At 24 years old, Bhasha Mukherjee is a junior doctor for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, holds two medical degrees, speaks five languages, and was crowned Miss England 2019. She is, to say the least, extraordinary. And recently, she has made headlines for hanging up her crown to return to work as a doctor on the coronavirus front lines.
I sat down, virtually of course, with Mukherjee to learn more about her remarkable story, and to hear her perspective on breaking conventional beauty stereotypes.
ALLURE: I would love to ask about the big decision to hang up your crown and return to medicine, to work on the front lines of this pandemic.
BHASHA MUKHERJEE: I was almost at the end of my India tour and my next point of call was Pakistan. Stricter rules for public gatherings were starting to get enforced, so I was starting to feel like it was time for me to return [to the hospital]. But one thing that played a big role was when my fellow doctors at the hospital told me what was really happening at home with COVID-19. There was news of 5,000 doctors returning to work. I just knew I needed to go back.
A: What has coming back to work as a junior doctor in England been like? How are you doing?
BM: I expected the hospitals to be in complete chaos. But I think because this is the only place in the whole country where things are still carrying on and are expected to keep carrying on there is a level of normalcy. A level of “Keep calm and carry on.”
A: There’s a lot of excitement about you being both Miss England and a doctor—do you find that people challenge that narrative, especially when it comes to thinking intellect and beauty can’t coexist?
BM: This is something I have been trying to fight my whole life. When I was at school, I was always stuck in my books. I got my glasses when I was 10 years old. I had wonky teeth, the whole puberty thing. I felt like no boys liked me because I was a geek. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do modeling—I can be both. It’s so easy to break that stereotype. I still feel like when I’m looking pretty people don’t take me seriously enough and question my credibility. I like to have that doctor in front of my name so can I shut people down before they can even question me.
A: Were you the outlier in the beauty pageant world?
BM: If you really look back at the history of pageantry, 1966 was the year the first Indian woman got crowned as Miss World, Rita Faria. She was also a doctor. Women have always been multifaceted. It’s not something new. But people are expected to choose one or the other. And I really wish that would change.
A: You were in your final year of med school when you were crowned Miss England. What inspired you to enter the pageant knowing your career was just around the corner?
BM: One of the magazines I had been modeling for suggested it to me and I thought, “Why not?” I had that approach with everything in life — why not try it out? I had no expectation to win.
A: We’ve been asking ourselves, “Does beauty — as in, makeup, hair, skin care — really matter anymore?” Do you think it does?
BM: In nature, beauty serves a purpose. We are beautiful from our fertility window until we hit menopause, as per nature is concerned, just so we can pass our genes on. Beyond that, beauty has no other purpose. I am talking from a medical perspective about what the purpose of beauty is in nature, if we really, really fundamentally look at this. At the end of the day, all of us are striving to be the best version of ourselves. Anybody can achieve that. It’s a good thing that there are so many ways that people can be beautiful now. You can get makeup on. You can wear nice clothes.
A: What role do you think pageants play now?
BM: I think people have it all wrong about what pageants really mean. What they [the judges] are looking for is someone to represent the country. I suppose what people saw in me is someone who can change the face of what beauty pageants have stood for for so many years.
A: What’s next for you?
BM: I want to use my platform to promote preventative health care through education, so we can alleviate pressure on the healthcare system. I think it will change the world when people become more empowered in their own healthcare. It would be wasteful to have this platform and not do anything with it. Will I do anymore pageants? No, because I think I achieved what I wanted out of doing a pageant and getting a title I can build on. That’s what I intend to do.