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Htun Palal Yadanar: A Queen with no Limits

A crown is but one piece on Myanmar beauty Pearl Yadanar’s shelf. She puts on a lot of hats and wears them well.

Beauty queens are largely recognized for their crowns and the splendor surrounding the pageants they win. But Burmese personality Htun Palal Yadanar—or simply Pearl Yadanar—isn’t one to be limited by the trappings of winning a crown nor the fixation on wearing one. Her aims, in fact, extend well beyond the bounds of any beauty contest as a multi-hyphenate. To her, if she is to be queen, it has to be in every field of her choosing. And she has already done quite well for herself at 22.

As a beauty queen, Pearl won the Face of Beauty Myanmar title in 2019, was a finalist in Miss Universe Myanmar and Miss International Myanmar, and a semifinalist in Face of Beauty International. Outside of the pageant circuit, she is a medical student who will graduate in a couple of years, a published model, a social media influencer, an event host, and recently an actress. Her launching film, Yangon in Love, is set to be screened this year.

It seems that the future has already been paved for a young achiever like Pearl, but that future did not stem from a past gilded with golden crowns and silver spoons. She had to raise a queen out of a young lady who was predominantly shy and timid and didn’t have too many friends – a far cry from the communicative charmer that her fans and followers currently recognize.

A pearl in the rough

Photo: Htun Palal Yadanar

Transitions were a theme of Pearl’s early life. As a kid, she spent her childhood years in Myanmar before moving to Singapore to finish her secondary education. Switching schools meant that she wasn’t able to make a lot of friends, and when she did, those connections had to be severed until she was well into her teens. Stuck in a foreign country, she occupied herself with her books during study periods and her reveries when she was able to catch breathers.

“To become a doctor has always been my goal since I was young and I have always worked hard for it. Becoming a model and a beauty queen was actually a dream I thought that I would never achieve,” she admits.

The pageant life was nothing but a pipedream at the time, an idea that accompanied juvenile fantasies like magical princesses and prancing unicorns, which ended the moment one was facing the back cover of a storybook. Also, Myanmar hadn’t opened its doors to staging beauty contests for decades, with the most recent incarnation of Miss Universe Myanmar being in 1961.

Besides, becoming a doctor is Pearl’s first love, and so she returned to Myanmar to take up a seven-year medical course. It came at the most opportune time as her country decided to stage international pageants anew in 2012, which rekindled her dream to become a beauty queen. Despite her shyness, she mustered the confidence to try out modeling as a hobby when she turned 16. This was no easy feat by any means for someone timid, but when one sees a doorway that links a set of childhood fantasies to the world we live in, the most logical recourse is to take the plunge. Pearl did, though with some apprehensions.

`Over time, she gained experience, and with experience came confidence. Pearl started appearing in ads as a model and not long after, opted to train for beauty pageants with Gouldian, a professional pageant training group in the Philippines. There, she discovered that there’s more to beauty queens than being modern-day princesses: So much depth was involved beyond simply looking beautiful on stage or putting on the fanciest wardrobes.

“I learned about all the hard work put into preparing for beauty pageants. Everything, from the pasarela and posing, to the facial expressions and effectively answering [pageant] questions, I’d learned in detail from Gouldian,” she explains.

With all her training behind her, Pearl was finally ready to take her pageant dreams to a grander stage while maintaining her grades as a future doctor.  

Chasing crowns

Photo: Aung Ye Linn

Juggling scholastic requirements with the demands of being a beauty queen, model, and influencer was no cakewalk even for someone as dedicated as Pearl. When there were exams, she had no choice but to lay the princess persona to rest in favor of one that was driven to match treatments with illnesses. After which, she had to put on the model and influencer hats as she appeared in multiple photoshoots for print and social media, respectively. She also needed refreshers to prepare for upcoming pageants, especially for the country’s grandest beauty stage—Miss Universe Myanmar—not to mention the fitness routine that she had to maintain.

“It’s very hard to manage between education and my work,” she says. “For me, education comes first so I would always work my way around my university schedule. So when there are important dates like exams, I would take a rest from work to focus on my studies. When I would compete in a beauty pageant, my focus goes there.”

“I guess I’m a workaholic and a multitasker so that’s probably why I’m able to take on all of those responsibilities. I’m able to cope with everything because I’m doing what I love. So even when things get tough, I go through [them] instead of giving up,” she adds.

Pearl pushed on despite facing pressure from her plethora of endeavors. She joined local pageants and scaled the ranks of the competition, which led her to a 1stt runner-up finish at Miss International Myanmar in 2017. Soon, she entered Miss Universe Myanmar and bagged the 3rd runner-up title in 2019.

She also won the Face of Beauty Myanmar crown of that same year. And by virtue of winning that title, she was poised to represent not just her hometown, but her country as well in her very first international competition, Face of Beauty International 2019.

Photo: Raymond Saldaña for Face of Beauty International

Truth be told, it was an uphill battle for Pearl since the previous year’s Myanmar delegate, Myint Mo May, took home the Face of Beauty International 2018 crown. International pageants aren’t known for declaring winners from the same country in consecutive years. It has never happened in Face of Beauty International and neither has it occurred in the world’s biggest beauty contest: Miss Universe.

However, if we’ve learned anything from Pearl at this point, it’s that she isn’t one to let history dictate her fate. Undeterred, she flew to Pampanga in the Philippines to do her country proud. The people at the airport misplaced her luggage and wouldn’t be recovered until the day after, but she kept her composure and immediately earned a good impression with the other candidates and the pageant staff.

As it turned out, in the few years that she has been joining pageants, the once-shy girl had blossomed into a personable individual whose good-naturedness is disarming and fondness for conversations infectious. While the pageant is a competition, it didn’t feel like one when she was present at any given area, including the tour buses, exchanging slices of her life with the other girls and uniting nations through tales about culture, movies, cute outfits, food, and beauty routines.

“I’m the type who loves to hang out with my friends, get together with them for a meal, and talk to them. I do love to party as well but it depends on the energy I have at the moment,” she points out.

By the time the pageant reached its climax, Pearl had made friends from all corners of the globe, and this is not limited to just the girls. She failed to take home a crown, but she won over everyone she interacted with, some of whom she is in correspondence with to this day. And as a consolation, she received a special award from one of the world’s leading pageant blogs, Missosology, upon dishing out a magnificent answer during the question and answer portion.

Of course, it was a bittersweet pill to take for our heroine, who had high hopes for the competition. But a lost crown or any crown for that matter bears too small a circumference to encapsulate a burgeoning spirit that has grown out of its shell. The confidence that she developed is about to lead her to yet another uncharted expanse to call her own.

Entering the big screen

Photo: Yangon in Love

While competing for the Face of Beauty International crown, Pearl revealed that she intended to add a new entry to her already-packed resume right after the competition. It was more of an incidental event at first, with her casually being informed by a friend of a casting call for a movie. She could have lumped it together with her other potential projects that may or may not materialize, but she discovered that the film was to be directed by one of the acclaimed filmmakers in Myanmar, Htoo Paing Zaw Oo. It was a big deal for the self-confessed movie buff.

“I’m a fan of his movies and have always wanted to work with him, so I figured to give the audition a try,” she expresses.

Without hesitation and with no time to inform her followers on social media, Pearl went through the various stages of auditions and got casted in her very first film, Yangon in Love. This was affirmed upon returning home after competing in the Face of Beauty International pageant.

Her appearance on the film was kept under wraps until the early part of 2020, and when she finally broke the news in February, her legions of fans were quick to voice out their support online. Excited about the whole deal, she was overwhelmed with their collective response as the notifications on her phone poured in like droplets on a rainy day in June.  

“I am thankful to all my fans for their love and support in everything I do,” she says with a wide grin.

A pearl goes with everything  

Photo: Htet Zaw Aung

Rather than rest on her laurels, Pearl opted to be active in school and in her other occupations. She graduates in two years, so she is steadfast with her studies, keeping it on top of her priority list. During weekends or after school, she takes on photoshoots, goes to the gym, and has even added another feather to her cap – hosting a prestigious graduation dinner at her school, University of Medicine 1 Yangon.

Interestingly, she still manages to find time to hang out with friends, unwind at clubs, binge on her favorite Korean dramas at home, and be left to her own devices. After all, the shy and nerdy girl from before hasn’t left entirely – she merely pushed the boundaries of her comfort zone to take in every avenue that she deems viable for herself and her career, or rather the various branches of it.

“Well, you can surely say I’m the queen of balancing my life. I might even have time for some romance,” she chuckles.

Pearl has found a home in the fact that she is a modern woman – perhaps without even meaning to at first – along with the nuances that define such a label. Instead of adhering to the boundaries set by gender stereotypes, she plays by her own rules and leaps beyond those demarcations, opting to see individuals for their uniqueness, and not the limitations based on their gender. And this belief has worked for her immensely.

“I believe that, at the end of the day, no matter what gender we are, we are all human beings,” she opines. “We each have our own strengths and weaknesses no matter what our gender is. Instead of discriminating [against] people for their gender, we could all just view everyone as humans.”

As far as the future is concerned, Pearl looks to graduate from medical school with no hitches from this point on. She also intends to take her new acting career seriously, seeing it as a mantle that she can wear for a long time should she gain more opportunities to pursue it. But she would rather not be boxed in by the expectations that come with career outlines and projections. What she truly wants is to advance her careers one step at a time and incrementally build a future on her own terms.

After all, Pearl has found comfort in her own skin and solace in the freedom that she has afforded herself ever since trading away shyness for growth and complacency for daring life-changing ventures. The woman who we see right now is a queen, not just by pageant standards, but also in the manner that she has ruled over her life. And she sees beauty in the whole thing.   

“For me, a woman who has confidence in herself is beautiful. It doesn’t matter what her appearance is as long as she believes in herself. Yes, I do see myself as a confident woman.”