TheLatch— Profiles: Monika Radulovic


When I met model and former Miss Universe Australia Monika Radulovic at The Birdcage on Melbourne Cup day, little did I realise how much of an impact she would have on me.

She was warm, bubbly and incredibly open — something that can be rare to find.

Radulovic and I hit it off straight away, talking away in a corner for ages (astounded that we had a mutual friend in common — Hi Iain!) until she was whisked off to do her G.H. Mumm ambassador duties.

But I was sold on her and incredibly fascinated by her story.

Now, in a sit-down interview with TheLatch—, Monika tells me her story, starting as a refugee and ending up on the world stage.

Monika Radulovic
Monika and me, Anita. Supplied.

When Monika Radulovic was one-and-a-half years old, rumours that a war was about to break out in her home country of Bosnia (former Yogoslavia) rippled through the community.

Radulovic’s parents Vinka and Goran felt unsafe in a country with an uncertain future.

“My mum was a lawyer and my dad was an architect, so they had a really wonderful, comfortable life and all their family was there,” the former Miss Universe Australia told me during an exclusive interview with TheLatch—.

“My parents were two people that thought that they didn’t want to risk living there, so they decided to leave everything behind. Everybody is still there. Every single person apart from my uncle and aunty— my dad’s brother and his wife. That is it.”

“My parents still say to me to this day that it was because of me that they decided to take the risk and leave everything to give me a better life.”

Fleeing to Denmark, Monica and her parents lived in hotel-like accommodation with other families from their country. Each family lived in a room that measured two by three metres.

“We lived in this one room together and that was it,” Radulovic recalled. “We shared showers and a bathroom with the whole floor, so it was a really challenging time.”

The model, who is now 29, cites her parents as “heroes”.

“Because what would have been or what could have been a really stressful, uneasy time for me — and was for them — they shielded me from it” she said.

“To me, what I felt and what I saw was living with lots of other children. I had lots of friends. I was with my parents 24/7 so we developed this beautiful strong bond, and I’ve got no negative memories apart from just spending all this time with my parents.”

When Radulovic was three, her mum fell pregnant with her younger brother, Stefan.

“Imagine living in another country, not being able to speak the language and finding out you’re pregnant, so that was another huge challenge for them.”

Monika Radulovik
Monica with her father, Goran and mother, Vinka. Supplied.

When Vinka was eight-months pregnant, the family of three relocated to Australia on the November 11, 1994, with Stefan born just a month later.

“She couldn’t speak English yet,” Radulovic said. “It was just such a challenging time for her. I don’t know how she did it. When it comes to that time in my life, they’re the true heroes, and I’m just so blessed that I have them as parents because I’ve got wonderful memories of my childhood.”

As the family settled into life in Sydney’s Western Suburbs (where her parents still live), the Salvation Army helped with secondhand clothing and furniture for their first apartment.

“There was a local church and they had — I don’t know if it was just a secondhand store or what — but I remember that I used to say, “Can we go to the church, Daddy?” Because I knew that I’d get a secondhand toy or something from there.”

“They’re just beyond grateful for Australia. It really opened its arms up to us and gave us a whole new life. I mean, I just can’t comprehend where I’d be if we weren’t in Australia. The opportunities that I’ve been blessed with, they just wouldn’t have been possible.

When she started school in 1995, Radulovic, could only speak Serbian and had to learn English from her classmates, but being in an English speaking country never stopped her from thinking about the country which she was born and in 2010 she returned to Serbia to visit her extended family.

“I got to see where I potentially would have lived,” she said.

“I got to see what life could have been like. That really hit home for me. I mean, you can still see bullets in the buildings and the war is still completely visible there. It’s really heartbreaking.”

The family still send money to their relatives and Radulovic sends clothing every year because “we all have in excess, in surplus when it comes to these material goods. So I just love, in that small way, giving back.”

At primary school, she was a “teacher’s pet through and through” only missing one school day from kindergarten to year six, but when she reached high school teachers would say that she “could do so well if she applied herself”.

“I talked too much,” she laughed. “But I love learning, even though I didn’t like studying after school. So I got by and I had lots of friends. I had a very normal schooling life. I was just a totally normal student and then I really applied myself in year 12 when I decided that I wanted to get into university to study psychology.”

Monika Radulovic
Monica’s school photo from primary school. Supplied.

After attending an open day lecture at the University of Western Sydney, Radulovic decided that she wanted to study psychology because “it was about the human mind and why we humans do what we do — just human behavior. And then you can also really help people.”

After university, she went straight into modeling, saying she’d “give it a crack for a year” (which turned into a full-time gig) between her undergrad and post-grad, and when I questioned whether people were surprised at the degree she had, she said that “people peg people in these holes”, but it wasn’t really something that she had to deal with.

“When I was at uni, obviously people knew that I was studying so I never had to justify my intelligence but in the modeling industry, nobody knew. Whatever job I was attending at that time, I was just the model of the day, so I felt like I had to justify my intelligence by saying, “Oh, I’ve got a degree in psychology.”

Monika, aged 20. Supplied.

While growing up, Radulovic lived a “blessed” life however when she hit the age of 20, she struggled with her relationship to food.

“I remember this very clearly because I had broken up with my boyfriend. He cheated on me. It was a long-term partner. I found out in the same week that I had my wisdom teeth removed. First I couldn’t eat, second, I was so sad about my boyfriend cheating on me that I didn’t want to eat. And then I lost a lot of weight and I found it so hard putting the weight back on.”

“But at the same time I was in this phase in my life where I was modelling, so I thought, okay, to be a model means you have to exercise a lot and eat healthily and I had no idea what ‘healthy’ meant. To me, healthy was cutting out all forms of fat, all forms of carbohydrates. I was under-nourishing myself.”

Losing her period for over a year was a challenging time, particularly because people were “praising” her for her “model body” when in reality I was just so under-nourishing myself.”

“Since then I have been a huge advocate for just not being afraid of eating fats and eating to nourish your body, not to starve yourself. And exercising to celebrate the fact that you’ve got a healthy body that can exercise, not to be punishing yourself for what you’ve eaten or not eaten. So that was a huge shift in my mindset.”

While she had a negative relationship with food, she would never class herself as having an eating disorder, but a disordered view of food and even though it was around the same time as she began modelling, she said it wasn’t a catalyst for wanting to lose weight.

“I think in Australia we celebrate a healthy body type as opposed to some other countries where runway modelling is very important and they need to be wasting away to be on the runway. It’s ridiculous.”

Now, Radulovic celebrates having energy and feeling physically and mentally fit.

“I’ve experienced not having my periods because my body fat was so low and now I celebrate my period every single month,” she said.

Monika when she competed as Miss Universe Australia. Supplied

In 2015, Radulovic represented Australia at the Miss Universe pageant, something her parents didn’t want her to do initially.

In fact, it was her now-husband Alesandro Ljubicic — whom she’s been with since she was just 22 — who said: “you can do this”.

“Alesandro is so much more than just my love to me,” she said. “He is my number one support system. He’s my best friend. He’s the one the sort of sounding board when I’m confused about something, or I’m not sure about which way to go.”

“I never saw myself as being Miss Universe material or a pageant girl or anything like that. It was never really an interest of mine ever. Ever. Watching the pageants as a kid, I enjoyed watching it when it was on TV, but never did I look at that and think, “Oh wow, I hope that’s me one day.” I just never saw myself in that light at all. And when I decided to give it a go, I told my family and my parents were really against the idea. I think it was because of the fear of, well firstly if she even does make it, how will she handle the media criticism being in the spotlight.

“Before Alesandro, I would have probably really second-guessed my decision in going forward.”

Monika and her husband, Alesandro. Instagram @monika_rad

Of course, being Miss Universe Australia had its perks, but for Radulovic, giving back to the community is much more important.

“You do what you can on a small everyday basis,” she said.

“I am also all about reusing and re-wearing things. I think it’s been like a bit of a taboo in the fashion industry. Oh, you’re re-wearing that same outfit? But I feel like this year I’m going to challenge myself to re-wear things over and over again. I think that’s something that we can really do to make it cool instead of being taboo. And as influencers in this space, we should re-wear outfits and hashtag #OutfitRepeater and make it a positive thing.”

We couldn’t agree more.