As I was finishing my year of service as Miss America 2014, a gentleman enthusiastically said to me: “You look like you slept at Boardwalk Hall!" (Boardwalk Hall is the iconic theater that the Miss America Competition is held in Atlantic City). At first, I was so confused as I had an incredibly busy year traveling across the country advocating for diversity and cultural competency. When I asked what he meant, he replied; “You look the same size as you did when you competed in swimsuit!"
In that moment, I was shocked, angry, and crushed. The fact that I was being applauded for my appearance and not the achievements and accolades I had worked tirelessly for was frustrating, but also eye-opening. Especially because how my abs (or lack thereof) looked in a swimsuit had absolutely nothing to do with the actual job of Miss America.
Miss America 2.0 is here and I couldn't be more proud. This year, the Miss America Organization moved into a new era of inclusiveness and empowerment by retiring the swimsuit phase of competition.
Since winning Miss America, it was my mission to bring diversity and inclusion to the organization; I grew up feeling like I could never step into this role since I didn't fit a certain stereotype or category of “black or white." Through my travels, I've met several young women from diverse backgrounds who have approached me saying they feel like they could immensely benefit from this program, but couldn't compete in the organization because of the swimsuit competition and their cultural background and/or religious beliefs. As the first Indian American and South Asian to hold the title, I completely understand their hesitation and barrier to entry as I lived it.
I grew up in a culture and household where I was constantly taught to cover up my body from a young age, and feeling comfortable with “exposing" my body was a significant struggle, let alone feeling confident while doing so.
As a young girl watching Miss America on television, my perception of beauty was defined by the contestants on that stage. It was daunting for me. As a teenager I was always “bigger" than my friends and would avoid going to the beach or pool. It's no secret I struggled with body image for the majority of my formative years, which I've spoken openly about. And while it took me several years to overcome this, I can honestly say that when I competed in the swimsuit competition at Miss America it truly felt like a celebration of conquering my own personal limitations I had set on myself physically, mentally and culturally.
"It's unrealistic, and frankly outrageous, to think that judging women walk in swimsuits and heels is an all-encompassing approach to understanding an individual's overall health and/or lifestyle."-Nina Davuluri Photo Courtesy of Parade
I absolutely agree that living a healthy lifestyle is important. However, one of my Miss America sisters pointed out that we don't have women who look like Rhonda Rousey or Ashley Graham--both of whom are a positive representation of health, confidence and body image. It's unrealistic, and frankly outrageous, to think that judging women walk in swimsuits and heels is an all-encompassing approach to understanding an individual's overall health and/or lifestyle.
The underlying issue lies in the perception the Miss America Organization has portrayed to society: that the measure of a young woman's success is based on outward appearances.
The underlying issue lies in the perception the Miss America Organization has portrayed to society: that the measure of a young woman's success is based on outward appearances. The bottom line is that if Miss America is going to continue its legacy of empowering women and continue to stay relevant, it must start by changing the perception that it's “just a beauty pageant." Because the reality is that it's simply not just that, and it hasn't been for years.
If you look at any of our former contestants who've competed in this organization, you will see a group of highly educated, motivated, well-spoken, passionate women. However, seeing as we've kept presenting swimsuits and appearances at the top of the telecast, I can understand how our messaging has become diluted. We are now at a revolutionary time where we understand that in order to shift society's stereotypes, we must take action. Now more than ever, women are at the forefront using their voices with the #MeToo, #TimesUp and the #SeeHer movements. As a role model for young women, isn't it time Miss America does the same?
Miss America is finally at a point where, as an organization, we can truly say that we want to empower every single woman, not just certain “types" of women.
Miss America is finally at a point where, as an organization, we can truly say that we want to empower every single woman, not just certain “types" of women. That we welcome women from every background, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, shape and size, is integral to the competition's identity. The objectives of Miss America are to showcase young women's scholastic achievements and talents, to provide them with a platform so that their voices are heard and their opinions taken seriously, and to celebrate contestant's entire being based on substance and not a swimsuit. Ultimately, this change signifies that we are placing value on all the young girls (and boys) watching Miss America this year and showing them that in this new era the essence of who they are is worth so much more than keeping an archaic tradition alive. #ByeByeBikini
We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.
A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:
Speaking up about their successes and achievements.
Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.
Telling one too many people about that date night.
Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.
These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.
The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.
Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.
Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.
Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.
Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.
New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.
The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.
Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":
1. Approve of yourself.
While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.
2. Connect deeply to those you serve.
One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.
3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.
Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.
4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.
The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.
5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.
Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.
6. Accept you can have it all.
Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.
7. Celebrate everything!
The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!
May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.