Welcome to Byrdie's new series, Next Gen, where we profile Gen Z celebrities, influencers, and entrepreneurs. As a collective, members of Gen Z are dynamic trendsetters and culture shifters. And when it comes to beauty and wellness, they have ushered more creativity, inclusivity, and transparency into the industry. In this column, we're stepping into the minds of some of the most notable Gen Z'ers to learn more about how they are redefining beauty, the products they swear by, and their plans for the future.
Harnaaz Sandhu's life changed forever when she won the Miss Universe pageant eight months ago. The 22-year-old became a household name overnight and immediately hit the ground running as the international beauty queen. Sandhu's win was a pivotal personal moment and was equally important for her home country, India. She's the third Indian woman to win the crown and the first in 21 years.
Sandhu doesn't take her status as a public figure lightly. While she's been able to enjoy the position's premium perks (like magazine covers, red carpet events, and global travel), she is solely focused on using her title to make a major impact. Her chosen platform? Menstrual equity. Sandhu's passion for menstrual hygiene started at an early age. As a child, she worked alongside her mother (a gynecologist) at camps addressing women's health and hygiene. As Miss Universe, Sandhu has been able to bring greater awareness to the issue, launching a coalition for menstrual equity in March. Her dream is to help five million women throughout India and globally by 2025.
In conversation, Sandhu is as passionate and poised as you'd expect her to be. Her warm demeanor and mega-watt smile immediately put you at ease, making it easy to connect (even via Zoom). We were able to effortlessly weave between conversations, discussing everything from her advocacy work to the DIY beauty remedies her family taught her. Ahead, read everything Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu had to say.
What sparked your interest in pageantry?
It was never my childhood dream to become Miss Universe. But when I was 17 years old, I participated in my first pageant at my college. I decided to go on stage, dance, and enjoy myself. I ended up being the second runner-up. From there, I competed for the city title and won. As I was moving forward, I realized pageantry interested me and allowed me to explore hidden talents like singing and dancing. However, going from being a shy, introverted girl to competing in pageants was quite challenging. I went from representing my college to the whole universe.
You became Miss Universe at 21. What does it mean to you to win the title at such a young age?
I always say age is nothing but a number. There have been times I've heard people say, "You're too young for this." I don't let them define me. I've realized it's not about your age; it's about how you perceive things, especially challenges in your life. I've seen incredible people doing incredible things at all ages. If they can do it, why can't I do it?
When I won, I was happy and surprised, but I still never thought about my age until I saw the headlines. During the pageant, the only thing I thought about was my desire to represent my country in the best way possible. I also wanted to enjoy the experience because the Miss Universe pageant is helping prepare me for the rest of my life.
How has life changed since winning the title? Have you had any "pinch me" moments?
Can I be honest? I think I'm out of the phase where I'm having "pinch me" moments every morning. My mom and brother are still experiencing that level of disbelief. Of course, my gratitude will always remain. But, what really makes me happy is knowing I have matured mentally and physically. My vision has become clearer. I realize I have the platform and voice to make all of my dreams happen. So, life has changed, but I'm still the same. I'm always going to be grounded and authentic. At the end of the day, it's not about how popular you are, how expensive your outfit is, or how beautiful you look. If you do not know how to treat people, everything else means nothing.
What has it been like dealing with global attention since winning the title?
I'm one of those people who likes to escape from social media. It was really beautiful to see people following me after I won, but at the same time, it comes with a lot of responsibility. Everybody's looking up to you and observing your next steps. Some people have unexpected opinions, and dealing with that can be difficult. It's important to remember every word that we see on social media does matter. We need to think before we say anything to anyone.
But beyond that, I hope anyone who checks out my pictures or reads my captions feels inspired. For me, it's not about having tons of followers. It's about connecting with people ready to change their lives and do something impactful. They inspire me to be an inspiration.
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about your beauty routine. Did you learn any beauty tips from your family as a child?
I've learned so much from my mom and grandma. They taught me about Multani Mitti. It's like sand you can put on your face—it gives you a natural glow and takes all the toxins out of your skin. Then, I used to mix yogurt, turmeric, coffee, and sugar and scrub it on my body. I always enjoy taking care of myself and my skin with homemade remedies.
What's one beauty product you always carry with you?
A rosewater mist. I recommend carrying one with you to refresh your skin, especially when traveling. I always use it before going out or going to a meeting.
How has your beauty philosophy evolved?
Growing up, I had this perspective that you had to wear makeup 24/7 to be beautiful. I'm happy things are changing now. Even former Miss Universes are posting pictures without makeup. That makes me so happy to see because it is something we need to normalize. Being Miss Universe doesn't mean you have to look perfect all the time. Nobody's perfect, and we need to embrace that.
The tagline of Miss Universe is "beautifully confident." Do you have any advice for building confidence?
You first need to understand what "beautifully confident" means to you. For me, it means that everything starts and ends with confidence. I want everyone who comes across my page to know they are incredible and unstoppable. You shouldn't let anyone else determine your future. Your words are so impactful, and your personality is something nobody has. You are unique, so be yourself and conquer the universe.
You've accomplished so much already. What are some of your other aspirations?
I think life's too short to keep thinking and planning. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow. I do have a few goals because I believe if you create a goal, you have the possibility to achieve it. It's not a long list, but it's impactful enough for me. I hope to continue my work with menstrual equity even after passing on the crown. I want to keep using my platform to spread positivity and do impactful work.
What does your perfect day off look like?
I love to wake up early, but I try to wake up a little later when I'm off. I like to relax and start the day with some yoga. I'll eat something, talk to my family, and do some shopping. Before I go to bed, I like to take a good shower and watch a Bollywood movie with popcorn.