Confident, intelligent and kind-hearted, the reigning Miss World America sets the bar high for beauty queens around the globe. She opens up to HELLO! about her hopes, aspirations and ambitions during a whirlwind visit to Delhi.
When the enigmatic and beautiful Shree Saini was a child of five, she remembers, she was awed by the sight of the reigning Miss World on TV.
“I was so mesmerised by the work she was doing. For me, she was a superhero who encouraged and motivated people to feel happier. That’s when I knew I wanted to be Miss World,” Shree says with a smile.
As one of the youngest-ever recipients of a pacemaker owing to a heart issue, and then becoming a burn victim after a horrific car accident, Shree’s life has been filled with numerous hurdles. Yet, she overcame all odds, time and again, to become the first Indian-origin winner of the titles of Miss World First Runner-Up, Miss World America and Miss World Beauty with a Purpose Ambassador.
There’s no denying that she is a superhero in her own right.
Two Worlds, One Purpose
Seated on the regal rooftop of The Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi, on a hot summer’s day, Shree looks picture perfect in a red ensemble, radiating positivity and a strong conviction in her beliefs.
She shares, “I’m striving to maximise my year of service and do the most I can to give back. So far, I’ve raised over $200,000, worked with hundreds of charities, travelled to 34 states in the US and 11 countries, and engage with the community every week by visiting high schools, colleges and businesses. I want to make an impact.”
Originally from Ludhiana, Punjab, Shree’s family moved to the US when she was five, to start life afresh. She is firmly connected to her Indian roots and speaks Hindi and Punjabi fluently. Shree is also a big fan of Bollywood dance and music!
“My favourite word is from the Hindi language — jugaad,” she smiles. “It encapsulates my solutions-oriented approach to life.”
Her Indian ethnicity made it harder for her to win this title, but she was determined not to become a slave to any limiting beliefs.
“When I initially used to participate in city-level pageants, people would only question me about being Indian. I wanted them to ask me about my personality, my values, the adversities I had overcome in life, but I kept getting stereotyped in this role of being Indian. So, I would always win in most sub-categories and usually be the first runner-up, but it was hard for me to reach state-level pageants,” she explains.
Fortunately, the tide changed with time as diversity and inclusivity of People of Colour (POC) entered mainstream conversations.
Now women of Indian origin occupy the highest seats in varied fields like business, art, fashion and entertainment, across the globe. Just like Indra Nooyi, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and others! Shree marries both her cultures effortlessly.
“It fills my heart with so much joy that, of all the participating nations, I represent two of the most powerful and vibrant ones,” she says.
She asserts that her Indian culture taught her the importance of family values and the worth of consistent hard work.
“These values helped me stand out among other contestants. They helped me excel in each round of the competition and win a lot of the sub-categories. Similarly, America has taught me the value of friendship and given me tremendous exposure to the world. I always say that I’m 100 percent Indian and 100 percent American. Both of these make me whole.”
A Picture Of Passion And Perseverance
Apart from being a cultural advocate, Shree is passionate about her role as ambassador for ‘Beauty with a Purpose.’
She supports many charities at home and travels around the world whenever her ‘sisters’ from the Miss World contest request her help in their countries. With her family taking on the added role of being national directors of Miss World America, she invites other national winners to serve with her, so their meaningful work can continue beyond the pageant.
Shree is also a gifted dancer. Her contemporary dance performance narrating her life story during the talent round of Miss World received a standing ovation. She is strict with her fitness regimen and follows the ‘10-3-30’ rule of walking (30 minutes of walking on speed 3 at a 10 incline on the treadmill), as well as intermittent fasting in a six-hour eating window when her schedule permits. An avid reader of non-fiction self-help books, she enjoys listening to peppy music in order to stay productive throughout the day.
There is no denying that she’s a woman of many talents. Yet, it is her tremendous mental fortitude that truly elevates her.
In her own words, “As a 12-year-old getting a pacemaker and as a burn victim at 21, I told myself that I cannot let the tragedies define me. I felt that as long as I have a heartbeat, I have a purpose, and my goal was to find my way to that purpose, no matter the odds.”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s September 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!