Evalina Beauty’s Inspi(her) series profiles inspirational women who embody courage, resilience and inner beauty
Nova Stevens’ stunning outer beauty is obvious, so it’s no surprise that the six-foot-tall model/actress will be competing in the 2020 Miss Universe Canada pageant this weekend. But make no mistake: Nova Stevens is much more than just her looks.
At the age of six, Nova was sent to Canada alone to pursue a better life after her family fled a civil war in South Sudan. By the age of 15, Nova was living independently, finishing school and learning the importance of guidance for youth.
From first-hand experience, Nova believes that “resiliency and the power of faith” can change your circumstances and is now dedicated to giving back to her community. She is a spokesperson for charitable organizations like Operation Smile, which raises awareness for cleft lip and palate solutions, and is also the co-organizer of the Freedom Marches in Vancouver, passionately giving her time to Black Lives Matter and minority liberation movements in Canada.
In her capacity as a role model, Nova wants to give young women someone to look up to and feel like their dreams are attainable.
“I want to encourage young girls of colour to see themselves as beautiful, regardless of what society considers as ‘beautiful,’" says Nova. “I want them to see my image and think that they too can compete for Miss Universe Canada and win despite being African with dark skin and non-Eurocentric features. We are all beautiful when are authentically ourselves.”
We caught up with Nova to talk more about the road to her success, who inspires her and her daily beauty routine…
Kate WhyteEB: How did you enter the world of pageants and what was the appeal?
NS: My first pageant was in 2014. It was the first time I had competed and I ended up top 12. I had always watched Miss Universe, and a part of me was curious as to why there weren't that many black women... growing up, I didn't really see that many black faces in the industry.
I applied in 2013 and couldn’t follow through that year, then the next year they reached out to me and asked if I was interested in competing. I said, "Why not?" Once you start, it's almost addictive. If you don’t win, you want to go back and prove yourself.
And that's exactly what happened. I went back in 2018 and went back to my basics. I decided on natural hair—because the first time I wore a weave—and that time I wanted to represent women who looked like me and show them you don't have to apply to societal standards to be considered beautiful.
EB: As a prominent and inspirational voice for the black community and other minorities, how important is it to you that people see diversity within mainstream media and platforms like Miss Universe Canada?
NS: It's so important to see diversity because it really shows the true meaning of Canada. You know, we're always saying in Canada, we’re so diverse and welcoming. I feel like often that's not reflected in most industries. Seeing people with diverse backgrounds creates a better understanding of the world, because the world is so diverse.
I really hope that I win because that would show a lot of change. But I don't want people to think I should win just because I’m black. I have been working hard towards this, so I don't want my blackness to discount the work that I've been doing. I could see myself winning and some people saying, "Oh, she's only winning because she's black," and that's not fair. There's more to me than like my skin colour. There’s more for me to offer than my skin colour to the Miss Universe stage and to the world.
EB: With pageantry comes vulnerability. How do you deal with the negative while still trying to remain empowered?
NS: I think I've just told myself that in life no matter what you do you cannot please everyone and not everyone's going to like you. And that is completely OK. As long as you remain true to yourself, that's all that matters. I'd rather be disliked for being who I am than to conform [and be] dishonest with myself.
EB: As a female, what barriers have you had to overcome in your career?
NS: Usually women excel more in careers like modelling... but the barrier that I have faced is my skin colour. They often have just that token black person. We can never have a large amount of black women in a show. They just have one or two and it's often the ones that are already known.
Recently I was doing a live video for the pageant on a popular Instagram account called Pageant Spotlight. Up until that point, I had a lot of support from the community—people were rooting for me and people are still rooting for me—but then I started receiving racist comments. People were saying stuff like, "You should get a nose job. You’re ugly"... sending poop emojis because of my skin colour, and I was just shocked because I don't think I've ever experienced that, at least not directly. People have called me names from afar, like the N word, but when it's so up close and personal, I feel it's different. It was online for others to see and I think that's what the issue was for me. They were saying it in front of other people, so not only am I hearing this but the whole world is hearing this view of me from these people.
I honestly don't have an issue with someone not liking me because of my character, that's fine. But when it pertains to things that I physically cannot change, like the colour of my skin, that’s when it can become hurtful. And I address them and say, "Be mindful of your words, just because you’re seeing me on a screen, it does not mean I’m immune to hurt. I do feel pain."
EB: Who inspires you?
NS: I seek inspiration from the many black women who have paved the way for me. One of those being Zozibini Tunzi, who was Miss Universe 2019. If it had not been for her, I don't think I would have been competing this year, because I didn’t see myself winning up until this point.
For the longest time, no one that resembled me had won Miss Universe, you know, with short hair and my complexion... that’s why it's so important to have representation, and why it's so important for me to win because I can prove not only to myself, but other young black girls who wish to pursue careers in industries that neglected them for a very long time because someone who looks like them has won.
EB: What message or advice would you like to pass on to future advocates or those who are pursuing leadership roles?
NS: A true leader believes in themselves and what they're fighting for, even when others doubt them.
EB: What is your daily beauty routine?
NS: I’m vegan so I like to use natural products. I like to put things on my face that are not harmful, so I use a lot of oils and always wash my face no matter how late I get home—you don't want that build up as it clog your pores. I usually use black soap as well as another cleanser. In the morning, I wake up and roll my face with a quartz or jade roller and then I will put on my eye serum. I use witch hazel and an oil-based serum at night. It's simple but effective.
EB: What item in your makeup bag could you not live without?
NS: My eyebrow pencil, it’s all I really care about.
EB: What’s your top beauty tip?
NS: Drink lots of water. Water, water, water. I'm not always successful, but I try my best to drink four litres a day.
EB: Where will we find you on a normal Sunday morning at 11 a.m.?
NS: Honestly, probably home. I'm so busy I rarely stay home. If God can rest on a Sunday, so can I. You’ll find me lying in bed and not thinking. I just want to spend time in my bed.
Watch Miss Universe Canada live this Saturday, October 24th on CTV.