BULLIES DIDN'T STOP ME
YOU South Africa|28 October 2021
As a shy child, new Miss SA Lalela Mswane struggled with her self-esteem. Now she hopes to inspire girls like her to dream big
MARELIZE GRBICH & NASIFA SULAIMAN

THE floor of her hotel suite is strewn with pink and gold balloons and in the lounge a large blowup sign proclaims “Congrats”.

It’s the morning after the life-changing event but even though she’s only had about three hours’ sleep, new Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane looks fresh as a daisy and every inch the beauty queen.

To her friends and loved ones it wasn’t much of a surprise that she won and yet Lalela tells us she was stunned when her name was called out.

“The world stood still for a few seconds and I couldn’t even move. I was paralysed with such joy and disbelief,” she says.

The crown that was placed on her head cemented her status as one of the loveliest women in the land – but growing up in Pretoria, Lalela (24) didn’t think of herself as anything special.

Shy and self-conscious, she often caught the attention of bullies who could spot an easy target when they saw one. “I stood out like a sore thumb,” she tells YOU. “I was a lanky, skinny girl who nobody considered beautiful.”

She only felt comfortable in her own skin when she danced on stage. Lalela started ballet lessons when she was nine years old, which helped boost her confidence – but even so, it was only when she was in her final year at university that she was able to look in the mirror and like what she saw.

That epiphany would eventually inspire her to enter the Miss South Africa pageant. “I wanted to prove to myself and other girls like me that anything is possible, but it came from a dark, sad place of being bullied and not having self-esteem,” Lalela says.

But even though she’s won the contest, the implications of her win haven’t sunk in yet: that for the next year she’ll be treated like royalty.

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