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.
Going through adolescence and puberty can take its toll. As we try and navigate the changes that are happening and settle into adulthood, it's easy to be unaware of something that might be a reason for concern, or we may rely on old traditional methods of support that aren't conducive to positive long-term health.
As a society, we have accepted popular over-the-counter medicines that are used for an isolated headache or migraine to be the only line of defense to treat period pain. We have allowed old treatments and information to remain stagnant and thus have failed to evolve with the times. In order for change to be possible, we need to modify our approach and take advantage of and source new information, products, and research while pushing the conversation forward to normalize discussions around menstruation to better support the health of people who menstruate.
As a society, we have accepted popular over-the-counter medicines that are used for an isolated headache or migraine to be the only line of defense to treat period pain.
Between growing up with three sisters and a dad who is a double-board certified OB/GYN and infertility specialist, vaginal wellness has always taken center stage in my house. Through this, I had a lens into a world that overtime became more obviously outdated and slow to establish new tools to help combat the unpleasantries that are associated with menstruation. In my own family, I was able to see how different getting your period could be, how diverse symptoms were, and the importance of quality female wellness.
One of my sisters had the unfortunate experience of dealing with an ulcer related to excessive use of over-the-counter medication. This medicine was the only available option to help ease the pain throughout her cycle, which is a direct example of just how damaging the lack of quality menstrual-pain products can be and the toll it takes on our bodies.
It was hard not to wonder why period companies weren't as equally diverse as its customers. Or perhaps another question is, where is the effort to even have open discussions about what more could be done? As you could imagine, growing up with a doctor in the family lends itself to immediate access to health information, but this is a luxury that most people do not have. So where are the resources to help educate women and other people with vaginas on their bodies or symptoms they should look out for to help maintain positive reproductive health?
Through these observations, it became apparent just how much more could be done to support, aid, and educate women or other people with vagins on reproductive wellness. As someone who took to the trend of CBD to help with my own menstrual cycle symptoms, it had dawned on me that I was already nurturing a solution. I had been sharing my experience with CBD for menstrual relief with my sisters and girlfriends, so why not the rest of our community?
Enter, Maxine + Morgan, the CBD based wellness brand dedicated to using natural ingredients to alleviate menstrual cycle symptoms that I created with my dad Dr. Allen Morgan. When my family and I learned that people who menstruate sacrifice approximately 23 days a year on average worth of productivity because of period-related symptoms, we knew our products could improve that. We created capsules that are GMO free, gluten free, and vegan; all of which are made up using only six ingredients. Turmeric, ginger, cramp bark, valerian root, and fennel coupled with the healing qualities of CBD make up our unique formula that has been scientifically shown to reduce PMS symptoms and cramping. In addition to our CBD-based products, we also have a wellness line of options that are CBD free, which are also undergoing a clinical study to determine overall effectiveness.
In my own family, I was able to see how different getting your period could be, how diverse symptoms were, and the importance of quality vaginal wellness.
We decided early on that we would focus on providing high-quality supplements that fostered an uninterrupted lifestyle while simultaneously investing time and resources to new research and information. Having only been established for a few years now, we have coordinated the first ever clinical study to compare the effectiveness of CBD to popular over-the-counter medicine. We have also created an initiative with the non-profit organization, Period.org to donate funds to help support their amazing cause.
As a program that prioritizes access to information, hygiene products, and resources, we couldn't think of a better group to join forces with to leverage change within the industry. Especially now in the pandemic era, there has been an influx of women who are facing the harsh reality of period poverty. This refers to women who need feminine hygiene products but cannot afford them, which often leads to using toilet paper, rags, socks, or not using anything at all. This is completely unacceptable. Maxine+Morgan is vowing to bring awareness to period poverty and sourcing solutions that help all women feel comfortable, healthy, and strong. Through strategic partnerships, influencing open conversations, and raising money for non-profit organizations we can create a new dynamic and standard.
Maxine+Morgan is vowing to bring awareness to period poverty and sourcing solutions that help all menstruating people feel comfortable, healthy, and strong.
We have set high standards for the quality and effectiveness of our products, but also for who we are as a company. We are dedicated to being allies to the female community in order to foster change, create support, and reinvent how we talk about period health. More times than not, we only discuss our experience around our period when we're forced to cancel plans because our cramps are too painful to leave the house. We have no problem talking about our new skincare routine but shy away from talking about our flow, or what's going on down there. Within the next five years, we're setting our sights on not only being readily available in all major retail platforms that carry your other female wellness products, but creating a new dialogue filled with updated information and dismantling the stigma behind open discussion on menstruation and painful period symptoms.
We're with you, we feel you, we are you.