MANILA, Philippines – Philippine bet Gazini Ganados’ early exit from the Miss Universe 2019 competition led pageant fans to a new favorite: Iceland's candidate, Birta Abiba Þórhallsdóttir.
Birta's relaxed manner stood out in a sea of perfectly polished pageant contestants and, many also called attention to her resemblance to Daenerys Targaryen's loyal interpreter Missandei from Game of Thrones.
Her Miss Universe journey ended after making it to the Top 10, but the beauty queen didn't need to make it to the final round to make her mark on pageant fans' hearts all over the world. (READ: South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi is Miss Universe 2019)
Here are 5 interesting things to know about Iceland's bet:
Miss Universe Iceland was her first pageant ever
Birta's Miss Universe Top 10 finish is even more impressive considering that her home pageant was her first foray into pageantry. In an interview with pageant blogger Arvin Cabachete, she shared that her Miss Universe pageant preps focused mainly on learning how to walk in heels and do her makeup.
"When I competed in my pageant, it was my first ever pageant, I had never worn heels before, I didn't own a makeup brush. So my mom, I used my mom's makeup for the interview, and my mom is white so I had a like a white circle on my face, and like tiny kitten heels."
Later in an Instagram post, she said "In the beginning of the year, I didn’t even own a pair of heels and yesterday I walked in the [Miss Universe] preliminary along side my amazing [Miss Universe 2019] sisters. I think that proves that honestly anything is possible!"
View this post on Instagram In the beginning of the year, I didn’t even own a pair of heels and yesterday I walked in the @missuniverse preliminary along side my amazing #missuniverse2019 sisters. I think that proves that honestly anything is possible! A post shared by @ birta.abiba on Dec 7, 2019 at 6:52pm PST
She won Miss Universe Iceland on her 20th birthday
On Instagram stories, she shared that the pageant was held on August 31, and she was crowned as the clock struck midnight on September 1, her birthday.
View this post on Instagram The endless amount of love and support I have gotten throughout this journey is something I will never be able to put into words. I am forever grateful and I hope that this shows everyone that no matter what; you are so much more than just your skin color, you are beautiful,kind, worthy and never alone. A post shared by @ birta.abiba on Sep 1, 2019 at 10:37am PDT
She is the first biracial woman to win Miss Universe Iceland
Birta grew up being bullied for being biracial, and even shared on her Instagram stories that she was physically abused for her race. She said that in one particular incident, she was told "you don't punch a nigger, you kick him," before she was kicked in the ribs.
Birta learned to love herself and be proud of her racial heritage, and decided to join Miss Universe Iceland, but even then, she had to endure discrimination and was told that the competition is "only for Icelandic girls."
In a later post, she said that she wanted to become the representation she never had.
"Learning to finally love myself for who I was took a long time. Which is why I want young men and women who were or still are in the same place I was to know, they are so much more than just their outward appearance. Everything fades but kindness will never. You have power, your voice has power and that can never be taken away from you," she said.
View this post on Instagram I wish to be the representation I never had. As a child growing up in a predominantly white country, I never saw or could admire anyone that looked like me and facing prejudice and discrimination. No matter the love and support all around me, I felt alone. Doing everything to fit in and evening though finally, I felt I did (straightening/bleaching my hair, keeping my skin lighter, never using my name, never speaking up when I saw or knew something was wrong and so much more) I had never felt more alone. Learning to finally love myself for who I was took a long time. Which is why I want young men and women who were or still are in the same place I was to know, they are so much more than just their outward appearance. Everything fades but kindness will never. You have power, your voice has power and that can never be taken away from you. @missuniverseiceland #missuniverseiceland2019 #missuniverseiceland @missuniverse #missuniverse2019 #MissUniverse A post shared by @ birta.abiba on Oct 7, 2019 at 4:44pm PDT
She's a published author
According to the Miss Universe website, Birta has already written a full length novel and dreams of being an international author. Apparently, she also has a keen interest in American and War History – could that be what her next book is about?
She helps educate kids in academics, and cultural diversity
As a volunteer for the Icelandic Red Cross Study Aid program, Birta tutors kids in English and Icelandic language comprehension and mathematics, and helps them prepare for standardized testing.
View this post on Instagram I have learned throughout my life that nothing will ever come close to the feeling that you’ve helped another person. Even if it’s just making them smile durring difficult times. Volunteering has not only taught me to have more compassion but also empathy for all people around me no matter what situation they are in. Using the link you can donate to The Icelandic Red Cross as it does not only work domestically as well as supporting international work of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement all over the world. The main emphasis is on bringing assistance and help where it is needed. https://www.raudikrossinn.is/donate A post shared by @ birta.abiba on Nov 12, 2019 at 11:53am PST
Aside from helping kids master their academics, she also teaches them about cultural awareness and diversity, which she advocates for in Icelandic schools. – Rappler.com