"They used to call me hak kai when I was younger."

Hak kai means black chicken in Cantonese and it's what kids used to call Lesley when she was younger because of her dark skin.

While we might feel this is a terrible thing to say to someone, Lesley brushes it off as just another thing that happened. "I didn't feel much at the time. Some people don't like certain skin colours and everyone has their own opinion. I don't have an opinion on it one way or the other," says Lesley.

The 26-year-old lass from Selangor was recently crowned Miss Universe Malaysia 2022 succeeding Francisca Luhong who was crowned in 2020.

After a one year gap due to the pandemic, the Miss Universe Organisation is back at it with another beauty queen and we spoke to her about dealing with bullies.

As she's an advocate for mental health, we wanted to know the kinds of things she's faced since winning the competition and asked if she could share some experiences she's had with bullies online. To this, she says that after winning Miss Universe she experienced the most severe bouts of harrassment in all her life.

"They DM-ed me a long essay after I won asking me to be dethroned and ended with Lesley go mati (die)," she shared.

She shared that initially she didn't think too much about the DMs that she was getting but as she paid more attention to the comments and messages she fell into a depression for a week.

Besides this experience she says the most triggering comments that she's faced are the ones that say she didn't work hard for what she has. We asked how she dealt with that:

"I like to cry it out. That's my first solution, then I'll share my struggle with people close to me." We asked who were her closest confidants and she said that her boyfriend bears the brunt of her breakdowns.

Besides letting go of all the negativity she also says that exercise helps her get energised to shake off her depression.

We asked if the bullying continues today but thankfully she said that the bulk of the DMs only came in when she won and have tapered off. It goes to show that while something may seem overwhelming in the moment, it rarely lasts and people's attention spans are not that long.

As part of her kindess campaign she returned to her school and spoke to the girls there to empower them to achieve more. In the video they highlighted two girls who were bullied themselves and how they spoke out against their bullies which helped them deal with the trauma.

Kindess is very much a part of her brand and she wishes to open an Instagram account in the future to promote mental health. For now she recommends people follow @mypsychology.my and @the.holistic.psychologist

And Lesley's advice to people who have been bullied?

"Don't change yourself because of your bully. Always love yourself and talk to yourself because you know yourself best.

"Also, talk to your teacher or talk to someone about it, don't try to hide it. Don't think that this is embarrassing. Don't dupe yourself into standing down against your bully."

One last question remained in our minds as we ended our interview as we found out some interesting facts about Lesley.

Stalking Scrolling Lesley's Instagram, account we found out that she's a bit of a gamer and a basketball player as well and she played in her college. Fitness and sports is very much her passion and feels incongruous with the inherently dainty nature of a beauty pageant. We wanted to know if that was an issue she had to overcome for the competition.

"I'm not a very feminine woman because I was raised by my dad and I realised that my mindset is also boy-ish.

"Actually when people ask me what was the biggest challenge of the Miss Universe competition it was actually to act more like a woman and to be poised."

Though ironic, her childhood experience and upbringing came full circle as the proverbial ugly duckling turned into a swan infront of all Malaysians at the end of the Miss Universe competition this year.

71st Miss Universe Competition

Datin Elaine Daly, National Director of Miss Universe Malaysia Organization(MUMO), Lesley Cheam, Miss Universe Malaysia 2022, and Fashion Designer, Hatta Dolmat

The national costume for the competition is always a point of interest for many and this year the dress is inspired by Mount Kinabalu and sustainability. The costume's silver and grey colours symbolises the large slabs of granite along Mount Kinabalu. Weighing more than 10kg, it is designed by eco-conscious local designer, Hatta Dolmat, who is collaborating with the Miss Universe Malaysia Organization (MUMO) for the first time.

On the sustainability front, the fabric and embellishment of the costume are made out of discarded items like fabric, lace, bark, and rPET or recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is plastic used to make packaging like plastic water bottles and food containers.

We wish her all the best at the competition in New Orleans and good luck explaining the 10kg dress at immigration. She will be traveling to New Orleans alone while lugging the costume and her belongings so it's going to be quite an exercise.

We're proud of you Lesley! Go stun them on the world stage.