Miss World Canada 2015 shares the origins of her strength and grace
In the town of Changsha, China, in the 1990s, the mother of this year’s Miss World Canada watched as her 3-year-old daughter folded one handkerchief after another into perfect squares, smoothing each with a delicate touch — and worried that her little girl wouldn’t grow up with enough gumption to face the real world.
So she put young Anastasia on a rigourous routine of physical exercise and culture lessons. She learned English, piano, how to cross shaky log bridges by herself. Every day at 6 a.m she hiked up a mountain, at the peak of which her mother would have her shout English vocabulary words to improve her enunciation. Soon she’d climb trees better than a boy, making her father wonder if her toughening-up had gone too far. After school would be Chinese calligraphy lessons in the grand, stone-paved lecture halls of Yuelu Academy, one of China’s four ancient universities.
“My mom forced me to write for hours each day,” Lin recalls. “Huge characters. I would dip the brush in water and write across the stones of the entire lecture hall. And the brushes were thicker than my arms, I remember.”
Anastasia Lin won the Miss World Canada crown this year on a platform of human rights and religious freedom, particularly for her native China, where religious persecution and state-orchestrated abuse of citizens is rampant.
“The victims — they have absolutely no avenue of recourse within their own borders,” she said in her award video. “International solidarity and support is crucial to their survival.”
That Lin ended up in the world of beauty pageants may seem coincidental. However, her will to lead and inspire is innate.
As a little girl, she wanted to be the president of a country, or a lawyer, since her father said she used to “argue a lot and never stop defending my idea until I’m proven wrong.”
“It just looked so cool that those people were speaking in public and inspiring people,” she said. “To have that kind of focus is quite amazing.”
When I asked her about her role models, I was half expecting someone like Eleanor Roosevelt, but she named Socrates and Jesus.
“When I read Socrates’s texts, I feel so connected. His conviction and his logic is almost identical to mine. I can follow him so closely and it’s almost as if he said what I want to say so badly.”
When Socrates was sentenced to death by poison, she said, referring to Plato’s text Crito, “he faced death with such poise and tranquility.”
Eventually she realized that politics and law weren’t for her, and fell in love with acting as a medium to raise awareness about issues dear to her. From the age of 18, she performed in human-rights films, the latest of which, Bleeding Edge, from Peabody-winning director Leon Lee, comes out in December.
A lonely road
Lin made her first bid for Miss World Canada in 2013. It was and continues to be a lonely road, not least because her parents, long separated, live one in China and the other on the Canadian West Coast, far from her current home of Toronto.
The idea of participating in pageants was first planted in 2005, when she went on a lark to hear Miss World Canada 2003 Nazanin Afshin-Jam speak at a Vancouver human-rights event.
“Then I saw what could be done by a beauty queen,” Lin said.
What Lin didn’t see that day was the army of obstacles she would have to face before the crown was placed on her head, especially from people who didn’t understand the significance of beauty pageants.
“There’s a stereotype that beauty queens are superficial and catty,” she said. “Back then I didn’t even dare to find a sponsor, afraid that I would be judged.”
Disparaging remarks came over social media, tearing her down and making her question her conviction that her path was worthwhile.
“At a certain point, I thought, ‘Why am I doing this to myself? No one is supporting me. I am not even supporting myself.’ If I’m going to do it, I better just have fun with it!”
So in 2015, instead of seeing the other girls as faceless competition as she was prone to do the first time, she got to know them as people: “Their fears, anxieties, and also what makes them truly happy… I knew them personally and felt like they were my comrades. And each one is so unique.” She let go of the pursuit of winning, and took joy in the journey.
It also helped that this year she was over the desired weight anyway, so she didn’t think her chances were high.
For the crowning ceremony, she designed a white, toga-inspired dress with a bodice. Several minutes before she was expected on stage, the zipper split.
“I had to cut myself out of it last minute. I was so glad I had a backup dress, otherwise it would have been so embarrassing.”
When the bouquet was placed in her hands and flashbulbs flooded her retinas, Lin’s mind went blank.
“I didn’t know what to think. I knew it was real, but really, what’s next? The crown is a huge responsibility.”
But winning the crown would not be Lin’s toughest challenge. In China, her father began receiving threatening calls from Chinese security agents pressuring him to make Anastasia give up the cause. She wrote about this in a Washington Post op-ed. As the Miss World finals in Sanya, China, near, Lin is galvanizing herself. She knows she has to keep going.
“If I don’t, the oppression will never stop,” Lin told The Guardian.
Using this platform to advocate for religious freedom requires strength and grace, both of which Anastasia has developed plenty. By all accounts, her mother is proud. Oh, and Anastasia still folds her hankies neatly.
Morning routine: “My goal with my morning routine is to balance. Never try to do harsh things. I know people like to change skincare, but once you find something suitable for your skin, just let it rest because what we want is to balance, soothe, and calm the skin, and protect it from pollution. For the evening, I do a massage with Clarins Tonic Oil which helps to get rid of water retention.”
“I drink at least one leafy green smoothie every day. Sometimes when I need to go on a diet I have more than one.”
Tiramisu. Chocolate truffles. “Worst-case scenario? Ferrero Rocher!”
“I love sports — I just don’t like to play ball.”
Golf: “My whole family plays golf.”
Meditation: “I try to do it before I go to sleep at night.”