This was me when I was ten years old.
Some might be bold enough to call me an “ugly duckling” (my sister being one) and I would wholeheartedly agree.
I’ve never thought of myself as the pretty girl, because growing up, I wasn’t — at least not by society’s standards. I had thicker legs, a round tummy, squinty eyes, and crooked teeth that didn’t quite fill my too wide of a smile. I was rarely noticed or praised for my looks.
It was sometime during high school that I recall first being appreciated for my outward beauty, and to be completely honest, nearly a decade later of this being “normal”, I still am not used to it. That’s not to say that I haven’t minded — I don’t think there’s a woman (or person of any gender!) alive who can’t say that they don’t mind being admired by others for their beauty.
And yet, there’s a sense of strangeness to it all. Outward beauty is completely subjective, and yet, there are certain beauty ideals that every culture on earth claims — standards that are constantly evolving with time. So, if we’re given one body and yet told by society every few years that we must change our looks to keep up with the trends in order to be deemed beautiful, it becomes exhausting.
And yet, boy, we sure try.
Perhaps we should stop trying to keep up — some people choose this and I admire them for it. They choose to embrace the parts of themselves that make them unique and to own these aspects that define who they are. They are seemingly free.
I’m slowly learning to embrace such a freedom — that I too can be who I was intended to be. It’s a simple concept, and yet, I have struggled to own the way I look my entire life.
I think that’s one arena where becoming involved with the Miss America Organization has helped me. I’ve learned to embrace this side of who I am, and that it is indeed okay to feel outwardly gorgeous, even stunning at times. But also, that it’s alright to not always feel outwardly radiant. I’m realizing that we shouldn’t feel an obligation to prove to the world that we’re their current definition of beauty, but that we should feel confident, proud, and unashamed of the unique way we were designed. And even without all the makeup and glam, we are just as beautiful when we’re living it up in our pajamas with damp hair fresh out of the shower.
Quite honestly, in my mind the most beautiful people are those who carry themselves with humble confidence, who radiate joy and kindness, and are completely true to their authentic selves. That’s what I strive for — to be true to myself and not desperate for the approval of others.
I desire to be free.
And while displaying qualities of freedom, joy, and confidence, I believe that true beauty can be achieved — regardless of any culture, circumstances, or time period.
When I was 13, I lived in Costa Rica for a month with a host family.
During those few weeks I attempted to practice my Spanish, give up my love of sweets (this was a fail — my host-mom willingly obliged to my sweet tooth and treated me to ice cream every couple of days), and learn about the beautiful culture of Costa Rica. I saw Pixar’s “Up” in theaters, cried like a baby in the first ten minutes (even though I could barely understand a word because it was in Spanish) and was introduced to the world of acrylic painting by my host mom. I went to school with my host sister for a few days, visited an active volcano, picked ripe mangoes and lemons, and even had the opportunity to try yoga for the first time. And despite feeling slightly uncomfortable because I couldn’t understand much that was being said around me, I found the experience to be amazing.
In order to get there I flew internationally as an unaccompanied minor — which, at the time was pretty much the coolest thing EVER. In the airports I met kids from around the world and was able to hang out in designated lounges with *free* food specifically for U.M.’s. It was basically the equivalent of flying Sky Priority for a kid and yes, it was the sh**.
As much as I would like to take credit for the idea, it was actually my dad’s. We have a history with this family in Costa Rica — when they were in grade school the mom of this family lived with my dad’s family, my aunt then went to live with her, and years later her daughter lived with us, and it’s gone back and forth time and time again (did you follow that??). So, naturally my dad thought it would be appropriate that I live with them for a time, too.
And I was all about it.
Since I was young, I’ve been captivated by the idea of traveling and seeing the world — to have opportunities to explore and have conversations + experiences with people who have different backgrounds from my own. To this day, it might be the thing that excites me the most -- to learn more about this vast yet beautiful world from these alternative points of view.
I think there’s such value in this — in seeing others’ perspectives. It’s something that I’m striving to attempt every single day: to have empathy and enduring patience in perceiving the world and everyday situations from others’ viewpoints. In our current and ever increasing political and polarized world, I believe it’s imperative that we practice this: to open up our minds, have empathy, and truly listen — to listen to hear rather than to formulate a ready response.
Seeing the world from other contexts restores my appreciation for my own life, opens my mind to just how vast and complex our world is, and reminds me of the good that exists in every moment.
THIS is why I travel.
currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota where she works remotely as a Policy and Communication Manager for the First Lady of North Dakota. Photography and writing are a passion that help her better appreciate the details of the world.