When Miss Kansas Theresa Vail walked across the Miss America stage this week, more than her fiery red bikini dropped our jaws.
By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT
The Kansas City Star
The Serenity Prayer is tattooed along her right side, and on her shoulder she has the military medical insignia with a letter D, for her dad. He is an Army dentist, and she hopes to follow in his footsteps.
She chose not to cover up her ink a first for the Miss America pageant because she wants to embrace all of who she is and encourage others to do the same. Thumbs up, Miss Kansas.
Theresa Vail is on a mission. Her platform is empowering women by overcoming stereotypes and breaking barriers. The 22-year-old Kansas State student is a member of the Kansas Army National Guards Medical Detachment. She loves archery, speaks fluent Chinese and has a pilots license. And thats why people around the country keep saying she is a new kind of pageant girl.
Miss Kansas is a modern woman and I like it, says Independence mom Devynn Moore, 32, who, before she got married, opted not to buy the tattoo cover-up kit at the bridal store. Shes not afraid to be herself. They say quiet women dont make history. Miss Kansas is making a statement.
Awesome. Pageants need diversity. Then again, we need to diversify how we see pageant contestants. What exactly is a typical pageant girl? Theyre often dismissed as nothing more than crowns, gowns and sash. The stereotyping goes both ways.
Katie Taylor, Miss Teen Kansas 2012, often surprises people who dont know her. At 18, shes already a sophomore at the University of Kansas and a double major in business and broadcast journalism. And people tell her, wait for it: Youre not the typical pageant girl.
Its sad that theres a stereotype of who pageant girls are, she says. I am not in a box. And people have to learn to understand who I am and not just what they see on TV.
Does she work a dress? Yes. Is her smile Colgate perfection? For sure. But that doesnt mean she only likes fashion, makeup and princesses.
Katie loves soccer. She played for 15 years. Camping, hiking and all that outdoorsy stuff? Shes a fan. Guns? Yep, she shoots them. No, its not new for pageant queens to be more dimensional than pretty faces. However, Katie says it is important not to hide those interests. She applauds Miss Kansas for taking that step.
Ive met her. She is not just talking the talk. She is walking the walk, Katie says. She is inspiring other girls to be true to themselves, and that is true beauty in itself. I think girls probably cover these things up because of stereotypes. They think they are supposed to be like perfect Barbies. But beauty comes from the inside and not the outside.
Erin Brown, a Lawrence mom and fitness blogger ( fitmamatraining.com), says whats happening in the pageant world is inspiring. And its not about the tattoos.
Its really exciting to see women in any public arena being authentic to who they are and what theyre passionate about rather than buying into the mold, Erin says. Whether or not her tattoos resonate with other women or not, its awesome to see her be successful at whatever she chooses to do while being authentic to who she is. By saying Im going to do this and do it my way? Shes a trailblazer.
But dont leave it all up to Miss Kansas. Theres still work to be done at home.
We have to celebrate our own beauty and the beauty in the differences of those around us, Erin says.
That means celebrating all kinds of beautiful from the most pink and glittery, rainbows and butterflies kind of beauty to the hands-in-the-dirt, tattoos and football kind of beauty. As women, its not about one versus the other. Its about learning to wrap that sash around the beauty in us all.
WHERE TO WATCH
The Miss America pageant finale airs live at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.