Heng Huyhuang, 23, graduated with a degree in media management from Royal University of Phnom Penh. As one of the Cambodian youth who joined the 44th SSEAYP Cambodia Contingent, she introduced people from other cultures to traditional Khmer clothing as a participant in the “Mr & Miss Apone Lao” contest recently on a cruise ship that was attended by people from around 10 countries plus Japan and Asean.
“I joined Miss Apone Lao because I wanted to show people that I am brave and comfortable with my body. Even if I am short and my legs aren’t beautiful like other people, I am comfortable being with people from around the world,” Ms Huyhuang said.
Since she was in high school, Ms Huyhuang has been teased by her friends for being short and not having slender legs.
“When I was small it was OK; I didn’t realise that I’m not beautiful. But when I was in high school, some of my friends teased me for being short and not having beautiful legs.” Ms Huyhuang continued: “I looked at myself and I could see that they were correct. I wasn’t happy and asked my parents if I could have surgery on my calves so I could look beautiful like them.”
When Ms Huyhuang was in high school and university she tried to asked her parents two or three times to let her have surgery but her parents ignored her request and started to worry. After that she was teased again and again, and she kept asking her parent for surgery.
“My parents said to me that if the surgery is unsuccessful, what next? Who will take care of me if I am disabled, as my parents are getting old. That made me realise that I was wrong, and I should accept who I am.
After she won a scholarship to join an exchange programme, Ms Huyhuang saw that the world is diverse, and people accepted whatever they have, whatever they are. They do not care too much about body shape. That made her feel she could adapt.
“I think youth in Cambodia should take the time to go out of the country to see the world; learning in class is not enough for them. If they go out and experiment with what they want to study, they will see that the world is a diverse place. If I had not passed the test for the Erasmus I scholarship, I would never have gotten out of my comfort zone and would still be in my shell.”
On the ship, participants shared cultures, food, and lifestyles, and we were so friendly to each other. Many programmes were played on the ship during the 52-day journey. There were 29 Cambodian participants in SSEAYP, and Ms Huyhuang was inspired to join the Miss Apone Lao contest, which is limited to one one female and one male participant from each country].