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Erica Robin may be only 25, but already her name has become synonymous with the trailblazing first ever Miss Universe Pakistan. Behind the stunning photographs, however, lies a gruelling journey that required endless passion and determination. 

Subject to merciless trolling, being told she had to re-learn how to walk and talk, and battling red tape to be able to get on a plane to El Salvador at all, Erica could write a book on the mountains she had to move to get through to the other side. Instead, Erica laid bare all the juicy details of her journey in Frieha Altaf’s podcast FWhy

Entering Miss Universe

A year after being in the modelling industry, Erica knew that this was a career she could commit to full-time, although she confessed that she had “zero knowledge” about the inner workings of the Miss Universe contest. However, upon learning that Pakistan had no representation on the platform, Erica submitted her profile, albeit without any confidence that it would bear fruit. 

“I filled out the form without even knowing if it was authentic, and then I got an email that I had been shortlisted,” she recalled. 

Convinced that the email was “fake”, Erica nevertheless ended up being interviewed and then shortlisted out of 200 girls into the top 20 Miss Universe Pakistan candidates, many of whom were living abroad. With the candidates further whittled down to the top 5, Erica then travelled to the Maldives for the final round. Remaining true to her roots, Erica had already expressly stated she would not be wearing a bikini or other revealing clothing. 

“I still had no idea that this was it,” she said. “It was only when I got there that I realised that the winner of this round would be crowned Miss Universe Pakistan!”

Trolls and training

Erica’s initial disbelief at being crowned Miss Universe Pakistan snowballed into fear when internet trolls started coming to the fore. “It was supposed to be a special moment,” she said. “But then I started getting threats.”

Reduced to tears though she may have been, Erica vowed to keep going, despite a dearth of support from the fashion industry. “I had to pay for the training myself. No one from the government sponsored me, even though I was representing the country, and no one from the industry supported me [financially].” 

Erica, however, was in the fortunate position of having savings, and continued to ride the rollercoaster ride she found herself thrust into. Within days, she packed her bags to train in the Philippines for a month. Having assumed she would “nail” the training, Erica’s illusions were swiftly shattered. 

“Training was tough,” she admitted. “I cried at night. They told me I didn’t know how to walk properly, and I couldn’t talk in front of the camera to save my life! I had to practise talking in the mirror every morning when putting on my makeup!”

However, the real stress was yet to come. 

Setbacks 

Three days before having to leave for El Salvador, Erica realised she would be unable to fly without a transit visa. She credited the Philippines government for their unwavering support, although she was afraid every second that her dreams would go up in smoke and the runner-up Miss Universe Pakistan would be sent, as was usual practice. 

“I was so depressed,” she said. “But they really helped me out, and eventually, because there was such little time left, I had to make a 40-hour journey to get to El Salvador.” 

With her expenses racking up, the model had to rely on her contacts to help her out financially just so she could get on a plane. Upon landing, Erica was so exhausted, she was convinced she had the dreaded coronavirus. “I lost my voice, I was so tired. I thought if I had covid, I’ll just die here in El Salvador.” 

Lessons learned in the competition

As it transpired, Erica was in perfect health, and managed to catch up on all her interviews and survive the gruelling process. Dismissing the notion that the entire pageant is focused on beauty, Erica noted, “Your supervisor keeps you in line, and you need to be punctual and disciplined.”

Erica’s other takeaway from the competition was being able to shatter preconceived notions about Pakistan. “People thought I had studied abroad because I could speak English!” she said. “They think we still use camels or something, and couldn’t believe I had a social life.” 

Although Erica has no regrets about her time spent competing, she knows she would never have been doing had she not already built up her own financial fallback. “I paid 5 million from my own pocket,” she revealed, and urged the government to not let future candidates suffer the way she did. “Please, please in future, sponsor the girls so that the competition is open to everyone, and not just those who can afford it. And help her with her visa!” 

Paving the way

Erica is proud to have paved the way for other girls to follow in her footsteps. “Anyone can apply, if they have the potential and the spark,” she insisted. “You don’t have to have a ‘source’.” 

As for herself, Erica is thrilled with how the publicity has enabled her to use her voice for the greater good. “I am more than happy to use my platform and voice to support anti-gender bias and feminism.”

Reflecting on how participating in the global competition has changed her, Erica noted that gaining recognition had allowed her to channel her thoughts before speaking.  “Before this, I was just I, me, myself, but when you know you have a title, people are looking up to you – you automatically change. Your behaviour changes. You adapt. I am more calm and composed and think before saying anything in a public place.”

With Erica having accomplished all that she has at just 25, she can continue to pave the way for women for years to come. 

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