Life Conversations: Former MBGN 1st runner-up Debbie Collins on surviving life in Nigeria, feminism and light-skin privilege

Debbie Collins who was the first runner up of Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant in 2015 recently returned to Nigeria to live and work.

Debbie Collins won MBGN in 2015

I had a conversation with the first runner up of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) 2015, Debbie Collins.

We spoke about moving to Nigeria, feminism, light-skin privilege and coping with the lockdown in a new country.

Debbie is the second in a family of four. Her mother and father are both from Anambra State but her family left Nigeria for South Africa when she was 11.

“There were times in South Africa when I told someone that I was from Nigeria and their countenance will change. For the most part, I tried to surround myself with positive people and, I did have some friends.”

How did you find out about MBGN?

"My older sister always keeps tabs on Nigerian news and celebrities. She wanted me to contest for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria or Miss Nigeria, she later decided on MBGN. So she bought the form for me and filled it out for me."

Did you think you were going to win?

"I had put my mind to doing the very best I could. I wanted to tick their boxes as much as I could. I knew I had to be articulate and smart, and I set my mind to do that."

" I was so surprised I made the top five and finally declared the first runner up. It is a game so you never know who is going to win."

How has life been after MBGN?

"I am so grateful I got to be the first runner up and represent Nigeria in the Miss Universe contest. I met so many wonderful people there who I still talk to today. We even have a Whatsapp group. When someone gives birth or gets married, they post it on the group. I love it."

"Since I left MBGN, my sister and I started a beauty business. We are rebranding so I cannot release the full details now. I also wrote an anthology, ‘Woman like the Sea’ it is about the struggles women go through. I also have a podcast titled 'Feminine Expressions' coming out soon."

Do you think pageants are shallow?

"No, I do not think pageants are shallow. All pageants pass an important message through a beautiful person or face. It is always a combination of beauty and intellect."

Is there light-skinned privilege?

"People always think I am biracial especially, in Lagos but, I am not. I cannot tell if there is light-skinned privilege. I know there is pretty privilege because people would want to talk to you if you are pretty."

"I think what is common nowadays is people trying to attach themselves to the light-skinned complexion by bleaching."

"When I was younger, people would try to put my sister’s beauty against mine and say things like 'you wouldn't be pretty if you were dark-skinned' or tell my sister she would be prettier if she were light-skinned. We need to accept people the way we see them.

"Plus, dark skinned people are getting more representation is music videos and movies now and that is great.

"I decided to move back to Nigeria in 2019 with my sister because I felt Nigeria has a bigger market and they understood new trends in beauty.I also wanted to expand my network."

"I often wished we moved back at an earlier time because almost immediately we moved to Nigeria, COVID hit us, and we had to stay indoors."

"Being in a new country, is not so easy but, I speak to my mum every other day and that helps me miss family less."

"It took me six months to settle in, now I am settled. With all that is going on in Nigeria, I feel it needs new leaders that can make a difference.

"My parents are usually scared about my safety and, they call me all the time. I try not to think of my safety too much."

"Because my family is in South Africa living in Lagos during the lockdown dealt with my mental health negatively. I always thought I was the sort of person who loves to be alone just in my corner writing how I feel but, the lockdown taught me that you need people around you."

"Even after the lockdown, I realized that you need friends and people you can count on."

Are you a feminist?

"Yes, I am, though I do not like to subscribe to labels because sometimes we get hung up on the labels and forget the cause. Although, I am an advocate of women empowerment and gender equality."

On her relationship status, Debbie laughs, she is single and searching but she says; “Dating in Lagos has been wild but, I am open to a relationship. I am happy my parents are not breathing marriage down my neck.”

Finally, Debbie spoke about quitting her job at Spice TV to pursue her business and says we should expect her podcast and rebranded beauty line in the nearest future.

Life conversations is a content series about people with interesting life stories.

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