Nicaragua’s Sheynnis Palacios has been crowned Miss Universe 2023 at the 72nd annual beauty pageant held in San Salvador last night – making history as the first delegate from Nicaragua to win the title.
In addition to Sheynnis’ victory, the event saw several more historic firsts, including two mother candidates, two transgender women and a plus-size individual.
Sheynnis, 23, pipped Anntonia Porsild of Thailand for the prestigious title, and looked elated as she was crowned by last year’s winner, USA’s R’Bonney Nola Gabriel.
Two trans women featured at the pageant this year. Rikkie Kollé, a 22-year-old LGBTQIA+ rights activist who was crowned Miss Netherlands in July and Miss Portugal’s Marina Machete, 23, who works as cabin crew, and was named as her country’s entry in October.
Mothers, married women and divorcees were allowed to compete for the first time after a rule change in 2022, with Miss Colombia, Camila Avella, and Miss Guatemala, Michelle Cohn, the first women with children to make the finals.
Elsewhere, Miss Nepal, Jane Dipika Garrett, who had been tipped to win, became the first plus-sized model to enter, although she was eliminated before the final round.
Also eliminated at the same stage was Pakistan‘s first entry into the competition, Erica Robin, who wore a burkini in the swimsuit round.
The winners of the national pageants from 84 countries participated in this year’s Miss Universe, judged by a panel that included model Halima Aden and ‘Queer Eye’ star Carson Kressley, TikTok influencer Avani Gregg and two former Miss Universe winners, Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago (Miss Universe 1977) and Iris Mittenaere of France (Miss Universe 2016).
On the coronation night, Sheynnis consistently progressed to the next rounds, with strong performances in both the swimsuit segment and the evening gown competition.
During the Top 5 question and answer segment, she was asked about the qualities and values that guide her as a leader and role model for others.
Her response was: ‘The quality that has inspired me and has inspired millions of women and girls is humility and the ability to appreciate the little things, because that’s where the most valuable thing is: the essence of being a human.’
After reaching the Top 3, alongside Thailand’s Anntonia Porsild and Australia’s Moraya Wilson, Sheynnis was asked: ‘If you could live one year in another woman’s shoes, who would you choose and why?’
Her winning answer was: ‘I would choose Mary Wollstonecraft, because she opened the gap to give an opportunity to many women.
‘What I would do is to have that income gap open up so women could work in any area that they choose to work in because there are no limitations for women. That was 1750. Now in 2023 we are making history.’
In the competition, Sheynnis chose mental health as her advocacy, drawing from her personal experiences with anxiety.
Hailing from a country where this issue is rarely addressed, she started an initiative called ‘Understand Your Mind’, which involves interviewing specialists on emotional care in her television segments.
Additionally, the 23-year-old has organised events and other audiovisual projects centered on the theme of mental health.
According to the Miss Universe organisation, Sheynnis’ goal in life is to ‘work in the service of humanity, by running a newsroom and producing content and commercials for international brands.’
Sheynnis outshone the 83 other candidates, making history as the first delegate from Nicaragua to win the Miss Universe title.
However, she is no stranger to pageantry, having started competing in national pageants at the age of 16.
Sheynnis clinched the title of Miss Teen Nicaragua in 2016 and achieved a Top 10 placement in the Miss Teen Universe pageant. In 2020, she secured victory in the Miss World Nicaragua pageant and once again represented her country at the Miss World 2021 edition, where she earned a place in the Top 40.
Her extensive pageantry experience made her one of the frontrunners for the Miss Universe 2023 competition, with numerous pageant pages and experts including the Nicaraguan beauty queen in their top picks.
Before the Miss Universe 2023 coronation night, Sheynnis took to Instagram to reflect on her journey.
‘Tonight, I dedicate it to my inner girl and to each of the girls who yearn to fulfill this dream, even the sky itself is the limit, a dream so big that people think it is impossible to achieve. Because that is where you know that your dreams and goals will exceed obstacles, and remember to accompany them with determination, perseverance, and passion,’ she wrote.
In the preliminary competition, the beauty queen impressed the audience with her dazzling gown and captivating demeanor during the swimsuit segment.
But it was her national costume – a purple and black ensemble inspired by the Nicaraguan grackle bird species El Zanate – that garnered attention online.
Apart from the elaborate costume, which included wings and a headpiece, Sheynnis made a lasting impression on the runway by kneeling and gracefully flapping her costume’s wings.
Sheynnis, who has a degree in Mass Communications from the Universidad Centroamericana, serves as a television host on a local channel. She is proficient in three languages: Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Her favourite sport is volleyball and she’s happiest when watching the sunset. The beauty queen also noted she couldn’t live without her family or pets.
Within an hour of Saturday night’s event, 20 semi-finalists were announced based on the results of the preliminary competition and a global fan vote.
Then, after the swimsuit segment, the group was culled to 10 – including competitors from Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela, as well as the eventual top three.
The evening gown round halved the number of contestants further.
After two rounds of hot-topic questions from the selection committee, the Miss Universe top three were announced: Sheynnis, Anntonia and the second runner-up Moraya Wilson of Australia.
After updating its eligibility rules last year, married women and mothers were allowed to compete in Miss Universe for the very first time – held at the José Adolfo Pineda Arena.
For the last 70 years, the pageant was only available to women who had never been married or had children, but now, both mothers and married women can enter the pageant.
‘We all believe that women should have agency over their lives and that a human’s personal decisions should not be a barrier to their success,’ an internal memo obtained by The National said.
Josh Yugen, the national director of Miss Universe, said ‘The Miss Universe Organisation is always the greatest and most innovative platform of its kind and now it will be more inclusive and welcoming to mothers and married women.
‘For me, this is aligned with what I have been fighting for – breaking stereotypes and unlearning the stigma that the old society has forced on us from many many decades ago.’