When Lorraine Down was showered with spotlight, she was barely 2o years old. Her confidence was shaky at best and she dreaded to speak in a hall full of people. Lorraine was simply overwhelmed by a brand new life that she entered. The young model from Auckland was thrusted into a life way different from the laid back atmosphere down under.
When she left New Zealand for Miss Universe, she cried. Homesickness was a struggle for Lorraine. Even after winning the Miss Universe crown, Lorraine would still shed tears when leaving New Zealand for foreign engagements. This problem however was something she solved gradually as she began to enjoy the duties and responsibilities of a Miss Universe. She fondly recalled the moment when she visited Colombia where she was accorded with bodyguards and complete with siren-wailing vehicle convoy. The Miss Universe title opened a lot of great experiences for the young blonde beauty, so much so that in the near end of her reign she no longer feel sad whenever she left New Zealand.
Homesickness was a matter of adjustment but Lorraine faced another challenge. She does not have that natural knack in public speaking. She would always depend on notes and admitted that public speaking engagements were her biggest challenge as Miss Universe. Lorraine however learned the value of being genuine and being true to herself. She began to speak directly from her heart and found out that in doing so, she does not need any notes and that it gives her more courage to speak up.
Being Miss Universe may have its benefits but for Lorraine, it was exhausting to live up to the title. She complained that she had always to look her best and she tried to please everyone. During her reign she admitted to a weekly magazine that she finally got over with the need to impress the whole world. “I’m going to be me. You can’t please everyone. You’ve just got to accept that…I’ll come back to New Zealand and settle, but I’ve got to make the most of opportunities to work overseas. In five years time they’ll be gone and I’ll kick myself if I don’t do it.”
Before, Lorraine was troubled on what other people would think about her. She always strived to look glamorous and had to spend countless of hours in choosing the right dress for an occasion. She was uncomfortable of having everyone recognize her wherever she went. Even these days, someone would bump into her and would acclaim, oh you’re the Miss Universe. Lorraine said she learned to respond that yes, she is a Miss Universe…but in 1983. As an image consultant these days, Lorraine learned to be comfortable in her own skin.
Beauty pageants are fading in New Zealand and whether the culprit is feminism or not, the world’s first nation to grant woman’s suffrage is facing an uphill climb at the Big4 pageants. There is a prevailing opinion in her country that somehow, beauty pageants exploit women but Lorraine has this for them: “How can I possibly say anyone has been exploiting me? I’ve been given the chance of a lifetime. I only ever had to appear in a swimsuit twice. I didn’t win the title for what I look like. I mean look at my body. I haven’t got a Marilyn Munroe body. If anything, my figure is totally the opposite. I won it for the qualities inside me. At least that’s what the judges told me.”
As the sole Kiwi Miss Universe and one of the only two Big4 queens from her country to date, Lorraine should be an inspiration. Young women in her country aspiring to become a Miss Universe can draw lessons from her life and experiences. Whether there will be a second New Zealander Miss Universe or not, Lorraine had proved that winning a title is more about the characteristics that you have inside. Her courage to face her fears and her ability to overcome them definitely made her a better person that she is now.