I’m sitting having arguily (shisha) after cooking a Lebanese meal, cleaning and dealing with my kids’ needs, typical Arab women duties.

But my dreams of creating transformations started when I met Miss Universe (on TV of course). I was a young girl living with my single dad, in state housing. I had never owned a Barbie, let alone a doll, but when I first saw these beautiful women on the Miss Universe platform – the hair, the makeup, the shoes (correction: high heels) – that was when I decided I wanted to be part of that world.

I knew because of my culture growing up as a Muslim girl, which never allowed me to show off my body, that being a contestant was far-fetched, let alone because of my height.

However as the years passed, my passion grew and when I finally clawed my way into the fashion and beauty business, I knew I was almost there.

I just need one last step and that was a connection into the pageant world and by some miracle, a friend of a friend got me in contact with Miss Lebanon Australia.

When I started on Miss Lebanon Australia, I first looked back at the previous years of the pageant and my first reaction was, “What the fuck are they wearing?” There was no class. I wanted to morph Miss Lebanon Australia into Miss Universe and trust me, I did. But it wasn’t easy.

My years as Miss Lebanon’s pageant stylist have been tricky at times. I have had girls that were over-Botoxed, very competitive, some with weight issues and others that just needed to brush their hair. Not to mentioned the difficult parents!

One of the biggest mistakes that contestants make is getting fillers and Botox just before the pageant night, which results in bruised and swollen lips, or what I like to call the ‘Donald Duck look’. We like our pageant contestants to have natural beauty.

Another mistake is when pageant contestants mention family during the Question and Answer segment. The audience and judges can’t relate. I always advise they instead use a figure that people know so everyone can relate and understand why you have decided to talk about them. Don’t bring up your brother or your mother. Seriously, who’s your mother compared to Mother Teresa?

My strategy is always simple. As each girl comes in for their first fitting, I get to know them on a personal level and as I do, I look for a dress that will make them feel confident, beautiful and represent their personality. I encourage the voluptuous ones to push their fittings to the end. I advise the ones that want Botox and fillers to do it ASAP (although despite my advice I still sometimes end up with ‘Donald Ducks’ on night) and I also mentor the girls on their questions.

On the pageant night, the pressure is on and it’s up to me and my sisters to make it all happen backstage. It can be stressful and this is where my inner ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is unleashed. I am aggressive with some and a therapist to others but only because I want it to be perfect.

But when it comes time for the pageant to begin, the girls and the gowns always shine. And every time I see them on stage, I am like a little girl again watching my dreams come true. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wish it was me up on that stage, strutting my stuff and showing them what it takes, but I feel proud all the same.

Although I’m not a contestant, I always feel like a winner. I’ve transformed a local pageant into a Lebanese Miss Universe and the best thing is after each pageant featuring my amazing gowns, everyone knows who Zooka is: a Muslim woman from the West who makes this pageant the best!

Lebanese Beauty Queens will air tonight at 8.30pm on SBS.


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