Culture 22 January 2018
“So Miss America, can you cook?"
“Oh honey, why you readin' The Economist? That's a man's world."
“You graduated from University of Michigan? So you're actually smart?"
The person inquiring about my culinary skills?
An older Indian man, who asked me this right after I had the honor of hosting a reception & introducing the Indian Prime Minister Modi at a sold out crowd in Madison Square Garden.
And the one concerned about my literary capacity?
A seemingly friendly southern man who was sitting next to me on a flight to Boston when I was on my way to give a keynote address at Harvard.
The woman surprised by my degree?
She approached me immediately after I finished a speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya about my work on social entrepreneurship.
As Miss America 2014, I've heard my fair share of sexist comments. Never mind that in the past three years since I've been crowned, I've spoken at almost 45 different universities including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale; had my advocacy work recognized by President Obama and was invited to collaborate with the First Lady on her campaign, “Let's Move"; and embarked on a 14-day tour in India sponsored by the U.S. Department of State—promoting education, women's empowerment, and diversity.
To top it off, I co-produced and hosted a reality television series, “Made in America," a show that empowers young South Asian women. But this isn't just a Miss America problem. In light of this past year's #MeToo & #TimesUp movements, it's finally dawned upon society how dark & pervasive sexist behavior is ingrained across all industries and cultures.
So regardless of my achievements in a professional setting (and the unseen amounts of hard work and perseverance that went into them), why am I being reduced to archaic notions of gender roles and stereotypes?
Some might argue it's because of the Miss America organization and the sexist stereotype that plagues pageants and the swimsuit competition. It's no secret that the swimsuit competition has undergone much scrutiny and criticism over the organizations history. And to be honest, it was far from my best friend. I struggled being overweight as a child and constantly had issues with my body image. It took me three times to even win a local title in the organization and almost threw in the towel because of my personal struggle. I've talked openly about overcoming my eating disorder, and my transformative fifty pound weight loss journey to health and fitness. However, the most significant part of this journey was discovering a feeling I had never had before; a feeling of mental clarity and focus. It gave me a sense of discipline and strength that was reflective across all facets of my life. I never imagined I would be crushing daily crossfit workouts and become fluent in acronyms like AMRAPs and EMOMs, but my goodness there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride when you know you've pushed past your self imposed limitations.
"So regardless of my achievements in a professional setting (and the unseen amounts of hard work and perseverance that went into them), why am I being reduced to archaic notions of gender roles and stereotypes?"
That being said, let's imagine a scenario in which there was no Miss America pageant or swimsuit competition. Would the people quoted in the beginning still have asked about my culinary skills or imply that I can't possibly understand what was written in The Economist? To me, the answer is a stark “YES."
The underlying issue isn't about a swimsuit competition or being Miss America, it's the sexism and gender roles we face as women, regardless of whether we've ever been involved with pageants or not. Just like the time when my badass surgeon sister (with no history of competing in Miss America) finished operating on a patient and went to inform the family upon successful completion of the procedure. Immediately upon seeing her, they assumed she was the nurse, subsequently called her “sweetie" and asked when they could speak with the doctor. As women, we know hundreds and thousands of instances like this.
One of the largest issues surrounding the Miss America Organization is that many people still view the organization solely as “beauty not brains." In all fairness, I can understand how the messaging and brand of Miss America has been lost through the many years. After the recent & appalling email scandal within the Miss America organization, the women who have the highest stake in this organization did what we do best: communicate, organize, and take action. As former Miss America's, we were deeply concerned about the future of the organization. By collectively electing Gretchen Carlson as chairwoman of the board, it's safe to say that we are entering an optimistic era of leadership for the future of the organization. For the first time ever in the organizations history, we have female representation in the chairman position. And with a powerful group of women leading us into this pivotal and revitalizing moment, I trust we will successfully shift the perception that we're “just a beauty pageant" and truly showcase the narrative that has always been woven into the fabric of who Miss America is.
The thousands of women who have been involved in the program have earned scholarship monies to further their education. They have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, hosts, news anchors, CEOs, engineers, PhDs, Broadway performers, political servants, and so much more.
For too long the women and men who believe in this iconic program, many of whom are volunteers, have defended the organization as relevant and empowering. When in fact, we are part of the feminist movement in our own right. Breaking stereotypes has been embedded in our history. Our young women have represented various cultures, races, religion, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, and communities. We advocate for ourselves, our platforms, and the constituents we represent.
We have stood together in solidarity for the rights of our sisters and the organization. This is empowerment at its core. Our voices are being heard. We are relevant. We are creators, groundbreakers and role models--past, present, and future.
Nobody knows what it's like to be sh*t out of luck like Suzy Batiz. Maybe that's why her million-dollar idea was a spray to stop your sh*t from stinking.
Yes, this woman is on a mission to keep your bathroom dos (and don'ts) on the DL, and she is doing it all with a hefty dose of personal philosophy and spirituality. It's hard to pick just one place to start with a maverick like Batiz. Though, maverick doesn't quite do her justice.
We could talk about her early life, growing up poor in Arkansas with two parents struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Or we could discuss her two bankruptcies and a lifelong history of failed hustles and side-hustles. Then there's her personal life; she's been divorced twice, has three kids, and is a survivor of abuse. You could say she's been through some sh*t. (Okay, the poop jokes end here, I swear.) If this all sounds too crazy to believe already then you better stop reading now because it gets wilder. This woman is all that and then some.
But, there's no time like the present, so I guess we'll start there.
Suzy Batiz is one of the richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $240 million. She's currently working on uplifting other business owners and creative-thinkers with her personal and professional philosophy of "alive ideas" as well as running her own companies, Supernatural, a 100% natural cleaning product company, and Poo~Pourri, the famous odor-eliminating toilet spray line that started it all with a bang (or a plop). (Okay, now the poop jokes are really done.)
Poo-Pourri's first commercial, which has now garnered almost 50 million views since its release in 2013, absolutely blew away viewers with its hilariously crass yet poetic verbiage surrounding this lovely woman's "cavernous bowels." Even I remember first seeing it almost seven years ago. Though I wasn't even sure if it was a real product at first. I was so busy laughing that I almost missed the line: "Yes, it is a real product. And yes, it really works." No one but Batiz could have thought up an idea so new, so wild, and at the same time so deeply necessary for people everywhere. It seems that poop is the market's natural equalizer.
(Seriously though, how good is this commercial?)
She's reached some of the highest peaks of success when it comes to consumer goods, but Batiz's newest venture asks people to turn inward and evaluate their thoughts and personal processes to support a culture of deeply conscious creation. Alive Ideas represents all of the lessons in both entrepreneurship and spirituality that Batiz has learned firsthand. Because, for her, the entrepreneurial and the spiritual are often one and the same. In her own words:
"Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out."
She takes this marriage of philosophies very seriously and infuses it into every level of her business, offering her employees training in transcendental meditation (a non-negotiable daily activity for Batiz) and Headspace app subscriptions. Batiz knows that good work has to start from the inside out, and that's why she's so keen to share this philosophy with the world and help other people realize that, too. That's what this new enterprise is all about.
Alive ideas are those twinges of inspiration that you can feel in every inch of your being — the ones that are just bursting to take shape in the world. Take Poo-Pourri as a perfect example, it was something that no one could have expected. A product that needed to exist, but a need that had never before been conceptualized (let alone actualized) by anybody. Until Batiz, that is.
She's always been a "natural creator," so it's only natural that her current state of being revolves around bringing to life new ideas and products. But even that could only have come about through what she describes as the "luxury of losing everything."
It took 38 years and a lifetime of both personal and professional hardships before Batiz was ready to call it quits. After all the hustles, there was just no hustle left in her.
So she took a four-year spiritual sabbatical, during which she realized that she'd spent her entire life thus far "selling out" and "making deals" for all the wrong reasons. "Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it!" That was what really set her off. "It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing." There's those alive idea's she's talking about!
Suzy Batiz is the antithesis of your stereotypical entrepreneur. She wears flowing skirts, makes poop jokes, and has the vibe of a fun-loving guru. She basically spent her entire life trying (and failing) to find success through financial means, only to lose everything and then some. It took hitting rock bottom to realize that she needed to start fresh. It was only once she'd chucked all of the typical toxic motivators out the window that her real genius could shine through all the bullsh*t.
Full Interview Transcript
1. How would you describe your climb from growing up, to bankruptcy, to millionaire? And how does it feel to have come so far?
I grew up in Arkansas very poor, with a mother that was depressed on pain pills and a father that was a bipolar alcoholic. From an early age, I had the impression that money was my way out. If I could just make money, I would be somebody and I would mean something in the world.
By the time I was 22, I'd already been married, bankrupt (for the first time), divorced and attempted suicide. Shortly after that, I met and married a wealthy man who turned out to be abusive. I clawed my way out of that terrible situation to find myself divorced again and homeless with two boys under the age of 2. I continued to work multiple jobs and soon met my ex-husband of 26 years. He was a drummer who didn't have much to offer aside from his love at the time, which sounded like a dream after the last situation I was in. I constantly hustled and side hustled, but all my business ventures typically ended in failure. At 38 years old, I lost funding for a dot com recruiting platform that I'd invested our life savings into, leading to my second bankruptcy and what I call "the luxury of losing everything".
I vowed to leave business behind entirely and went on a four-year spiritual sabbatical. I looked back and realized that I'd spent my whole life husting, selling out and making deals that felt wrong in order to get something I thought I wanted. Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it! This is when everything changed for me. It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing. I was no longer living for external validation, but rather from the inside out. Ironically, it was once I'd sworn off business and chasing money that my success and wealth came.
2. You seem to be innately entrepreneurial person, was there any moment or experience in your life that made you really think: "This is what I have to do."
I've always been a natural creator. Growing up we had very little, so if I wanted a new outfit for my Barbie, I'd sew it myself. I've always had that spirit in me — but at one point I actually believed I was the worst entrepreneur in the world. I had more than a dozen failed businesses and two bankruptcies by the time I was 38, so I swore off business altogether. It wasn't until I realized chasing money and success wasn't making me happy and I did my internal work that Poo~Pourri was born.
A few years later, a friend of mine was interviewing and asked how I knew which ideas to follow — how could I tell which ones would turn out to be successful? The question piqued my interest. I realized it had nothing to do with the analytical or rational reasons a business should succeed. Rather, I remembered the feeling in my body when I first got the idea for Poo~Pourri. I felt a zing up my left arm, I got chill bumps, it felt like everything went into hi-def and I had so much energy to research and create because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. My curiosity continued and I had a conversation with Dr. Bruce Lipton to ask him a burning question: Can ideas be alive? His answer, in short, was: absolutely! He said that everything, including thoughts and ideas, has energy, and "every living thing is seeking more life-force energy." This was my aha moment. When I focused on ideas that gave me energy, that felt ALIVE, they turned out to be more resilient and successful. I followed the breadcrumbs of what made me feel alive and it's led me to here — what a wild ride!
3. What drives you to keep moving forward in life and in business after all the success you've attained thus far?
My ultimate goal is to reach my highest evolution in this lifetime. I strive to be lit up daily in my personal and business life and follow only things that resonate (though it's a practice and I misstep all the time). I love bringing alive ideas into physical form, and my businesses are those manifestations. I truly believe that I was lucky enough to have the luxury of losing everything. I know that at any time I can lose it all, and if that happens, I want to make sure I can look back and know I had a damn good time.
4. A lot of people feel that there is a big disconnect between capitalism and spiritually, but you seem to have found a sweet spot for both yourself and your business ventures. How closely intertwined is your spirituality with your entrepreneurial ventures? And why?
I don't think of things as being a part of my work life or a part of my personal spiritual life. It's all the same for me. Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out. Daily transcendental meditation is my number-one non-negotiable. Starting my day with space to clear out the noise of the outside world has been just as essential for my business as it has for my personal wellness. I share this gift with Poo~Pourri employees as well by offering TM training and Headspace app subscriptions and providing only healthy fuel and snacks in the office so we are all operating at optimal levels.
I also believe that there's nothing wrong with wanting money and success. Who wouldn't? But where I've found the most impact is in my actions. If I'm doing something or chasing an idea only to get money, it doesn't come. When I do my internal work and follow what's resonant because it feels good within my being, wouldn't you know that's when the money flows.
5. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self that you'd one day be one of America's richest self-made women by way of selling poop products, how do you think you'd react?
I'd lose my shit and probably laugh in your face because it would be so far beyond what I could have imagined. When I was little, I had the dream of working in a factory or at the post office because those were steady and consistent jobs. I wouldn't have ever even known to dream of being the one to finally break a pattern of generational poverty.
Breaking these types of patterns, the ones that are outdated and no longer serve us, is a huge passion of mine. I've got the world comfortable talking about shit, now what else can we get people to talk about?