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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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Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."