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It's More Than a Crown

I have been photographing pageants and titleholders for quite some time now. Each and every young lady I've worked with has a story, a reason why she competes; something much bigger than herself.

The women that compete in pageants are often labeled as "unintelligent" or "superficial," but these ladies are anything but. I asked several past and present title holders why they compete in pageants and this is what they said! (All photography by K. Garcia Productions)

"Pageantry has helped me transform into the best version of myself. I have become a better leader, competitor, and woman. Participating in pageants has allowed me to turn my trials into triumphs and face opportunities with a mindset that I will “win and/or learn”. Being a titleholder allowed me to give hope to other women, reminding them that their story is worth sharing. And I certainly can’t forget all the beautiful friends I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world."

-Kelsey Craft, Miss International 2017 (Int'l Pageants)

"Giving back to the community is so fulfilling that it has become a passion. While I can do this without a title, being a titleholder gives me a megaphone for the causes that I support and allows me to do way more than without it."

-Carly Peeters, Miss Teen International 2017 (Int'l Pageants)

“I’ve competed over a decade, in several systems, and there are many reasons why I continue to compete. Pageants have served many purposes in various phases of my life - from building confidence as a teen, to college scholarship opportunities, to professional growth. Every pageant has given me opportunities to grow, build new friendships, and above all, be an advocate in my community.”

-Allie Curtis, Miss Rhode Island 2015 (Miss America Organization)

"Well I originally competed because I wanted the scholarship money for law school but I also always had this crazy pipe dream of actually being Miss America so I went for it. It just became a part of me. From the friends I made, to how meaningful getting to actually help people with my platform was, to the glamour that so often was part of the experience, I loved every second of the life changing, empowering experience and it truly has made me who I am today."

-Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015 (Miss America Organization)

"I compete in pageantry because it is the one thing that always reminds me of who my best self is! Pageantry continually pushes me to develop and cultivate qualities that reflect myself. On top of that it has introduced me to people from all over the world that have become influential in all aspects of my life."

-Ashley Reinke, Miss Arizona International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

"When preparing to compete for a pageant you learn so much about yourself in the process. Before going in front of a panel of judges it’s important to be secure in your opinions and beliefs, because of this I have learned so much about myself. I have discovered my passion for heart health, helping others and female empowerment. I have gained many skills from competing in pageants, but I am most grateful for the self discovery."

-Kennedy Starcevich, Miss Illinois International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

“I competed for the scholarship money first and foremost. I was already serving my community through my many grassroots volunteer projects, so having a title helped reach a greater audience at times. However, the amazing experiences, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, resume material, and life lessons gained through my involvement with the Miss America Organization proved to be invaluable.”

- Jillian Zucco, Miss Massachusetts 2017 (Miss America Organization)

"I decided to compete in Miss America because I saw an opportunity to become the woman I had always wanted to be even though I didn't know how I would become her. I make this joke that I come from a family of 'almost people.' My family has accomplished so much, but if you ask specific people what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be - they would tell you about how they almost did something or almost become someone. They weren't quite able to actually do it because of life or some other reason. I learned in college that my life was a blueprint and unfortunately we tend to sneak a peak at what those around us are doing to start drafting our own. Not because we want to, but because we don't know how else to draw the lines. My goal going into this was to draw my own life blueprints and to help others do the same."

-Gabriela Taveras, Miss Massachusetts 2018 (Miss America Organization)

"Growing up in the Miss America Organization, I find that I utilize so many of the skills I gained through pageantry in my daily life. From public speaking, to interview skills, to discovering what you are passionate about-- pageantry offers so much. I have been asked in numerous job interviews which of my accomplishments I am most proud of, and I never say winning the Miss Connecticut crown or competing at Miss America. I am most proud of the lives I was able to positively affect during my year serving the people of Connecticut. Yes, the crown brought me to those people, but it was the ability to connect with others that created that positive change."

-Eliza Kanner, Miss Connecticut 2017 (Miss America Organization)

"This year competing for Miss Connecticut was a very different mindset for me, I was fortunate enough to graduate with my bachelors of science debt free due to UConn and the Miss America Program. I felt so grateful to be supported in my pursuit of my passions, that I want every young woman in America to have that same uplifting experience, or an even better one. As Miss Connecticut, I have the opportunity to connect with our younger generations, and play a small part in helping them envision their future as professional leaders in our world. Competing in the Miss America has instilled in me a desire to help our young people in any way that I can, pursue their dreams. This program has shown me just how powerful we all can be together and that we really can effect positive change in our world."

-Bridget Oei, Miss Connecticut 2018 (Miss America Organization)

"You honestly meet the most amazing women. No mater where you travel in the world you always have a friend."

-Emalee Kitzan, Miss North Dakota International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

"I found a new confidence after I began competing. For so long I struggled with anxiety and who I was, which was a large reason I decided to compete in the first place. I wanted to grow as a person and excel in all aspects of my life. After competing in my first competition I learned so much of what I was capable of and I began to push myself in all aspects of my life such friendship, teaching, coaching, and school to be the best me I can be. Pageantry has taught me so much of what I am capable of and continues to show me each and everyday."

-Alyssa Hammond, Miss of Massachusetts 2018 (American Pageants)

"I was lost until I stepped out on stage for the first time and felt the fire inside me to do more, be more, and inspire more. Pageantry reminded me of my purpose and the privilege of having a voice. As long as there's a crown on my head, I'm reminded that I'm able to serve as an advocate to normalize mental health and start powerful conversations."

-Laura Cliff, Ms Rhode Island 2018 (U.S. of America), Miss Rhode Island International 2017 (Int'l Pageants)

"I started competing in pageantry for a few reasons. First I was very shy and my family thought it would help make friends and meet new people. I soon realized that there are several different kinds of pageants and tended to like the ones that involved community service and volunteering. To me winning a crown meant responsibility not only to the organization but to all of the people competing and everyone looking at your example. Soon I created my personal platform Ability Beyond Disabilities which I work now with several organizations all around the world but I also uniquely have Autism so I truly live my platform every day. I feel passionate about helping others and through pageantry and hard work have been able to reach many people and help our future generations."

-Rachel Barcelona, National American Miss Florida (North)

"It’s motivation to improve my quality of living and explore my purpose while fueling my passions."

- Lyndsey Littlefield, Miss Lakeville 2018 (Miss America Organization)

"The reason why I compete in pageants is because I truly believe pageants provide me with an environment to improve public speaking skills, self-confidence, and make connections to build my network. The titles I earned gave me a microphone to continue to push my platform for breast cancer awareness and I have more opportunity to service my community. Not to mention, it is important to me to continue bringing more diversity in the traditional pageant system. It is important to me to show that America consists of beauty and talent beyond blonde hair and blue eyes. Although, they are beautiful and talented, but I am here to break the mold and showcase myself as a proud American who just happened to have black hair and brown eyes. I want to be a role model for many like me and see someone they can relate to in the mass media."

-Karma Lee, Miss Washington International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

"The biggest influential factor in my decision to compete was the fact that I have a message that I want the world to hear. That message being the mission behind my personal platform, EnvironMental Awareness. My platform isn’t just for this pageant, it’s truly for life. Through my platform, I especially aspire to reach women, of all ages, and inspire them to defy stereotypes and break down societal barriers to do and become what our society has historically told them couldn't be done by women. What better way to do this than to become a princess – something women of all ages dream of becoming and look up to! It was just the perfect way and the perfect role to help me continue spreading my message to even more people and across an even greater distance. Now, I can walk into a room full of women who see me as only initially a queen with my crown - but my favorite part is being able to tell them 'I'm a queen with two science degrees, I'm a queen who will soon have a law degree, I'm a queen who has done things not many men have even been able to achieve - So yes, I am a queen, but I am also capable of being so much more than that as well - And so are you."

-Jenna Schweiss, Miss South Dakota International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

"I love competing to meet new people, make new friends, learn more about other cities, gain more experience being able to perform a talent on stage in front of a big audience, and gain self-confidence in myself each step of the way."

-Kimberly Lim Souza, Miss Fall River 2018 (Miss America Organization)

"For me, pageants have helped to bring me out of my shell. I was extremely shy and pageants have helped me feel comfortable and confident speaking in front of large groups. My favorite thing about pageants are the relationships that I build. I met so many people from promoting the BRAVE platform and my anti bullying book. The students that I meet and have a chance to be a part of their lives mean so much to me. I also have friends from all over the country thanks to pageants. Because of social media we are able to stay in touch and then we get together a few times a year. I meet so many people that I would have never met otherwise."

-Annsley Vick, Miss Junior High School America 2018

"Through my involvement with the Miss America Organization, I found purpose in my life that I was lacking. Like many young women, it’s hard to know where you should be, what you should be standing up for... being Miss Rhode Island 2017 made me realize my purpose was to have a voice. I used my voice to shed light on the importance of diversifying and registering for the national bone marrow registry through Be The Match. Without pageantry, I would still be searching for my purpose."

-Nicolette Peloquin, Miss Rhode Island 2017 (Miss America Organization)

"Miss America is more than just a crown because it symbolizes its four points: scholarship, success, style, and service. Not only does this program help me to further my education in pursuit of a medical degree, but it also gives me a platform by which to share my social impact statement, HEALing Souls: Eating Disorder Treatment and Awareness. Being a titleholder means being a role model, an inspiration, and a mentor."

-Allie Coppa, Miss Rhode Island 2018 (Miss America Organization)

“Being a Miss America titleholder is about so much more than just a crown. It’s about advocacy, conversations, pride, and passion. The best part of the job isn’t about the glitter and glamour, it’s the conversations that move you to tears or make you laugh so hard your stomach hurts. Being able to advocate for my social impact cause, the importance of involvement in community service at all ages, has far surpassed any goal I set for myself when I started participating 7 years ago. Being able to use my participation in the Miss America Organization as not only a conversation starter but as a spark for other young women to pull inspiration from makes the job even more rewarding. There is no better feeling than having someone say “you inspire me”. The exchanged smiles and impacts made are irreplaceable and incredibly empowering and a major driving force behind the making of the woman I am today.”

-Olivia Marques, Miss Greater Worcester 2018 (Miss America Organization)

"Not every pageant is the same, and sometimes there are pageant politics that play a role, but ultimately, the experience of competing in a pageant is like no other. You grow as a person every time your name is not called as the winner, and you learn valuable lessons about life and about yourself. Learning how to walk away from something despite the outcome and willing to continue to try again is something that can be applied to everything you do throughout your life. I have lost my fair share of times and learned something each time. Whether that be that I wasn't a good fit for the organization or that I could have prepared better, I will be able to take that outlook to a professional level when applying for jobs in the future. Along with this, I have gained a new appreciation for myself and developed a sense of confidence despite the fact that I am usually the curviest contestant. Sometimes it is hard and I struggle, but the most rewarding thing is the messages I get and the young girls (and adult women) that approach me and tell me I inspire them to try something new or to simply love and accept their bodies for how they are. It is a common conception that there is only one type of beauty, especially in pageantry, and being able to push that idea and show that woman can love themselves and be beautiful without being a size 4 or smaller is truly one of the most valuable things. Sometimes, this is looked down upon. Other times, I see how celebrated it is and that is what pushes me to continue. I recently won the "Face of Fabulous" competition with international designer Mac Duggal, and will be the face of not only the brand, but be a spokesperson and face of body positivity for the next year. I was chosen out of thousands of women, and I truly believe I can make a difference in how women and young girls view their bodies. It took me years and years to love my body, but the defining moment for myself was when my sister was hospitalized for a severe eating disorder. She almost died because being skinny was the most important thing. She believed all of her self worth was in her size. Along with it being a traumatic experience, I was able to realize that I needed to be the person to show her how to love herself by leading by example. Today, I continue to lead by example despite the negativity and hate the world has to offer to women."

-Emma Loney, Miss Wisconsin International 2018 (Int'l Pageants)

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