“A self-described ‘joker’ who loves to chat with everyone, Htet Htet Tun describes herself as ‘proud’ to have had the opportunity to represent Myanmar before hitting jackpot and focussing the world’s attention on Burmese culture the night of her Best Costume Award”

Miss Universe Myanmar, Htet Htet Tun tells Ben Hopkins how she won over the crowd at Miss Universe 2017 to bring home Best Costume Award. 

The world tuned in on the evening of January 30 to witness what deserves to go down as one of the most off beat and beguiling acts in the history of Miss Universe; a traditional Burmese puppet dance performed to the sound of electric dance music. The 35,000-strong crowd erupted in a roar of approval as Htet Htet Tun contorted her body and mimicked the movements of a puppet, arms swinging loosely from their sockets and head wobbling from side to side, winning the Best Costume Award for Myanmar.

For the untrained eye the timing and execution of the performance appeared to be planned to perfection. Only it wasn’t. According to the 5 foot 7 Burmese beauty who describes herself as a natural joker, the dance came as a spontaneous reaction to being placed on stage with barely a clue what to do.

“We had no rehearsal”, she confesses. “I walked alone to the centre of the stage and looked for a microphone to introduce myself, but there wasn’t one”. With no mic and the eyes of millions upon her, Htet Htet Tun did what came naturally and started dancing like a puppet. After all, she was dressed as a marionette with a mini stage attached to her back, and it was a dance the 24-year- old had practiced many times before. The crowd went ecstatic and for a moment the light shone on Htet Htet Tun of Myanmar, erasing memories of the country’s absence from Miss Universe that lasted from 1962 till 2013.

The road to success 

Myanmar’s long absence from the competition makes Htet Htet Tun’s achievement all the more remarkable. Schooled at a government establishment in Yangon’s Dagon’ Township, Htet Htet Tun’s parents, a Medical Doctor and housewife, strongly disapproved of their daughter’s ambition to become a successful model, believing there were few prospects for emerging models in Myanmar’s deeply conservative society.

“Under the warm care of my family, I had a very fun and carefree life until I turned 18” she says. “That was when I told my parents that I really wanted to compete in a model contest. That was the turning point in my life. My parents cut off all support for my education and modelling career”.

Determined to succeed, she worked her way through college, gaining a degree in Civil Engineering while never giving up on her dreams. While she never worked a day as a civil engineer she’s certainly proved herself to be more than ‘just a pretty face’ – setting up and running her own successful events management company while working variously as an MC, DJ and make-up artist.

Some may say it’s easier to be successful when you’re gifted the rare beauty of a Miss Universe contestant, and while there’s undoubtedly some truth in that, there can also be a sting in the tail. Especially in today’s society, when people’s visceral envy finds outlet in social media. 

“There were only bad comments on Facebook when I won Miss Myanmar in 2015”, she recalls. “A lot of people said I am not attractive enough to be going to Miss Universe. They said other countries are ready, have more training, more support of peer group”.

Did she care? 

“No, when I read the negative stuff I don’t reply, it makes me stronger”. 

Befitting a Miss Universe contestant Htet Htet Tun is petit and delicate in appearance, much like a Burmese puppet. Her handshake can hardly be described as bone crushing and if a hurricane were to sweep in she’d probably be the first to disappear. But that side, there’s no doubting her inner strength and possibly mischievous sense of humour.

She claims not have suffered nervousness during the finals, describing the whole event as a “picnic”.

“A picnic?”

“Yes, it was like a picnic”, she says. “Chocolates, cake, cheese, biscuits – lots of food everywhere that we didn’t have to pay for”.

Was she tempted? “Yes, we all ate lots”. 

Despite the sinful acts of gluttony, the schedule was a little more demanding than your average ‘picnic’. Contestants were out of bed at around 4 am; a brisk shower and make up session is followed by breakfast at 6 am. The rest of the day follows a packed schedule of press conferences and photo sessions packed between a travel schedule that saw all 65 contestants flown and bussed around the Philippines. Lights are out by around 11 pm, but when you’re part of an entourage of beauty queens it’s only natural that the chatting and tip toeing through corridors goes on till the early hours.

“I think I slept three or four hours a night”. 

A self-described ‘joker’ who loves to chat with everyone, Htet Htet Tun describes herself as ‘proud’ to have had the opportunity to represent Myanmar before hitting jackpot and focussing the world’s attention on Burmese culture the night of her Best Costume Award.

Future plans

Now back home in Yangon, unmarried (as all Miss Universe contestants must be) and living with her proud parents she plans to continue her career path with her events management company while making forays into acting.

However, potential suiters to Miss Myanmar Universe will have to put their dreams on hold as it seems Htet Htet Tun’s heart has already been won over by the canine charmers of Yangon. “I want to set up my own animal rights foundation,” she says. “In Myanmar, we have many charities for worthy causes but nothing for animals”.

Every month she donates rice, curry and meat to an elderly lady in Yangon’s North Dagon township who feeds the street dogs. While she may have indulged in the gluttony of chocolates and cakes at Miss Universe the meat section was strictly off limits for Htet Htet Tun.

“I’m a vegetarian because I love animals, and we don’t kill the ones we love’”. 

Now there’s a beautiful thought.

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