Rajni Singh has a fascinating story. Born and raised in Punjab’s Phagwara district in India, she moved to the UK in 2003 after getting married into a joint Punjabi family at the age of 21. A fitness professional, nutritionist, practice manager in the National Health Services, she recently became the fourth runner-up in the Miss Great Britain beauty pageant. She was the only South Asian contestant.
Singh’s participation in the pageant did not come easy. She isn’t a seasoned pageanter and only began her fitness journey around the age of 40. Till then, she’d been floundering in a sea of priorities that lay outside of herself. A moment of reckoning came when a host of health difficulties forced her to put herself first. And since then, there’s been no turning back.
Singh’s story is a tale of female power — at first subdued by her roles as mother, wife and daughter-in-law, she went through an amazing self-transformation to become who she is today. Many South Asian women will relate to her story.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? And what was it like?
I was born in a family where my parents proudly raised all their four daughters nothing less than a son. I have a brother who is 10 years younger to me. Being the youngest daughter, I was overly pampered and privileged. I completed my schooling from a Catholic school and my graduation from Punjab University. As growing up, I was someone full of self-doubt, over sensitive and anxious person, but having said that I was a young thriving girl who had dreams, who was enthusiastic and ambitious and also very passionate about sports. I wanted to be a lawyer. I was in the middle of my first year of my M.A. when I got married at the age of 21. I believe destiny had a different plan for me.
You have been through a lot physically and emotionally, from struggling with depression to managing PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome], sciatica, a herniated disc in the neck, vertigo and anxiety. That’s a whole lot. Could you share a bit more about that?
This goes back to when I came over to the UK in 2003 after my marriage. I found it very challenging to adjust to the new culture, new community, and a whole different lifestyle. Especially, coming from a family where I had very supportive women around me, having a strong support system, independent environment, I felt I had to start all over again, and I really struggled. I started feeling lonely and dependent. I believe I also suffered with postpartum depression after my first child. I didn’t realize it at that time, but now when I look back I believe it affected me majorly and changed me into a person I was not. Like many women, I got so busy fulfilling all the other roles in my life that somewhere in that journey I lost my true self.
In 2015, I faced another setback in the form of higher anxiety and stress. I was already diagnosed with PCOS in my adolescence and suffered with severe acne throughout my 30s. Later, I also suffered from back problems associated with shoulder impingement, and herniated disc in the neck and lower back. To top it all off, I was diagnosed with vertigo.
During this period, I felt like I was losing control of my life, became depressed, insecure and withdrawn. It was becoming hard for me to accept myself in that way as I have always been a very active person.
How did you overcome these challenges to becoming a fitness coach and then a pageant participant?
In May 2021, I decided to participate in an online Transformation Challenge to get myself into a structured routine. With the right guidance from my fitness coach and my dedication and consistency, I ended up earning a place in the top 50 of 42,000 participants. This journey was a life-changing experience for me, and I truly felt like I was reborn. My acne was gone, no more nagging pains, my body posture got better and learned to exercise mindfulness. Those 12 weeks liberated me from my negative thoughts, and settled the turmoil inside me. I learned to prioritize myself.
A month later I decided to turn my passion into a profession and learned the actual tools that had helped me achieve something that I had thought was impossible and to help others to transform, empower and find their best selves. I learned that confidence is just like a muscle the more you work on it the stronger it becomes. The more I was facing my fears the calmer I was becoming.
In March 2022, I had finished with my studies of becoming a nutritionist and a fitness coach and another fitness challenge. I figured out that some part of me wanted to follow another passion of mine which I had carried in my heart since a very young age and that us to walk the runway. I shared this feeling of mine with my husband, and to my surprise, he encouraged me to do so. And, that was it! I started doing my research on pageants for older women in the UK and the rest is history.
Tell us about your journey to participating in Miss Great Britain….. What was the experience like, being the only Indian contestant?
When I completed my application I knew least of what I was getting into. I had no idea until the master class that I would be the only Indian origin contestant to ever participate in my category. I remember very vividly, when I walked into the room at the master class, I felt very overwhelmed and anxious. My anxiety levels were at the peak and felt I didn’t belong there. But, after 30 minutes or so, I tried to calm myself down by reminding myself how far I had come and how well I have done and it had all started with me believing in myself. I decided that the most important thing for me was to go the distance and be myself and give my best and not worry about the outcome. Those 15 minutes of self-talk just changed everything. After that, I was just being ME, focusing on getting to know others, sharing each other’s stories and experiences, making conversation, making friends, supporting each other and most importantly having a good time.
From Miss Great Britain team, to the judge, the contestants, everyone was very supportive and caring. I felt a great sense of belonging. Those two days were incredible and I will always cherish them for the rest of my life. The biggest take away from this experience was that when you believe in yourself, the world believes in you!
Is there anything I have not asked but you’d like to talk about?
It took me 40 years of my life to gather the courage to believe in myself, embrace myself for who I am, to do something for my own self. I would like to remind every woman out there who can resonate with my story that you cannot continue to pour from an empty cup. It’s ok to make yourself a priority too. Stop living with guilt, and feelings of desiring to do something that you have always deserved to be doing. Do anything that you are passionate about, that gives you inner happiness. It does not have to be something over the moon. No one puts control over your thoughts but you! When you limit your thoughts you limit your growth. Change happens when you are willing to make a small shift in your mindset from I CAN’T to I CAN and by taking the first courageous step towards it and then everything starts falling into its place.