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“The first no-makeup photo shoot was in 2016, and it was so much fun,” photographer Benjamin Askinas told Insider. “And it caused an online uproar that I don’t think we expected — people loved it.”
Askinas said there’s a lot of pressure for pageant queens to always be “on,” and he believes the photos can be empowering for them as well.
“Many are constantly made-up while on tour with the show,” he continued. “This shoot is an opportunity for them to embrace their beauty and step outside of their comfort zone. I’m just really excited to be a part of that.”
Askinas talked to each of the selected pageant queens before the shoot, and gave them the option to skip it if they didn’t feel comfortable.
“Not only did they all choose to participate, but they were so excited to be a part of something that helps break the pageantry and beauty standards,” he told Insider.
And Askinas said he could see “an immediate physical change” in the women after showing them the first few images from their photo shoots.
“The way they hold themselves and view themselves is more self-assuring,” he said. “They walk away feeling more confident in their beauty, and it’s my favorite part of doing this shoot.”
“We are constantly flooded with images of retouched and filtered faces and bodies,” Askinas said. “I think that social media is oversaturated with that content, and people see it too often.”
“These women, in particular, are in the spotlight and pressured to be ‘perfect.'” he added. “This shoot gives the delegates an opportunity to show a different side of themselves and their personalities. To see someone posting unfiltered photos today is to be different. People stop and take notice.”
Julieta Garcia, 22, has been passionate about studying psychology and human behavior since she was a child. She is dedicated to helping people who are struggling with addiction, according to the Miss Universe website.
Garcia has also been practicing ballet for 12 years and currently works as an international model.
Debbie Aflalo, 28, graduated with honors in international relations and diplomacy. She is now pursuing her master’s in international trade and dreams of becoming an ambassador to the United Nations.
Aflalo also has a technical degree in fashion and dressmaking. In her spare time, the pageant queen organizes garbage clean-up projects across the Dominican Republic, according to her Miss Universe bio.
Silvia Naa Morkor Commodore, 27, is currently studying business administration. She also works as a model and wedding planner, telling Insider that she loves making brides’ “ultimate dream come to a reality.”
Commodore dreams of opening a dance school one day. She says in her Miss Universe bio that she “aspires to be a pillar of hope for children who are forced to endure the ghastly nightmares of poverty in her community.”
Antonia Figueroa, 25, has a degree in environmental civil engineering and has taught herself how to speak four languages, including German. She plans to continue her studies in Berlin to get her master’s in renewable energy and water technology, according to the Miss USA website.
Figueroa is a regional champion in Taekwondo and recently received her first-degree black belt. She has also competed on “MasterChef Chile” and recently launched Volunteers for Children, enrolling people who are willing to provide free lessons to their communities.
Nandita Banna, 21, is currently working toward a double degree in business management and information systems at Singapore Management University. She is also a model and has worked with Vogue Singapore and Louis Vuitton, according to her Miss Universe bio.
Banna mentors underprivileged children at Care Corner Singapore, where she provides them with emotional support and teaches them interpersonal skills.
Eloisa Jo-Hannah Seifer, 19, is currently attending acting school. She also plans to study journalism, according to the Miss Universe website.
Seifer has traveled to 17 countries on three different continents but has a fear of flying. She is committed to “the environment, dogs, bullying, and mental illnesses.”
Luiseth Materán, 25, is currently the communications director for CEOS, an “international app that provides innovative learning skills,” according to her Miss Universe bio. She is also training to be an actress and has appeared in a TV series.
Materán is a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS prevention and gender equality. The pageant queen has also been a lifelong advocate for the rights of people with Down syndrome, inspired by her brother who was born with the condition.
Kawtar Benhalima, 22, has a degree in business administration and plans to continue her studies in specialized education, according to her Miss Universe bio.
Benhalima has also lived in Paris, Singapore, and Barcelona, cultivating “a worldly view on life based on gratitude and acceptance.” She has worked with various organizations in Morocco to advocate for education and underprivileged communities.