The Miss Malaysia Plus World beauty pageant last year caused some controversy when there were calls for it to be cancelled.
Since then, Melissa Mohan Tyndall was not only crowned the winner, but placed fourth runner-up in the Miss Plus World 2021, while Zeenat Malik was second runner-up in the Miss Plus Intercontinental pageant.
Melissa also took home the Miss Plus World Humanitarian Ambassador 2021 title.
It was in recognition of her efforts in humanitarian works including her breast cancer awareness campaigns over the years.
Melissa, who comes from Punjabi and Chinese parentage, often wondered why her skin colour did not fit in or why her name did not fit in.
She said that despite having a fully supportive family and network of friends who accepted and continue to accept her for who she was, it took her a while to understand that she was just different.
“In a country like Malaysia, there are not just the main races, but other races as well including mixed-race communities,” she said in an interview in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
“But when I talk in public, I always stress the importance of us identifying ourselves as Malaysians rather than being labelled as our own individual races alongside being kind and to practise acceptance among one another.”
On body positivity, Melissa said that as a plus-sized individual, she does not allow the perception of others affect her values, beliefs and even her work.
“I always find myself surrounded by positive-minded individuals as they constantly encourage me to be the better version of myself.”
It was reported that Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia had urged the government to cancel the pageant, on the grounds that it was “hedonistic” and allegedly “exploits women”.
PAS women’s wing said it was against the pageant, saying the event was contrary to the moral values of Islam and Malaysia.
In response, the organiser of Miss/Mrs Plus World Malaysia 2020 said its main objectives were to create awareness and empower women.
Breast cancer awareness
“I lost two aunts and a cousin to breast cancer and I lost one of my aunts when I was only eight.
“And when I was young, I was not exposed to the disease and I was only told that my aunt wasn’t ‘feeling well’ and saw the pain in her eyes.
“But when I got older, I asked myself as to why my two aunts and cousin lost their lives to breast cancer instead of other people.”
She started reading and researching about it and this led her to create her first breast awareness talk in 2017 to educate the public — but to her dismay, only 15 people turned up for the event.
“I realised that many didn’t attend the talk as breast cancer talk is a sad topic, one where parents can’t bring their children and have a great time.”
She then revamped her idea and turned it into a one-day carnival last year to make the awareness campaign one that is easier to understand and learn.
“I brought in food vendors, face painters, photo contests to make it a fun event for one of the previous breast cancer awareness campaigns with 92 people showing up.
“My intention was to create awareness on the importance of early detection of breast cancer — where I would also conduct events to encourage women to go for regular check-ups and to seek help especially if they find any abnormalities.”
Giving back to the community
Apart from her breast cancer awareness campaign, Melissa is one who has a heart for the underprivileged communities.
Melissa recalled an incident where in 2019 where she received funding to buy new clothes and took 54 children of plantation workers out for a Deepavali brunch.
“I remember driving past the estate during the Deepavali season and I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids would be wearing because festivities mean buying new clothes and looking good in their attires.
“And with that funding, I managed to get the girls either a lehenga or Punjabi suit while the boys received kurta tops and pants.
“I wanted them to get the same experience that others would get too on Diwali festivities.”
She has also conducted festive visits to orphanages, care centres as well as retirement homes.
“My parents have always instilled the importance of giving back to the community.
“If you want to receive kindness, you need to give kindness and I’ve always had this phrase ingrained in me,” she said.