The former Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe, is tougher, savvier and more determined than ever, and ramping up her goals for a spotlight 2017.
Red velvet cupcake in hand (from the menu of her boutique baking venture Couture Bakes, launched in Melbourne and with plans for a Colombo expansion) and poised for the upcoming shot, the statuesque brunette in front of me is a force to be reckoned with…as are the daring 6-inch ruby platforms in which she prances around, like it’s actually no big deal. If this isn’t proof that Marianne Page has risen above it all, I’m not sure what is. “When I was first crowned, there was a lot of negative chatter that made the rounds…standard hateful commentary. And I was so sensitive to all of it; I would think about the gossip endlessly, and that kind of thing just eats away at you, you know?”
Lithe and lean, her height and reserved nature have always made Marianne an intimidating tour de force. Her sleek bangs, racehorse legs and arched brows command attention across a crowded room (or teenage dancefloor, back in the day), but catching up with her so many years later, there’s another quality that’s developed: self-assuredness. Gone are the days of agonizing over idle chatter and public perception; taking its place is quiet, steely confidence and an even tone that can quiet the most wagging of tongues.
“I used to get really affected by what people said,” she says, matter-of-factly. “It used to upset me very much and I’d keep replaying the moment in my head. I think it’s because, at the time, I was so painfully self-conscious. But then I realised that, no matter what I do, people are always going to say inappropriate things because that’s life. I had to keep reminding myself of that fact and it allowed me to become stronger, and become my own person. At the end of the day, it’s not their life. It’s mine.”
Over the past year, that life has meant a series of modelling contracts, evening gowns, tiaras and instant recognition. But at the outset, it seemed to be somewhat different to the girl with whom I spent so many weekends dissecting Dawson’s Creek and decoding intimate conversations on MSN Messenger. At that, she bursts out laughing with, “Yes, and your ridiculous fake nails.” I never had fake nails, I tell her. She’s mistaken. “Nope,” she counters back. “I still remember them. They had flowers and rhinestones.” That she can recall this mishap in such minute detail is certainly indubitable proof that there was always a beauty queen inside her, but still, how has she reckoned with the diminishing of her private life?
“I like to connect my private and public personas,” she explains. “I don’t like to be a different person depending on the situation. It’s very important to me that I stay myself. Sometimes that results in comments like, ‘Oh, she’s dressed too casually for a Miss Sri Lanka,’ but that’s fine because the way I dress is me. And I have no time for people who try to diminish that.” What, so she doesn’t take a Chanel to the salon? “People need to relax,” she laughs. “I’m not going to get all dressed up just to go and get my hair done, you know?”
In the pageant world of garish materialism, hyper-focused body consciousness and intense media scrutiny, it’s this inbuilt sense of normalcy that has helped Marianne stay grounded. Raised in a tight-knit, intensely private home, the steady support of her family and friends lent her an unfussed demeanour in a world of pomp and façade. So, isn’t the relentless zoom lens and the countless public appearances draining? Sometimes, she admits. But it’s been a dream of hers for years and her crowning came at the most opportune moment—right after she finished university and as she was figuring out what to do next. “And if not now…when? Like my dad says, you only live once and you should try everything in life. I would have regretted this forever, if I hadn’t done it.”
Yes, but cheesecake, I remind her. This is a girl whose sweet tooth conquers all. “I know, I know!” she laments. “It’s such a struggle. When I was crowned – almost two years ago – eating sweets didn’t affect my body. It’s different now, though,” she chuckles. When I point out that everyone’s bodies change as they mature and that no one can stay as lanky as they were at sixteen, she’s quick to agree. “Of course, it’s a normal progression, but not everyone sees it that way.” And then she quips, “Yesterday, I was cleaning out my cupboard and came across all my old party clothes—you know, the crop tops and miniskirts. And I was so sad because I held them up and thought, How did I even wear this! I tried some on and literally couldn’t breathe!”
For the record, Marianne Page can still pull off bralettes and booty shorts, allowing her haters to sink into shameful silence. But this is the essence of her appeal: the ability to bring even beauty queens into the everyday realm (they also struggle between brownies and the gym), to laugh at her idiosyncrasies, and to approach life with a no-nonsense attitude because the world (and the beauty pageant game) is much bigger than any one person. Circling back to the dessert conundrum, Marianne confides, “If you cut everything out now, you might look back and think you’ve only had half a life.”
“It’s the nature of the business that you do have to work out constantly. But to be fair, you know what you’re getting yourself into, and you have to find a balance that works for you. I realised that I felt much better when I cut down on the amount of junk food I consumed…but burgers (along with fries and milkshakes) are my weakness. And I have a soft spot for Sri Lankan Chinese food! But, as long as I work out regularly, I don’t beat myself up over it!”
A few days later, musing over a glass of red wine (post-rigorous workout), Marianne confides that the beauty pageant world will always keep her conscious about her appearance. But, “[i]f you keep wondering what other people think about you – the way you look, the way you talk – it’s stifling. You can’t live your life like that…always looking over your shoulder.”
Sitting back, at ease in relative anonymity at the quiet restaurant, the topic switches to dating. She loves going out to dinner, preferably a burger place, obviously. “If there’s food in front of me, I’m not going to be self-conscious about it!” she exclaims. “I’m definitely going to eat the whole thing.”
Finding the ideal burger partner, though, can be somewhat challenging, and Marianne has been privy to enough conversations with her girlfriends to understand the stupefying rules of the dating game. Though, instead of blaming the opposite sex (completely), she admits: “I think we have such high standards: He has to be family-oriented, be smart and proper enough to meet your parents. That puts a lot of pressure on the guy, too!”
So, burgers make her relax. What else? She has so much going on – enrolled in a part-time Master’s programme, getting a baking business off the ground, and ideating for a forthcoming fashion line – when she can find some alone time, she grabs it. “I need my privacy or I get moody! It’s so important to me to be able to switch off.” Does she have any special rituals, I wonder, for this alone time? Intricate skincare routines or meditation regimes, or any of the things I imagine a pageant queen might do. “No, of course not,” she snorts. “I just watch a TV series [Grey’s Anatomy is her favourite] on my laptop!” There’s that refreshing honesty again, forever buoying the conversation and not letting it get too one-sided. And, when I remind her that Grey’s can turn tedious, she retorts, “So? It’s like The Bold and the Beautiful of our generation…” Point taken.
If there’s one unexpected lesson Marianne takes away from these whirlwind pageant years, aside from becoming a pro in doing her own hair and make-up (“Everyone thought we had our own stylists, but we didn’t. It was all done ourselves!” and “I’ve literally used Revlon eyeliner my whole life. I don’t see the need to switch now,” plus my personal favourite, “I don’t understand the hype around Kylie Jenner’s lip kit. I didn’t really enjoy it.”), it’s a newfound sense of independence and self-reliance. “I never thought I’d be able to break out of my shy shell, and be able to go out and talk to random people because I was always a little bit of an introvert. Now, I know it’s so important to be open and to inherently connect with others.” It also instilled in her a sense of grit to do life her own way. “I’m much stronger than I was when I started all this,” she states. “More thick-skinned. At the end of the day, if things go wrong, I know I’ll be able to work through it and not be stuck. I know how to let go and move on.” With that, she picks up the dessert menu and hails the waiter. “I think we should have the one with espresso and meringue. You’ll love it.” That’s Miss Congeniality, right there.
This article was originally published as ‘Front Page News’ in the January 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more stories on amazing people, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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