Francisca Luhong James: From being odd girl to It girl
By Jude Toyat
Most people think that beauty pageants are superficial and its contestants lacking in substance and ambition.
Contradictory to that belief, Francisca Luhong James Bungan believes that beauty pageants play a vital role in the betterment of society.
“Beauty pageants help one develop their self-confidence in their own worth and abilities,” she said.
Back in high school, she used to get bullied for being tall and “odd”.
“I had low self esteem back then but I had dreams, one of them becoming someone who can contribute back to my family and country.”
For Francisca, although many people see pageants as old-fashioned, she believes they are still important in today’s world.
“When people in the pageant industry, and those in the community as well, saw that I had the potential to represent Malaysia in pageant and modelling, I started to feel good about myself and thought ‘Why not?’” said the finalist of Miss Malaysia World 2016.
She sees Miss Malaysia World as a platform to help represent and be a voice for the people of Sarawak, especially those who live in rural areas.
Francisca pointed out that the pageant industry is not as easy as it seems.
“It is tough, it is not just all about beauty.
“Of course, you need to be fit and make sure you look radiant all the time. But most of all, you also need to know information globally; what is your purpose of joining pageants. Each beauty pageant has its own beauty project and that is the main reason why it contributes a lot towards the world and society,” she said.
The Beauty with a Purpose programme set up by members of the Miss World National Organisation focuses on how to help the needy including underprivileged children to ensure that they too may have equal treatment like other children and avoid discrimination among them in society.
“Thus, I believe that the beauty pageant not only presents beautiful women all over the world but also carries the title with dignity and represents their country with hope to make a better life for their society and the world,” she said.
On her journey becoming a model and entering the world of pageantry, Francisca said that it started when she got scouted by a makeup artist, whom she still works with today.
“It all started when he came by to my aunt’s shop to buy souvenirs for all of the Miss World 2014 contestants, where Miss Malaysia World 2014 Dewi Liana Seriestha would give those gifts to all of the participants in London at that time.
“I realised how weirdly he looked at me from the corner and when he approached me and asked if I was interested to join modelling or beauty pageant, the first thing I did was laugh so hard. I just couldn’t believe what type of question he asked. I thought he was joking,” said the 20-year-old up-and-coming model.
Of mixed Kayan-Kenyah-Iban parentage from Kuching, Francisca who stands at 178cm tall and weighs 51kg is also a full-time student, furthering her third-year studies in Bachelor of Mass Communication majoring in Public Relations at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Melaka.
“It never occurred to me to do modelling, it just kind of happened. Growing up, I loved watching America’s Next Top Model and beauty pageant girls develop their characters. But growing up, studying in an all girls’ school and not known as one of the ‘It girls’ in school taught me not to bother about how I look or see myself in this type of industry (modelling).
“Surprisingly, it went smoothly. However, I believe God always has greater plans for us. And I believe it is because who would have thought a quirky girl like me would be in this industry,” she said.
Currently doing freelance modelling, she said that she’s also being well taken care of by Borneo Pageantry, an organisation that coaches and grooms aspiring models and pageant contestants.
“All of us in the Borneo Pageantry team support each other building each other’s empire. The team scouts beautiful talents that can go far in the pageant or modelling industry. This team will also be guiding me through Miss Malaysia as well. I have been with them for over two years now and they are like my second family.”
Francisca did not previously attend any fashion or modelling course, but learnt through experience.
“I did runway shows and some profile photoshoots. That’s how I learn. It was a journey of little steps. I never had the privilege to attend modelling courses. I learned to model from the social media on how to walk and pose.
“I personally believe modelling is my other talent that I just discovered – and not at a very young age.”
Francisca admits that she does not adhere to any strict diet, will grab any fast food and just eat non-stop.
“However, I do take good care of the food portion on a daily basis. Breakfast is very important to start your day because you need energy. Having two boiled eggs a day is my favourite thing to start my day off with a cup of tea or chocolate drink.
“I also go to the gym. I usually do my own workout routine three times a week, or at least go for a jog daily or at least four times a week.”
On her personal style, Francisca said that hers would be casual, and sometimes very laid back although she can go over the top with edgy or bold looks as well.
“I am not really a fan of wearing dresses. Most of my friends would say I dress a bit boyish yet still have a feminine side. I love wearing clothes that are comfortable but presentable as well – not overdressed.
“Miranda Kerr and Candice Swanepoel are a few people that inspire me. The way they dress is so simple yet elegant,” she said.
It is often said that a good model should have good personality, and according to Francisca, who describes herself as vivacious, outspoken but patient, humility comes first.
“A good personality drives differently in different people. Be humble. That is the key to success. You never know when your gift can be taken away anytime.”
The hardest part about being in the industry for Francisca are the competitors that she has had to face and time management.
“You know that beauty does not last forever, so it is important to keep yourself fit and healthy at all times to maintain that level or to build your name even higher.
“Time management is so important in this industry. Once you are late, the managers of any runway shows will always remember your name and it can affect your reputation in the long run,” she said.
On what she likes best about being in the industry, Francisca said that it was the opportunity to widen her social circle, get to know more people especially those in the entertainment industry and work on self-development.
Besides modelling, Francisca revealed that she has also an impressive talent in dancing, so much so that she won the Miss Talent subsidiary title of Miss Malaysia World 2016.
The fourth runner-up of MMW2016 also won other subsidiary titles which include Miss Elegance, Miss Natural Beauty.
On her goals as a model, she said that she would love to be successful in the industry although she admits that it is hard to compete with new talents coming up every year.
“However, I always give all my best in the things I do and pray for everything to go smoothly.
“I enjoy being a model not just because of the glam life, but because I realised it was something I loved to do. I never really saw myself as becoming one of the Miss Malaysia finalists even in high school. Which is why I am truly blessed to have this opportunity.
“It’s really a pure blessing to be in this industry and who would have thought a girl who used to get bullied in school for being skinny and weird take part in a beauty contest ends up being as a model. Sounds like a fairy tale but it’s my story.
After participating in the Miss Malaysia World 2016 pageant in August, she’s set to focus on her studies and graduate with flying colors and do part-time modelling.
“My journey being a contestant in Miss Malaysia World 2016 went really well. I met a lot of people, gaining so much experience, learned a lot of things, and most of all, have added so many connections in the entertainment industry.
“I really appreciate every moment I had in this pageant and all the lessons I got to learnt; from being naïve to being more independent.”
For Francisca, her interest in joining Miss Malaysia World 2016 was a test of her own capabilities, to see how far she could go in the pageant and build up her self-esteem.
“Miss Malaysia World is one of the best platforms to help the underprivileged children by doing your own Beauty With A Purpose Project (BWAP) which I am looking forward to very soon.
“My goals of joining this pageant was to make my parents and my country proud of my achievements throughout my whole preparation and journey in Miss Malaysia, and also to prove that everyone could achieve their goals, if they worked hard for it and proveed to themselves that they were good enough,” she added.
On her future plans after the competition, Francisca said that she was willing to accept the reality of whatever achievements she gained, get back to her studies, do well and graduate, and gain more experience in modelling since that is where most of her talents lie.
Living by the Bible verse Philippians 4: 13-15 – ‘I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ give me’ – since high school, Francisca has some advice to youngsters, including pageant contestants and aspiring models out there.
“Work hard in silence, be humble, let success be your noise. Be determined, believe you can, set your goals and you shall receive.”