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I Was Told I Was Nothing More Than A Pretty Face

#SWAAYthenarrative

Jessielyn Palumbo, 25,


Fashion Photographer, Former Miss New Jersey USA

Jessielyn Palumbo is not your average pageant queen. Outspoken and talented, Palumbo is speaking out against her haters with a bold campaign called #ThisIsBeauty, which shows the Miss New Jersey 2016 alongside her pageant sisters wearing nothing but their confidence. “We decided to combat the bullies by empowering ourselves in the most vulnerable way possible; unedited, nude with minimal makeup,” says Palumbo, who shot every photo in her powerful series. “That is the true meaning of pageantry; empowering women.”

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

Ever since I was 3 drawing in my grandparents home I always had an innate passion for the arts. I actually entered college as a Fine Arts major focusing on traditional drawing and painting. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I was exposed to photography. To date, some of my greatest accomplishments would be creating my own photography business at 22 years old, along with winning Miss New Jersey USA 2016 after 7 years of competing and never giving up.

2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

There have been times where I was advised to dress “more conservative” for job interviews because I looked “too attractive” to be taken seriously.

As a female artist engulfed in the world of pageantry, I was not only combating the challenges of my appearance but also the stigma of pageants.

3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?

The pageant stereotype is something that has definitely challenged my career. Many believe that competing in pageants is not in line with feminism, and some colleagues during college labelled me as “pageant girl” - the inference being I had nothing more to offer than a pretty face.

"To date, some of my greatest accomplishments would be creating my own photography business at 22 years old, along with winning Miss New Jersey USA 2016 after 7 years of competing."

When I finally won Miss NJ USA, I was hit with another wave of criticisms unlike what I faced in college. This time it was based upon the disagreement of my beauty. I was just one amongst many that almost felt defeated by cyberbullies. That’s when I created #ThisISBeauty campaign. Myself, along with my fellow courageous Miss USA sisters, decided to combat the bullies by empowering ourselves in the most vulnerable way possible; unedited, nude with minimal makeup. We wanted to show that there’s no definition of beauty, and that we are all beautiful in our own way. Every curve, cellulite, scar.

"As judgmental as some may be, I never resorted to hatred. If you succumb to the negativity, you will feel insecure and unmotivated."

4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?

I changed people’s perspective of pageantry through both my campaign, and by my actions. As judgmental as some may be, I never resorted to hatred. If you succumb to the negativity, you will feel insecure and unmotivated. By the end of the year in college, my colleagues came up to me and said “You’re nothing like what I thought a pageant girl would be, you’re cool and down to earth”. My #ThisISBeauty campaign also SWAAYs the perceptions of pageants and overall concept of beauty. I have had mothers messaging me thanking me for the project, allowing their daughter to feel comfortable in her skin and to have women to relate to. We have to be the change we want to see.

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?

No matter who you are, if you work hard enough, you can do it!. The worst thing one can possibly do is to give up, and succumb to the negativity of others. Believe in yourself, the only opinion that matters in the end is your own.

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.