A model from Italy who was raised by a Muslim family said she plans to defy insults from social media users and persevere in her dream to become Miss Italy, the Local reported Monday. Ahlam el-Brinis, a 20 year-old of Moroccan descent who was selected to compete in the semifinal round of the contest, said online criticism related to her heritage would not discourage her from the upcoming competition.

“Miss Italy is a beauty contest, religion doesn’t enter into it and I don’t want everything focused on that,” Brinis told local Italian media, according to the Local. She was born and raised in Padua, Italy, and despite her family's religion, she has often said she no longer practices Islam. 

Brinis was selected to be "Miss Elegance" for the northeast region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in the Miss Italy semifinal contest set to take place Sept. 20 in Jesolo, Venice. Criticism of her appearance and Moroccan heritage sparked wide criticism soon after the announcement that she had won the "Miss Elegance" title in early August.

Many of the insults posted as comments to her social media pages criticize her for looking "too Muslim" or not Italian enough. Other users on social media have been supportive of Brinis, responding to negative comments and writing replies to the photos she posts on Facebook and Instagram with such encouraging words as: "Congratulations! You deserve to compete in Miss Italy!" 

Brinis is not the first model in a national beauty competition to be criticized for her race or religious tradition. Ariana Miyamoto, who competed in 2015 as Miss Japan in the Miss Universe contest, was criticized by both journalists and Japanese civilians alike for being half-black. In a traditionally monoethnic nation like Japan, Miyamoto's mixed heritage and dark skin sparked controversy among critics who said they wanted a "real Japanese face.

“Whoever is attacking me has an old-fashioned attitude" Brinis said in response to the insults about her Miss Italy bid. "They are writing about me on Facebook. They are offending me. What I am doing wrong by modeling?” she asked.