When 23-year-old Vancouverite Alicia Ohana was crowned Miss Canada Petite on Aug. 13, no one was more stunned than she.
Ohana, a beautician who works at her family’s salon in Oakridge, had entered the competition after making a pact with a friend that the coming year would be ‘the year of yes.’
“We were kind of looking for something new to do, something that would open doors for us,” she recalled. Somehow she stumbled upon the Miss Canada Globe pageant and met someone who had entered the previous year. “She hadn’t won but nevertheless, it had opened a lot of doors for her,” Ohana said. “I thought I’d try it.”
The competition began with an application that involved submitting a biographical statement and essays on what each contestant’s ‘platform’ would consist of. Ohana’s was mental health, a subject particularly close to her heart.
She’d had a tumultuous year at home after witnessing her father, Simon Ohana’s struggles with paranoia. “In February we were scammed in the salon, our car broke down and our rent went up,” she said. “Somehow these events triggered full blown paranoia in my dad, who thought his food was being poisoned and that he was being watched.” After a period in a psychiatric facility, Simon found shock therapy helpful and is back at work. But his illness had far reaching impacts. “Previously he’d been the patriarch of the house, paying the bills and ordering supplies for the salon. When he became ill it fell on me,” Ohana said.
While her fraternal twin sister Angela knew about her application, Ohana didn’t tell her parents she’d applied for the pageant until she heard she’d been selected to compete. “They were shocked!” she said with a laugh.
The competition consisted of two interviews and a bikini competition, which Ohana described as “awkward. I couldn’t find a bikini bottom to match my bikini top so I made one myself – and it was a bit too small,” she said.
While it felt uncomfortable parading around in a bikini, she said the competition overall had more to do with “how you presented your answers, and how well-rounded they were.”
Initially, the atmosphere among the contestants was icy, but it warmed up quickly when the pageant organizers asked each woman to disclose her personal story to the group. “The women had been through a lot of trauma. It turned out many had been raped or sexually abused or molested by parents,” she said. “I think that’s partly why we were selected to compete in the pageant. We are people who have experienced things, and we want to create change.”
At five foot two, with striking features and an enviable figure, Ohana walked off with the title for Miss British Columbia Petite on Aug. 7 and six days later was crowned Miss Canada in Toronto, where she competed against 30 other candidates for the title. Far from home, she had to share the news by phone. But back home there was other trauma, when she learned her grandfather in Israel had passed away days earlier.
She returned home with a crown, and an obligation to find sponsors and participate in at least two charity events each month until August 2017, when she will hand over the crown. Thus far she’s been sponsored with a gym membership from the Jewish Community Center of Greater Vancouver, donations from Pharmasave in Oakridge and gowns on loan from Boris Chenkis, owner of the boutique After 5.
She’s arranged to make meals at the Ronald McDonald House, collect care packages for the Downtown East Side of Vancouver and participate in a Shine Mental Health fundraiser. She’s also in the throes of starting her own support group called Ohana, where people who have experienced trauma can share their stories at twice-monthly meetings.
“The pageant is not just about beauty – it’s about strengthening women and bringing us together,” she said. Though she’ll get to wear elegant cocktail dresses, high heels and a tiara on her head for the next year, Ohana is determined to make a difference – and there’s nothing petite about her ambitions.