she felt “overwhelmed because it’s been 21 years since India got the Miss Universe crown, and it’s happening right now.”
Last year’s competition grabbed the headlines for a variety of reasons.
A grassroots Palestinian-led boycott had urged candidates to skip the event to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In the end, only Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with close ties to the Palestinians, did not send a representative, citing the global COVID-19 situation. The South African government, which also strongly supports the Palestinian cause, withdrew its support for the country’s representative due to her participation.
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Sara Salansky, an official with Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, said the country was selected to host the competition due to the success of Israel’s coronavirus vaccination program.
The pageant then suffered a last-minute hitch with the arrival of the omicron variant, which forced Israel to close its borders to foreign tourists at the end of November 2021. Most Miss Universe contestants were already in the country before entering. into force of the new regulations. . However, those who came later were given special permission to enter, but with a mandatory 72-hour quarantine period.
Throughout the run-up to Sunday’s contest, all competitors were tested for coronavirus every 48 hours and held to strict mask requirements.
Amidst all the guarantees, the French candidate, Clémence Botino, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Israel. After 10 days in quarantine, she was declared virus-free last week and cleared to rejoin the competition.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.