A Queen for All Seasons: An Interview with Chantal Zaky, Miss Universe Jamaica 2012

When you hear the title “Beauty Queen,” what comes to mind? Little girls often admire Queens and hope to one day be considered a Queen in someone’s eyes. This week, we talk with Chantal Zaky, Miss Universe Jamaica 2012, to hear her thoughts on leadership, self-confidence, and her love of our homeland.

Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
My family is from Portland, Jamaica. I am from a large family, whose ancestors have left a great heritage for me to carry on. While growing up, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel many places. I now attend school in the United States.

What is one thing people would be surprised that you know how to do?
I’ve recently been trying out surfing, which I’m really enjoying; it’s a fun exercise.

If you had to choose a world leader who exemplifies all of your core values, who is that person and why?
There are many great people that I admire, if I had to choose one, I would choose Former U.N Secretary- General and Nobel Peace Prize Winner , Kofi Annan. He is a good example of leadership and world perception. I also share Mr. Annan’s passion for AIDS causes and women’s rights.

What causes are you championing for the duration of your reign as Miss Universe Jamaica 2012?
I use the title to champion HIV/AIDS prevention and youth empowerment.

Young girls look at beauty pageants and sometimes feel inadequate because they judge themselves based on the standards that society has set. Is there anything about you that isn’t perfect that you can discuss to help them realize that true beauty is within?
My advice to young girls is to be empowered to know that beauty grows from within and shines on the outside. I believe we are all beautiful and unique. Beauty is how you feel inside. A confident person is beautiful. When I was younger I was a bit chubby and taller than my classmates and I just felt awkward. After a while, I started believing that my true beauty would show by the way I treated others. My beauty did not stop growing with my insecurities; it was still growing within me. Understanding the true meaning of beauty is a journey and an adventure we all take. We have to nurture the beauty that grows in us and it will manifest itself.

What’s the greatest thing about winning the Miss Universe Jamaica competition?
It allows me to compete on the world stage for Jamaica. Plus, I am afforded platforms to climb heights that I would not have climbed had I not been granted this privilege. I get to be an ambassador for my country, my people, and a brand in which I believe.

What are some of the things that you do to prepare for a pageant?
Pageants are new to me; I just started doing them. Preparing for a pageant takes a lot of planning because you culminate your talents and your commitment. I continue to work out. Eat healthy and live a balanced lifestyle. Prior to entering, I also do a lot of planning, time management, homework, and organizing.

What are you reading these days?
Communication Plus, by Marita and Florence Littauer. I am also reading Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Tell us some of your favorite Jamaican things (food, movies, music, art, ring games, etc )
One of my favorite things is our National Anthem. I think it’s a testimony to our devotion and loyalty to our country. It’s a beautiful prayer.
I love our rich “out of many one people” cultural heritage. I love our confidence. I am proud of our legacy, our standards and the morals we as Jamaicans pass on to the next generation.

What are your current projects and what are you looking forward to doing in the near future?
I would like to play a role in the development of our youth and to empowering them. Currently my focus is on preparing for the Miss Universe pageant. I am trying to be best I can be, to represent Jamaica. I am looking forward to making Jamaica the brightest star in the universe.

Any final words to the community?
I salute you and would like join hands to encourage all Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica who have given a life of service to our noble homeland and who have carried Jamaica on their shoulders at home and in the Diaspora, past and present. May we continue with our vision for our great island nation.

Follow Chantal on twitter all the way to the Miss Universe competition @Sunshine_MissJA and join her group on Facebook

. Chantal will compete in the Miss Universe competition on December 19, 2012 in Las Vegas.

About the author

Kerri-Ann M. Smith

Dr. Kerri-Ann M. Smith is an author and educator. She is an Associate Professor of English at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She is a patois translator, a wife, and the mother of two beautiful little girls. She is a senior writer for