From Charity Nwakaudu
Propelled by a favourite childhood obsession with selfies, Maristella Okpala, popularly known as Mariselle, is transforming into a fan favourite in the Nigerian modelling industry. And with her rising popularity grows her confidence to fulfil her big dream of becoming an internationally celebrated model.
The 29-year-old Enugu born and brought-up beautiful model has clarity about what she wants for herself. According to her, her adventurous move into the modelling niche started from a young age, around the time she finished her senior secondary school and got fully involved upon gaining admission into the federal school of dental technology and therapy, Enugu state.
“I have always had a strong passion for modelling, I had it all in me,” Maristella recalled during a close chat.
“As with every child with a dream, I knew quite honestly that I am built for a greater path and was hellbent on discovering and trying to improve on my inherent skillset.”
A local modelling agency, Anne’s Couture gave Okpala her first opportunity in modelling and she’s gone on to build a luxurious and multi-million-dollar fortune from it.
A collection of Maristella’s pageant records and involvement.
Maristella’s bright career has seen her take part in several pageant competitions, from local to international, enduring challenges while also making significant history and filling her cabinet with a litany of colourful awards.
Maristella won her first pageant title “Miss style Nigeria 2012”.
On January 1, 2015, she represented Nigeria at Supermodel International 2014 held in Bangkok, Thailand where she emerged top 10 and won the best bikini body title.
In 2017, she won the Miss Photogenic award at Nigeria’s biggest pageant competition, Most beautiful girl in Nigeria (MBGN) and was among the top 15 grand finalists.
She auditioned for Miss Earth Nigeria 2018 and went on to claim the title. She represented Nigeria at the international edition of the pageant held in Manila, Philippines, competing with several delegates from across Nations. She was unplaced in any of the categories.
Maristella’s quest for the ultimate prize and international recognition pushed her to audition for the 2020 edition of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, finishing as MBGN Universe and slotting in as Nigeria’s representative at the most prestigious pageant competition, Miss Universe (2021).
Recalling her experience during the preparation for the pageant, Maristella fondly noted: “I feel somewhat nervous though extremely motivated to make the greatest impact for my country. I had several training from coaches in Nigeria and a few others across Europe.”
Sharing her thought on competing with delegates from pageant-rooted countries like the Philippines, Thailand and those from top countries in Europe, she said: “Miss Universe is by far the most-rated pageant in the world. There’s this sincere happiness and curiosity I had, of course, knowing it’s a world pageant where lots of known models and experts will all assemble. I had to double my preparation and trust my gut.”
Maris, though, made the biggest impact as an African and particularly Nigerian in the pageant, winning the award for the National costume, donning the “Mmanwa,” an outfit inspired by the famous traditional masquerade of the southeastern Nigeria tribe.
On her Instagram page, the model shared the inspiration behind the award-winning costume, captioning the post.
“I picked this particular costume because I see a self-reflection of my cause in this Mmanwa who protects children and women against any form of abuse.
“Mmanwa is a female masquerade costume that’s designed for ceremonial and festive purposes to celebrate the rich Nigerian cultural heritage paying closer attention to the strength women possess. The 3ft tribal mask with the colourful ancient back cape With Mmanwa’s Face boldly crested on the mask and cape”.
“It represents the beautiful Mmanwa who fought tirelessly to stop girl child mutilation and child slavery while the colourful patterns and embellishments portray the African dashiki which offers a visual appeal and forms meant to invoke the ancestral spirits.
“Finally, this costume pays attention to the strong will of women in attaining whatever height they want to attain, no matter the challenges faced while reaching their desired goals.”
Nigerian model Maristella Okpala has strutted for some of the world’s biggest agencies and brands including Bovory, Savanna Creations, Ladies Day Dubai, Beauty Salon Merita, Erinakuznevo, Mubacostmetics, among others.
The 5’11 beauty has also appeared in the pages of Vogue Africa and several reputable Nigeria national dailies, documenting her getting ready process for the Miss Universe competition.
Since 2016, she has worked closely as a brand ambassador for one of Nigeria’s top stylist and fashion brands, Rikaoto.
She’s also done commercials for some of Nigeria’s biggest brands like Amber beverage ltd, Hairess Gallery, Travel Beta and was selected for an advert by Homa, promoting racial equity and marking UAE’s 49th National day.
Aside from being a registered Dental Technician, Maris doubles as an actress, fashion model and works as an air hostess with the international airline, Emirates, a job that has taken her to more than 50 countries in the world.
Her astonishing rise has seen her partner with several organisations championing positive and impact-driven initiatives.
In 2018, she launched her NGO, Lsi, an acronym for “Let’s say it” initiative.
Through her foundation, she has empowered over 1,000 children with free education by providing essential materials needed for their study. She has also taken her humanitarian services to people living in the slum area of the Makoto community in Lagos, Nigeria, empowering pregnant women with pre and post-natal care basic needs.
Maristella works closely with ACI (Africa Clean-Up Initiative) NIGERIA in their quest to promote good proper waste management and recycling practices. She additionally supports organizations that provide free malaria test kits, mosquito nets, and essential needs for people living in the AJEGUNLE community. She also conducts free malaria tests for people living in the community and aims to create more awareness for people living in a similar community about the ailment.
A serial winner and role model for most Nigerian models and youths, Maristella is living her dream and not slowing down anytime soon. She’s adopted a lifestyle that will see her feature under the lifetime spotlight and she’s making a difference with every chance she has.
Enfolding herself in the web of Nigerian youths thriving to make positive impacts and attain their life goals, Maris thus shared her motivation “All I have achieved today are all possible through the mercy and grace of God. Though a product of hardwork, I live my life with the zeal and desperation to become a better version of every day. To anyone who perhaps is struggling by the compass of their current position in Nigeria or anywhere, I hope you find the courage never to give up and trust the process, it may take time but eventually, everything will blend and shape up perfectly.”