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News > Alumni Spotlight > When a unique opportunity presents itself, say YES.

When a unique opportunity presents itself, say YES.

More than just a pretty face - RCHK alumna, Nicole Ma '18, breaks down the highs and lows of being a Miss Hong Kong finalist.
26 Jul 2022
Written by Marta Drzewakowska
Hong Kong SAR
Alumni Spotlight
Nicole Ma, RCHK (Class of 2018)
Nicole Ma, RCHK (Class of 2018)

Growing up, the annual Miss HK beauty pageant was a running joke in the family. We'd often joke that I should apply. So when my mum suggested one day that I should, I brushed it off as another joke. As June rolled around and TVB began advertising applications for Miss HK, my mum looked at me and said: "So, you've submitted your application, right?"  

Without any job prospects back in the UK where I earned my Bachelor's, I applied thinking it would be at most a two-week process. I'm naturally tanned and boyish in personality, not what most people have in mind when they think of the pageant. In the first interview, I saw a myriad of women of all shapes, looks and personalities. However, by the second interview all the women were extremely slim with pearly white skin; stereotypical Miss HK. The judges asked me whether I felt disadvantaged because I "looked Filipino". Feeling cheeky, I retorted saying the Philippines have plenty of Miss Universes who were just as tanned as I was, so I didn't believe so. A day later, I was shortlisted for the final 28.  

The next two months felt almost like a fever dream, so let me break it down by confirming and busting some common beauty pageant stereotypes.  

We were constantly berated about our weight, and dieting was rampant. Journalists will call you fat and ugly, picking out your insecurities or even giving you new ones. They will twist your words to make you sound arrogant, and pick the worst-looking photos to publish; I distinctly remember almost breaking down over a photo, thinking my face looked "too fat".  

Yes, there is definitely a handful of mean girls, but I also made some amazing friends for life. I also became great friends with the crew too. The makeup artists, hair stylists and TVB crew all kept me sane during the show, and their experience in the industry meant that I was given a lot of valuable advice. 

Contrary to popular opinion, we don't just stand there and look pretty. During filming, we got on average only three to five hours of sleep. We'd film various challenges during the day such as catwalk training, dragon boating, and underwater photoshoots; and by night, usually we'd practice our dance routine or do another round of filming at the hotel until 2 am. There were many times I thought about quitting, as I was so sleep-deprived, homesick and barely saw any friends. Mentally, it was definitely a low point for me as I felt almost like a prisoner, stuck in the hotel for most days and barely seeing the outside world.

All of these added together created an exhausting experience, but one that I was grateful for. I  gained so much resilience and confidence in front of the camera. Even though I was eliminated, I now work for TVB's Marketing Department after rejecting an artist contract. Although I enjoyed the experience, my ultimate goal is to save up and go back to the UK (artists are obliged to stay in Hong Kong long-term). So, to the Class of 2022, this is my advice to you: there are certain experiences that you can only do at a certain age. When a unique opportunity presents itself, say yes, while you're still free from the inevitable responsibilities of adult life. 

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