The #BeMoreThanPretty campaign was designed to break stereotypes surrounding women and girls who compete in pageants. The campaign gives all Miss USA and Miss Universe contestants the opportunity to highlight different aspects of their lives outside of pageantry. Most people assume these young women are all the same, that their main focus is to fulfill a materialistic dream. After spending the past week and a half with the 51 contestants I can honestly say the Miss USA class of 2015 is determined to break those stereotypes.
“Only simplicity and the truth count. It has to come from inside. You can’t fake it.”
The main stereotype surrounding pageant queens is that being outwardly beautiful is the most important aspect. However, many contestants I spoke to couldn’t disagree more. “You could be the most physically attractive person in the world, but if you don’t have a good heart and if you’re not a good person then you aren’t that good looking after all,” Miss Texas said.
To break that stereotype, Miss Florida, Ashleigh Lollie, believes being the modern-American woman is beautiful. “I think being more than pretty means challenging yourself, being adventurous, having an education and then getting a job,” Lollie said. Being a lawyer and getting her pilot’s license are two ways Lollie is breaking gender stereotypes and really becoming the modern-American woman.
Miss Louisiana, Candice Bennatt, believes that being beautiful means being confident. One way Bennatt has found her own self-confidence is by taking risks, and she hopes to encourage young women to take more risks. “It’s all about learning. We’re destined to fail sometimes and you can’t always win, but you can always learn,” Bennatt said. “So take that risk, put one foot in front of another and give it a try.”
Miss Alaska, Kimberly Agron, believes being pretty comes from within. Through her experiences she has found that self-reflection is key to truly finding inner beauty. Agron’s advice to young girls struggling with beauty issues is to truly reflect on what they love about themselves, and to be confident in what they find.
“If you’re feeling down about yourself, seriously sit down and write out things you like about yourself or things you liked about your day,” Agron said. “For me, I had to decide that I’m going to be positive about every interaction that I make and I’m going to find beauty in others, and then find beauty in myself.”
The Miss USA Sisterhood
One way this Miss USA class is breaking stereotypes is how they interact and treat one another. Most of the contestants have bonds outside of their days spent in Baton Rouge, and have even been supporting each other for a few years now.
I spoke with Miss Nevada, Brittany McGowan, about her friendship with Miss Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Cardillo. The two have been friends for quite some time now, and McGowan even called Cardillo the night she won Miss Pennsylvania to see if she would room with her in Baton Rouge.
“We pump each other up every single day,” McGowan said. “When one of us is feeling down or unsure, unsure is probably the best word because it’s impossible to feel completely sure of yourself all of the time, we know we’re not alone. It means the world to have someone to share those feelings with and who understands those feelings.”
Miss Rhode Island, Anea Garcia, spoke of a similar instance with Miss Oregon, Bridget Wilmes, a woman she was not close with until spending the week together in Baton Rouge. “I was talking to Miss Oregon and she asked me if I like my bathing suit photo and I said yes,” Garcia said. “She responded good, because I like my photo too and we’re all just so beautiful in every single way.” Garcia was inspired by her positivity and her ability lift others spirits while also trying to be “confidently beautiful” about herself.
The Brainy Bunch
One of the most interesting characteristics about this Miss USA class as a whole is that many of them are breaking boundaries professionally. Out of the seven contestants I interviewed, two contestants, Miss Louisiana and Miss Florida, are currently in law school and Miss New Mexico has two bachelor degrees and a masters degree. Many other contestants have graduated in an array of studies, are currently in school or have already begun successful, professional careers.
Education is key, and something these women, and Miss New Mexico, Alexis Duprey, in particular, take very serious. “My mom always told me that education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you,” Duprey said. “I am absolutely confident that the investment in education is well worth it and I think an intelligent, well-spoken and well-versed woman is just priceless.”
The Power of One
Some of the most impactful moments I’ve experienced through my coverage have been catching small glimpses into each contestants’ personal lives and stories. One of these moments occurred when I asked Miss Nevada, Brittany McGowan, who in her life truly exemplifies being pretty. For a moment she just sat to herself and smiled; I could tell that she was thinking of someone special.
“It’s funny, I know that when you think of beauty you automatically think of women,” McGowan said. “But the first person that I immediately thought of, that has a really beautiful soul, is my little brother.” She views his honesty, bravery and strong morals as characteristics that make him beautiful.
Miss Nevada went on to describe being pretty as a feeling you get from someone, or a type of vibe that they radiate. “Beauty to me is something more than what you see, it’s how someone makes you feel,” McGowan said.
Reflecting on my interviews with the women, one thing really stuck out to me, and that is what Miss Florida said about being the modern-American woman. From my experience covering the Miss USA pageant, and meeting so many diverse women, I feel as though I have a better understanding of what the modern-American woman looks, feels and acts like. As far as anyone can see she is strong, intelligent, independent, beautiful and caring. Dig a little deeper and you will find that she is unapologetically confident in her own skin, ambitious to a point of exhaustion to achieve her goals, genuinely concerned with the well being of others and willing and able to be the positive role model that so many young girls long for.
In the less than 24 hours a new Miss USA will be crowned. I can’t begin to imagine how nervous, anxious and excited the contestants are feeling. However, win or lose, the women I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know will continue to break stereotypes, be an inspiration to women everywhere and strive every day to #BeMoreThanPretty.