Brunch

Finding Yourself

By: Bernadine Rodrigo

Stephanie Siriwardhana is not a name unheard by the Sri Lankan ear. She is mostly known for winning the Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe crown in 2011 and her work as a compeer. We know her to be beautiful, graceful and pretty much a perfect lady and we have assumed that that was what she always was. However, if you take some time to speak to her, she will tell you otherwise.

You have mentioned not fitting in. What was that like and did it ever change?

I was very “nerdy”, chubby and definitely not one of the popular kids in high school. I was very academic and absolutely love to read. I always had my nose in a book.

When I went tolive in Italy and eventually Canada, I made a choice to always try new things and got involved in absolutely everything I could. I became a part of my student union in university, became a senator and graduated as a governor of my university. So I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. Iunderstand what it feels like to not fit in and vice versa. I personally thinknotfitting in is the best because then you most definitely always stand out!

Society wants you to fit into a mould and I don’t think we all should. One mould does not fit all. So I think what I learnt is that embracing yourself and being true to who you are is the best way to live. My parents empowered me by always telling me that you have the courage to be different, to be you, because there’s only one you in this universe.

What was school life like to you specifically in Sri Lanka?

I went to all the international schools but, my favourite was moir because I was taught the importance of being a socially responsible human being. No matter what you do I think giving back is really important because simply having your arms and legs and waking up each morning means you areblessed.

So you believe in the goodness of an individual?

I believe all human beings are innately good. I know this could be a bad analogy but something that makes me feel like one person can make a huge difference is that if you look at the extreme, like Hitler. The Holocaust was one of the worlds darkest times. Now imagine if he was good, imagine how much good could have happened! I know its two extremes but, I think if one person can do that much bad then one person can most definitelychange the world for the better!

I suppose your goal in life is to change the world?

Yes! Yes! I do want to change the world but Iwould say I’m a little slower at doing it now because I am at a point where my husband and I are thinking of taking the next step and maybe starting a family. This is the point whereI have to find the perfect balance, where I still find the time to changethe world and have time for my work and a family. It’s a balancing act and it’s something I’m still learning.

Speaking of families, What is it like being married to DushyanthWeeraman?

It’s great becausehe is an amazing human being with a beautiful heart. The bonus is that we get to work together so much. We do a lot of corporate work together. We sing together we dance together we do brand ambassadorships together. We’re blessed that we are both in the same industry so we have the liberty to work together. It’s fun and exciting. Everyday is different. As a couple what we really focus on is giving back and trying to give back as much as we can. Right now he is supporting me for workin Welikada prison to raise funds to rebuild their toilets and create a multifunctional vocational training center there. We also donate care packages to the convicted women because many of them don’t have access to basic sanitary needs.

Does it ever get annoying?

Of course! I mean he has his artistic opinion and so do I. It’s about finding the balance. Also its important to note that One plus one is never two. Its so much more than just a two. I feel like the projects we do together, using both our minds end up being more powerful and impactful. Sometimes it’s a tug of war because we’re both type A personalities so, sometimes we lock horns but, it’s fun and the end results always come out well. He’s a very special human being and he’s very different.

So you’ve won Miss Sri Lanka. Di you always like modeling?

Funny thing is I’ve never been a model. I’ve been on ramps maybe four or five times. The few times I I’ve walked its been forMichael Wijesuriya because he’s an amazing friend of mine and he’s so talented at what he does. Besides that I was never really much of a model. After Miss Sri Lanka I got into hosting so I compeer. I’m so much more comfortable holding a mike than I am walking the ramp.That’s the truth.

So what are your favourite things?

Oh, I love dancing, singing, reading, trying new things, travel and anything artistic.

Which types of music appeal to you the most?

I love the classics. I love Opera and Jazz. The love for Opera came from having breakfasts with my grandmother in Canada every morning to amazing arias by Verdi or Puccini. I would definitely say I’m an old soul.

So what about dancing? What have you done in that area?

I started dancing when I was 16.I had a Mexican friend who said,”Hey, let’s go for Salsa!” Eventually she stopped and I continued! I auditioned and joined the dance troupe called ‘Santropez’and we used to travel around north America performing for Salsa Congresses. I’ve performed in Miami, New York,Toronto, Montreal, Bermuda and so on.I absolutely loved it.

I was really shy before I started dancing but through dancing I figured out who Stephanie really was. We all have that person we are in the bathroom and sometimes we don’t have the courage to be that person in our everyday lives. I learnt to embrace who I was. It’s a great feeling when your mind, body and soul all resonateswith the same frequency. It is so liberating.

All societal binaries, boundaries and expectationsdisappear on the dance floor. It’s absolutely amazing. No one cares who you are, whereyou’re from, what your skin colour, age, religion or any other factor that isn’t related to dancing and the music is! None of it matters, just the music and your movement. It’s beautiful and liberating. So during my University years I would study, do my part time work and student union duties and in the evening, I was latin dancer! Dance helped me become an empowered individual.

Any plans for dancing in the future?

I’m thinking of starting Latin ballroom with Kevin (Kevin Nugera). He’s great and I don’t know Latin Ballroom; I’m considered a street dancer to Latin Ballroom dancers.

How did the belly dancing come to be?

Well I guess it runs in my genes, the Lebanese part of it. My aunt used to teach me Belly dancing, we went salsa dancing together and she taught it to me

How did it lead up to winning Miss Universe Sri Lanka?

So my mum signed me up for Miss Universe Sri Lanka. She told me to have an open mind and so I thought fine, maybe it would teach me to be a proper woman and it did!

And how did it go on from there?

Afterwards I got into hosting, singing, dancing and now I actually do corporate training as well. I teach many things like, Effective communication, First impressions, Grooming etc.which is something I really enjoy. The love of teaching comes from my mother. She as well as her parents and grandmother were all fantastic teachers. My mother even created her own course where she can teach anyone to read, write and speak Italian in only 30 hours!!

What would you say your formative years were?

Definitely when I was a little older, I think maybe sixteen to twenty one were my formative years; when I was in Montreal in University. I went to Concordia University and I learned a lot there. I’m definitely a yes person.

What was your drive for achieving all that you have?

I believe in hard work, dedication, and I do believe there is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it. You can do anything. I really believe that and that’s thanks to my parents who have supported me and also been my harshest critics. If you want something then, work hard and push yourself.

I also think its always important to push yourself to do new things and reinvent yourself.If you keep doing the same thing you get comfortable and when you’re comfortable you most likely start stagnating. It’s only when you push yourself and put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you’re almost like, “Oh my God! Can I do this? And when you put in the hard work and you accomplish it, you learn so much about yourself. I think you learn something every day. I’m still learning so much.

Do you think your childhood as a little girl is irrelevant now?

Not at all, I believe that everything you do makes an impact. If I didn’t do the things that I did as a child, all the nerdiness, the studying, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Every little thing you do, every mistake you make, it just makes you a better person. It’s all part of the building blocks that come together and makes this amazing sculpture that is you so, I never believe in regret. I think everything is an experience.

I had a great childhood. I have a family that loves me and supports me and I think the fact that I wasn’t the most secure child, the fact that I had a lot of insecurities,helps me so much today because now although I am empowered, I know what its like on the other side and the journey I had to take to become the person I am today. It also helps me connect with the people I work with better. I thinkit helps a lot to have that empathy that comes from the fact that I lived through that.

What is your plan for the future?

I actually don’t believe in planning too much. Through my life I have learned that life really has its own plan. You just need to be a good receptive traveler. You just need to be easy going enough. It’s always good to have a general idea of where you want to go and your values and principles securely boxing you in but, I don’t believe in making a strict plan because, in my experience nothing really goes completely according to plan. So, you should just be open minded and flexible enough to take the curves of life and live it to the fullest. Be a yes person because you never know. You might plan something but, something else might present itself and it could be the most beautiful experience in the world. It could be so much more than what you could have ever planned. I like to live life like an adventure.

A word of advice to little girls whom you could be inspiring?

Just be unapologetically you. Be free!

Photos: Eshan Dasanayake