Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu has opened up about her experience with online bullying after she gained weight following the competition.

The 22-year-old beauty queen, who was crowned in December, said she was comfortable with her new weight but her detractors had a different opinion about it.

"Physically I have kind of grown, got more pounds and increased my weight, which I am totally comfortable about right now," the Indian-born beauty contest winner told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.

"I was bullied for gaining weight," Sandhu said. "It was kind of uncomfortable and really surprising for me to see how people started having their opinions, which should not really matter. It's not about how you look, it's about who you are from inside and how you treat people and what you believe in."

The model said she was focused on her diet and exercise as the competition drew closer but after she won the crown, she decided to take it easy and enjoy her time with her family.

"During that time, I actually didn't work out, and I was just eating and just enjoying that time with my family. I never realized that it would start showing on my body," she explained.

Critics wasted no time in harassing the beauty queen online which drove Sandhu to tears "in the most unexpected times."

"I'm just about to go on stage or something and this whole thing comes to my mind," "It's really sad," she told the outlet.

Through her experience, the 70th Miss Universe title holder and India's third Miss Universe winner said she learned to protect her mental health. She is also hoping to inspire others who are striving with weight issues to prioritize good health and embrace self-love.

"I've gone through that phase of my life where I used to feel bad about everything. Now, I started loving everything. It's okay to cry. It's okay to feel sad," she added. "We all are imperfect. We need to realize that there's a point where we understand that we need to embrace our flaws and when you do that, you can conquer anything in this world."

Miss Universe crown
Pearl and diamonds decorated Miss Universe 2005 crown, worth 250,000 USD, put on display by Japan's leading pearl company Mikimoto at a press conference in Bangkok, 17 May 2005. The Tiara is decorated with 800 round brilliant cut diamonds weighing a total of 18 carats, as well as 120 pearls. The reigning Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins of Australia, will crown her successor in Bangkok before thousands of journalists and spectators on May 31. SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images
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