Aysha Khan becomes the first Muslim to win Miss Lancashire

Talk of the town - student Aysha Khan from Blackburn is the new Miss Lancashire

Talk of the town - student Aysha Khan from Blackburn is the new Miss Lancashire - Credit: Archant

It takes considerable nerve to enter the Miss Lancashire contest but one woman provded that anything is possible – even for a young Muslim.

Ellie Finch (left) hands over the tiara to the winner Ayasha at Preston's Playhouse Theatre

Ellie Finch (left) hands over the tiara to the winner Ayasha at Preston's Playhouse Theatre - Credit: Archant

Taking part in your first beauty contest requires quite a lot of courage. When you’ve battled against depression and anxiety it’s doubly difficult. When you are also a young Muslim it is nothing short of remarkable.

Those were the challenges facing student Aysha Khan when she entered the Miss Lancashire competition. Not only did she come through with flying colours, she managed to win it, the first Muslim to take the prize.

Now, 20-year-old Aysha is hoping her success will inspire more young women from diverse ethnic backgrounds to follow in her footsteps. She said it was an honour to pick up the crown during a night of high excitement in Preston and she hopes her success will help to break down the stigma pageants might have in the county’s Asian community.

‘Miss Lancashire is the first pageant I have entered which is also why I’m amazed I won it,’ she said. ‘Even before the final I had a really good response from girls I know asking me if they should take part. I think people’s perceptions are changing.’

Contestants in the new Miss Lancashire 2019 contest

Contestants in the new Miss Lancashire 2019 contest - Credit: Archant

Aysha, from Blackburn, now goes forward to the semi-finals of Miss England in June and could eventually compete in Miss World. ‘I’m still in shock,’ she said. ‘It didn’t sink in when my name was read out – my jaw just dropped. I couldn’t believe it. This whole journey has been amazing.’

It turned out there were three Muslim girls in the final line-up. ‘One of the things I wanted to do when I entered was to be able to encourage more girls to take part in the competition. Coming from an Asian background, I’m aware of the stigma people have about competitions like this.

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‘But I want to assure future entrants that 90 per cent of it is charity and community work with only about 10 per cent being beauty related. We raised several thousands for the Variety children’s charity.’

As part of the selection process the entrants have to make a positive contribution to the community, things like working for charity or visiting schools to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Aysha takes centre stage on the catwalk

Aysha takes centre stage on the catwalk - Credit: Archant

As the daughter of a community outreach worker and the middle child of six siblings, Aysha has been involved in youth community work since she was 12. Her mum, Ruksana Ali, said she was her daughter’s biggest fan and was overcome with pride at her win. ‘As parents you always want to see your children succeed in life and have the opportunity to realise their dreams,’ she said. ‘This is something I have encouraged all my children to do from an early age.’

Aysha, who is training to be a teacher, added: ‘At the time of putting my application in, my mind was in a place where, after suffering severely from depression and anxiety, I wanted to try something new and jump head first into more opportunities. I didn’t want to let life pass me by without giving myself memories of living it.

‘Growing up, I had a very tough life. My mum was a single parent so nothing ever came easy. I sometimes believed I would never know the meaning of true happiness, but from an early age I was determined I would fight for a better life.

‘There has been a mixed reaction to me taking part but there have been many more positive responses than a negative ones. Aysha found she made new friends during the competition, which saw two young women from Preston, Holly Moore and Charlotte Lily as runners-up. ‘Honestly, the highlight of the competition was meeting an amazing bunch of people.

I formed relationships with the other finalists and we all had so much fun on the day. Meeting people from different walks of life is always something I love as it’s a way to learn.’

‘The journey to success is never easy and my confidence lies in knowing and accepting that. My life’s ambition is to help as many people as I can. Whether that is just helping them with something small or completely changing a person’s life. It’s the small things that truly matter to me and I’ve always wanted to make sure my existence in this world had a purpose of helping others.

‘Being the first Muslim to win Miss Lancashire means I would definitely encourage more ethnic girls to take part.

You don’t have to compromise any of your own beliefs or values by taking part.

‘You’re treated like a part of the family and it’s truly a life-changing experience. It’s also a way to gain so many life skills such as communication skills, confidence, social skills and being involved in fundraising.’

The old images of women parading around in bikinis is a thing of the past with the emphasis more on catwalk fashions, personal development and community service.

‘These pageants shouldn’t be classed as taboo or have any stigma connected to them because times have changed and so has what they stand for,’ said Aysha. ‘You can be authentic and unapologetically yourself. That’s what I did. And I now hold the title.’

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