The world’s first vegan Miss Universe on inner beauty, feminism and the use of her platform forever

Andrea Meza is the definition of multi-hyphen. The activist and singer is not only the third Mexican woman to win the coveted Miss Universe title, but this wild fanatic made history as the first ever vegan to take the crown.

But for Meza, whose feminist seeds were planted when she was a justice-seeking child raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, being a beauty queen was never the dream; she had decided to be a doctor or an engineer. It wasn’t until her early 20s that Meza recognized the immense power that should have talked about what matters if she had been granted access to one of the largest platforms in the world – the universe, actually. – from which to support for radical social change.

If that doesn’t challenge previous beliefs about a contest winner’s appearance, try this for size: Meza thinks traditional beauty standards are downright ridiculous, emphasizing that this is how we show ourselves for ourselves and our shared planet, not as we physically appear, which defines true and lasting beauty. From animal rights to gender equity and women’s empowerment, the issues Meza has devoted his life to are both noble and necessary. And as long as he makes his millions of viewers, as he puts it, “uncomfortable” (a task he doesn’t take lightly), he knows he’s winning and it’s that success that reaping rewards far greater than any band can provide. Jasmin Singer of VegNews caught up with Miss Universe to discuss tacos, criticism and self-love.

VegNews.AndreaMezaTracy Nguyen / Miss Universe Organization

VEGNEWS: When did your vegan journey start?

Andrea Mesa: Two years ago, my life brought me to a point where I could no longer bear to eat animals. I didn’t know anything about veganism, but one of my closest friends is vegan, so I was learning something from her. I feel like when you are not ready to make the change in your life, you simply refuse to accept reality. I was making chicken and I couldn’t eat it anymore. So I was a vegetarian for about two months, and then after watching the documentary Game changes and reading a bit about veganism, I thought, “Okay, I’m ready to make the change.”

VN: How do you plan to use your platform to spread the word about veganism?

I’M: Something I said as Miss Universe is, “I want to make people uncomfortable.” If it’s about what’s happening to animals or if it’s about women in power, as long as I make people uncomfortable, I will continue to do so. I hope that with this platform, I can make a change.

VN: Why is it important for you to combat gender-based violence?

I’M: I come from a country that has been violent towards women, especially within my state. I am from the state of Chihuahua and, sadly, it is known for the violence that women suffer. I grew up knowing that women were disappearing. I grew up with the fear of going out alone. My sister became a feminist before me and she motivated me. She said, “This culture we live in, just because it’s our norm doesn’t mean it’s right.” About five years ago, I was already involved in contests and I thought, there are people listening to me and I can use this platform to talk about important topics, problems that are happening here in my country. And not just in Mexico, but around the world. So that’s what I did.

“Feel comfortable with who you are and how you look, and this will take you beyond comparison with others.”
—Andrea Mesa

VN: How do you handle the backlash?

I’M: Sometimes it is difficult. The world will not always be on your side. There are always people who will be against you, people who will not like you. But I remind myself that I am doing the right thing and that I can at least change my mind in the room.

VN: Why do you think it is important for society to move away from strict beauty standards?

I’M: Because they are harmful. They are telling society and girls that they have to be a certain way to be beautiful or worthy. When I was younger, I looked at these supermodels and, of course, I admired them and all the former Miss Universe winners. They inspired me. But at the same time, when I started, I had a lot of trouble accepting myself as I was. I wanted to fit a certain size. I wanted to have hair just like people on TV or in magazines. Whatever I did, it was never enough. It is very sad to live life feeling that you are not enough. At first I was comparing myself with everyone. Now that I’m here, I want to let the girls know that they shouldn’t listen to outside comments and shouldn’t pay attention to how other girls appear on social media. Feel comfortable with who you are and how you look, and this will take you beyond comparison with others.

VN: What was your childhood like?

I’M: I was a dreamer. I dreamed of being a doctor. I wanted to be a pediatrician, I wanted to be an architect, I wanted to be a singer. When I started growing up, I realized that I was very good at math. I started dreaming of being an engineer, never dreamed of being a beauty queen. At school, when there was the spring festival, they had the princess and the king. I saw them on stage and thought, “Wow, they are so beautiful”. Then, in 2010, when Ximena Navarrete won Miss Universe, it was the first time that it crossed my mind to be a beauty queen.

VegNews.Andrea Meza3

Organization by Tracy Nguyen / Miss Universe

VN: How do you stay so positive?

I’M: I remind myself every day of my amazing work and the important duty I have as a Miss Universe and public figure looking to make a change in a way that keeps me going and inspires me. When I’m super tired, when I’ve been working non-stop and haven’t had a weekend to rest well, I might start complaining a little. But I keep reminding myself that I am living my dream. And I try to keep a balance so that everything is not about work.

VN: What kind of changes do you hope to see in terms of creating a kinder world?

I’M: I hope governments and health institutions begin to recognize that we don’t need animal products, [that we have] plant-based products. I know it is difficult, but it is achievable. And I know it’s asking too much, but I hope the big supermarkets will all go vegan in the future.

VN: What was your relationship with animals growing up?

I’M: Growing up, my family had a farm. And if the chicken, eggs, or meat I was eating came from the farm, I wouldn’t eat them. If I met the cow or the chickens, I wouldn’t eat them. I refused because it made me sad to know where they came from. Then, as I got older, I started ignoring it and stopped thinking about animals. That’s why I feel like my life led me to go vegan, because that’s how I was in the beginning.

VN: And what kind of food did you grow up eating?

I’M: I would eat all kinds of foods. Tacos — you know, I’m Mexican, so I loved tacos. Now I make vegan tacos. Ceviche, which is very popular in my country; now I also have a vegan recipe. All Mexican dishes: pozole, tamales, those were all my favorites. But my mother always prepared a lot of vegetables. I grew up eating vegetables, so it wasn’t a difficult thing for me to make the transition.

VN: What’s your favorite part of being vegan?

I’M: Knowing that I am helping to save our world. I believe this lifestyle is the best way to help stop climate change. It is a difficult task, but we should all do something about it.

For more interviews with vegan changemakers, read:
Because Tabitha Brown never loses sight of her faith, her family or her veganism
Joaquin Phoenix on veganism, the environment and social justice
The Korean Vegan’s debut cookbook is an acceptance education

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