Blending Beauty with Purpose


Anika Chowdhury

When Shirin Akter Shela enters a room, there’s an undeniable charisma that accompanies her. It’s not just her striking appearance that captivates everyone, but also the aura of accomplishment and grace she carries with her.

Shela’s journey to stardom began in the humble town of Pirganj, Thakurgaon – a place she calls home. From these modest beginnings, she has ascended to heights that many only dream of. Her pivotal moment came in 2019 when she was crowned Miss Universe Bangladesh.

Her appearance at the Miss Universe 2019 in the USA was a moment of national pride and personal achievement. Adorned in a beautiful red jamdani saree paired with the model hood of a rickshaw, Shirin Akter Shela showcased the richness of Bangladeshi culture, tradition, and artistry on a global stage. Her choice of attire was a statement, a blend of elegance and cultural heritage, which not only caught everyone’s attention but also highlighted the unique beauty and craftsmanship of our country.

In 2022, Shela added another feather to her cap at South Korea’s Asia Model Festival, where she was not just a participant but also served as a judge, underscoring her noteworthy role in the global fashion and beauty industry. Her achievement at the festival was nothing short of remarkable as she was honoured with the Model Star Award. 

Her foray into acting and her social initiatives, such as the project to beautify tea stalls at TSC, reflect her multifaceted personality and her commitment to making a difference in the community. Through her art and activism, she seeks to inspire change and bring a touch of beauty to everyday life.

Shirin Akter Shela, in a candid exchange with MWB, unfolded her personal and professional narrative.

Were you always passionate about modelling? What eventually motivated you to compete in beauty pageants?

I wasn’t always passionate about modelling, to be honest, nor had ever dreamt of becoming a model. Growing up in Pirganj, Thakurgaon, my exposure to the world of fashion and beauty pageants was quite limited. I grew up in a very conservative environment and my family had always wanted to me focus on my studies. My father was in BGB and so, from an early age I was taught to lead a disciplined life. And I did comply to a certain degree.

Then I moved to Dhaka and enrolled in Dhaka University. The environment, the diversity, and exposure to different people opened my mind – the overall experience I had there taught me to think differently. I discovered a fascination for expressing myself through fashion and the unique platform it provided to voice my thoughts and beliefs.

My modelling journey began somewhat serendipitously. The motivation to compete in beauty pageants came from a deeper place. I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself, to grow, and to break out of my comfort zone. More importantly, it was the platform’s potential for advocacy and social impact that truly drew me in. Winning Miss Universe Bangladesh 2019 wasn’t just about the crown for me; it was about the chance to represent Bangladesh on an international stage – to showcase the richness of our culture to the world. 

How did winning the title of Miss Universe Bangladesh 2019 impact your life and career? Can you share any special memory?

Winning the title of Miss Universe Bangladesh 2019 was a turning point in my life and career. It opened up a world of opportunities and introduced me to experiences I had never imagined. The victory was not just a personal achievement but a responsibility I was eager to embrace. It allowed me to use my voice on larger platforms, advocating for issues close to my heart, and working towards positive social change.

The training I received there was truly life-altering. It was nothing sort of an “army training.” We weren’t allowed to use our phones or social media. I was barely getting any sleep but it was worth it! 

A special memory that stands out from my journey post-winning the title was the moment I met Sushmita Sen. I felt grateful to be able to interact with her. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. In essence, winning Miss Universe Bangladesh 2019 has been a journey of growth, learning, and giving back. 

You are currently studying Environmental Science and Management. What interested you in choosing this subject?

Initially, I was studying physics at Dhaka University but soon I realized it was not something I wanted. When you are studying a competitive subject such as physics, you need to be fully invested in it. However, given the modelling career I was pursuing, it became extremely difficult for me to continue both – also, I couldn’t imagine myself studying physics and becoming a scientist or something. 

Nevertheless, I have above everything else been serious about my studies. So, I chose to study Environmental Science and Management at a private university as I found the subject quite interesting and relevant. 

I realized that through studying Environmental Science and Management, I could gain the expertise needed to contribute effectively to environmental conservation efforts, policy development, and sustainable practices.

It was your idea to paint the tea stalls at Dhaka University’s TSC area with rickshaw painting. How did you come up with this innovative idea? 

I adored rickshaw painting from the moment I walked the ramp of Miss Universe 2019 wearing a rickshaw hood. So, I thought why not use rickshaw painting to decorate a space that would encourage people to think and have meaningful conversations? This is how the idea came to me. 

You made your acting debut in Nuhash Humayun’s Pet Kata Shaw, for which you had to shave your eyebrows. Are you willing to take on more of such bold and impactful roles?

Of course! In fact, I recently completed an OTT project, which is due to be released soon.

As someone who’s often in the spotlight, how do you deal with the pressure to always look your best?

One of the most important lessons I have learned is to embrace my unique qualities. Understanding that beauty is subjective and being comfortable in my own skin helps reduce the pressure. I focus on what makes me feel confident and strive to present myself in a way that reflects my true self, rather than adhering strictly to external expectations.

Do you follow any specific fitness regime?

I walk regularly because I think it is one of the best exercises one can do. Additionally, I try to avoid the intake of carbs and consume as much protein as I can. Along with this, I tend to meditate in the morning because I believe mental health is as important as physical health.

 What advice would you give to someone who aspires to follow in your footsteps in the modelling and beauty pageant industry?

If someone were to ask me for advice on following in my footsteps in the modelling and beauty pageant industry, I’d begin by sharing that this journey, while immensely rewarding, is also filled with challenges and requires a deep sense of self-belief, resilience, and passion.

Firstly, understanding your ‘why’ is crucial. For me, modelling and participating in beauty pageants was not just about the allure of the spotlight but about the platforms they provided for self-expression and making a difference. 

It’s important to have a clear vision of what you hope to achieve and how you want to use these platforms to convey your message or advocate for causes close to your heart. I would emphasise that every individual’s journey is unique, and what worked for me might not work for everyone. The beauty of this industry lies in its diversity and the myriad ways one can find success and fulfilment.

Looking forward, what are your hopes or plans for the future?

I cannot say anything for sure as I still have a long way to go. Currently, I am studying and focusing on my modelling career. However, in future, I want to work for a cause – it can be for the environment, art or both. 

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