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.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.