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Beauty Matters: Miss NTD Cynthia Sun Shares Insights on Beauty and Self-Improvement

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I think true beauty manifests when you know who you are and you’re confident in that.”
—Cynthia Sun

The great 19th-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, “Beauty will save the world,” and it’s a statement that has fascinated people for generations. It’s indeed a soul-stirring sentence that invites profound reflection: What does beauty refer to and can it truly save the world?

New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD) took on this challenge for its inaugural Miss NTD beauty competition. The pageant, which took place in New York the week of Sept. 24–30, 2023, celebrated female beauty, but with a specific focus, as its website states: “Does true beauty have the power to save the hearts and minds of society? Can it uplift the spirits and lend hope to the world? If so, what kind of beauty and what would it entail?”

Chinese American beauty queen Cynthia Sun.

An unexpected surprise

Texas native Cynthia Sun was crowned Miss NTD on Sept. 30, and this came as a surprise for the 24-year-old human rights researcher who had never participated in a beauty competition before.

“I didn’t think I would win,” said Sun, whose wish in entering the pageant was to build friendships and connect with fellow contestants in search of traditional values.

The competition, which gathered young ethnic Chinese women from around the world, proved to be the fulfillment of her dream. “I found that no matter where we’re living, if we have that foundation in traditional virtue, and if we cherish the five virtues (propriety, righteousness, benevolence, morality, and faithfulness), we’re more alike than I thought we would be,” Sun says.

And while she did win the competition, for Sun the most rewarding part of this experience was the relationship she forged with her fellow contestants.

“I think my highlight of the competition week would probably be the hardships we overcame,” Sun says, referring to the numerous incidents and mishaps that led the contestants to help one another.

“This person’s dress ripped. That person’s heel broke. Someone fell off the stage during the dress rehearsal … There were incidents like that, which made me feel like we were a team. We weren’t working against each other. We were here for a mission, which was to renew traditional values and find those in ourselves,” she says.

With no expectations of victory, Sun stayed focused on this camaraderie and on presenting the best performance for the audience. It was this attitude that made her feel relaxed and confident, which possibly also contributed to her gaining the crown.

Beauty queen Cynthia Sun talks about the importance of virtue and self-improvement. Photo by Binggan Zhang. Dior Makeup. Dress by Dior.

Nurturing virtues

Unlike most beauty competitions, the Miss NTD pageant was unique in that it set the five traditional virtues of women, valued in Chinese culture for generations, as essential evaluation criteria for its contestants. The five sapphires of Miss NTD’s stunning phoenix crown stand precisely for these: morality, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and faithfulness.

Sun aspired to follow these virtues during the pageant week, and to her morality was the foundation of them all. “If you don’t have morals, how do you know what’s right?” she says.

The young woman also kept righteousness in mind as she went through the daily pageant challenges, and this kept her focused on doing what was right instead of following her desires whenever hardships and challenges arose.

“It was such moments that showed me and the other girls, ‘When the opportunity presents itself, how will you act? What type of person are you?’ That’s because it’s easy to do those [kind] things when you’re in a good mood, or when it’s a good day and you have everything that you wanted. But when things do go wayward and troubles erupt, then how do you act?” Sun says.

The third traditional virtue, propriety, refers to social etiquette, such as being respectful to teachers, colleagues, family, and elders, and treating others with courtesy. “Whoever I meet in life, even if it’s a stranger, or whether it’s old acquaintances, close friends, or family, how do I treat others? Am I considerate enough, even at my lowest point? I think that was also something that I took to heart during the pageant,” Sun says.

The fourth virtue, benevolence, is based on altruism like the other virtues; however, it’s also about being kind to oneself. “When I make mistakes or when I feel like I’ve fallen down, [this virtue reminds me] to be kind enough to myself and trust that there is a path forward. The days will keep on going, and the world will keep on turning,” Sun says.

As for the final virtue, faithfulness, she saw it manifest in her ability to trust her fellow contestants and teachers during the pageant process, but also as trusting in the existence of a divine plan. “[I believe] that we’re fated to do one thing or another, and it will all turn out to be all right,” Sun says.

Beauty in action

The experience of participating in Miss NTD enriched Sun’s understanding of beauty, which she realized can manifest in a variety of ways, including through fashion, stage design, and artistic performances.

Still, it was the interpersonal relationships that influenced Sun’s perception of beauty the most. “I think it was beautiful how we bonded together and how we overcame all the hurdles to put on a show,” she says.

“The more I got to know the other contestants, the more beautiful they got in my eyes. I think that’s because the beauty of their actions, the beauty of their performances, and the beauty of their behaviour added layers to their [external] beauty, which went beyond the first impression.”

As part of her role as Miss NTD this year, Sun’s message to young women is to be confident in following their unique paths, treasure their heritage, and cherish traditional values.

“I think true beauty manifests when you know who you are and you’re confident in that. That’s because no one can change your essence,” Sun says.


This story is from Magnifissance Issue 124

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