Bullies, autism didn’t keep Thai beauty contestant off the stage

Photo: Ponnapapan Sangwangthong / Facebook
Photo: Ponnapapan Sangwangthong / Facebook

Thailand’s first beauty contestant with autism made it to the top 50 this morning, and her name is Ponnapapan “Fern” Sangwangthong.

“My family used to tell me that I shouldn’t openly talk to other people about my autism,” Fern said in a speech from the Miss Thailand stage that won the internet’s hearts over the weekend. “But I want other people to know that we are here, and most importantly we want to be seen.”  

Just this morning, the 21-year-old Srinakharinwirot University student made history by becoming the first autistic contestant to be shortlisted at Miss Thailand. 

“I know that viral trends come and go here. But at least I can make other people see that we [autistic people] are no different from them, and we don’t need any special treatment,” Fern said in a Monday interview. 

But before her moment in the spotlight, things weren’t easy for her, Fern said. For nine years, she was targeted by bullies because of her differences. She recalls being picked on, excluded, and a victim of cyberbullying, and it wasn’t always about her diagnosis in the spectrum.

“Even now, there are people who believe I’m here for [the fame] just because I don’t fit in with beauty standards,” Fern said. “But I’m not coming here for them. I stood there on the stage because this is what I always wanted.”

Asked about her next steps, she said that she will continue her role as an autism advocate even if she doesn’t make it to the final round. 

“The title isn’t that important,” Fern said. “What’s more important is that I can inspire other people like me to do the same.”

She acknowledged the way led two years ago by former Miss Universe Curacao contestant Chantal Wiertz. 

“I saw an autistic contestant on Miss Universe 2020, but I’ve never seen anyone with a disability like me on the [Thai] stage,” Fern said during her preliminary round. “I want to make them know I’m here to represent, to show them that we can achieve our dreams, too.” 

This story originally appeared in BK.

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