(Photo by Ben Viatori)
Pittsburgh’s own Annie Rosellini, Miss Pennsylvania 2013, has agreed to talk with us about some of the body image issues that arise for women in the world of pageantry. In this heartfelt interview, Rosellini explores what it means to be a pageant queen and how pageantry has affected her life, her body image, and her self-confidence, since winning her title in 2013.
Your service platform for your winning year was “Heart Health Awareness.” What does this platform mean to you?
Annie: I chose my platform of “Heart Health Awareness” because it means a great deal to me. When I was 17, my father unexpectedly passed away due to heart failure. None of us saw it coming. Outwardly, he was a picture of physical health. Sadly, this is often the case for many families, like mine, who have lost a loved one due to an underlying illness. I was determined to make a difference in the lives of those affected by this disease, especially in the lives of children affected by the disease.
Do you think that your participation in the Miss America pageant has benefited your life and your cause?
Annie: Absolutely. I am less shy and more confident. I’m glad I had the opportunity to practice interviewing, which has helped me become more comfortable in real-world interview scenarios. As far as how pageantry has benefited my cause, I was able to get involved with support and research groups on a very deep level, something I may not have been able to do if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to network as Miss Pennsylvania.
(Photo by John R. Metzger)
What are some of the difficulties of pageantry?
Annie: Realizing that you will not always be the most beautiful, the most talented, the most charming, or the most put together contestant, and that’s okay. You have to learn how to graciously lose, and know when to accept that some things are not meant for you. I think these lessons apply to all facets of life. Pageants in general also taught me to be sensitive to the fact that words can truly hurt people. There can be some cattiness to pageants, however, I have found that I could not put down other women without simultaneously realizing their strengths, and also pointing out my own flaws at the same time. I’ve learned to own 100% of everything I say, what I do, what I wear, and who I am.
Did you feel like you could really be yourself onstage?
Annie: Yes. Absolutely! I felt like I had no other option but to be exactly who I was; quirky, goofy, shy and silly Annie. In a pageant filled with so many beautiful, talented, intelligent women, it is important to be yourself and show the judges who you are. You stand out that way!
Figure and fitness account for how much of your score?
Annie: “Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit” is 15% of the overall score. I know that a lot of women involved in the pageant are pushing to get rid of the swimsuit portion entirely. Unfortunately, the organization does ultimately cater to the media, which is why the portion has continued as a category.
How did it feel to participate in the swim suit portion of the contest?
Annie: It was difficult. I had to get over my insecurities quickly. I had to learn to be confident and comfortable in my own skin, stretch marks, spray tan, butt-glue and all, in front of hundreds of people, including my family! I do sometimes agree with pageant skeptics that the swimsuit portion should be removed, because when I thought about it on a deeper level, I did feel like it was sexualizing the contestants rather than evaluating them on more important matters. On the other hand, I worked very hard to get healthy and fit. Healthy, strong and confident is how I felt at Miss America, the strongest I’ve ever been! I was proud of how hard I worked and how good I felt. I should be allowed to feel sexy and confident in my body, and I did!
(Photo by John R. Metzger)
What impact does body image have on the contestants?
Annie: The Miss America Organization doesn’t condone an unhealthy process to get fit, but a lot of people involved in the pageant are quick to judge contestants by how they look. An unaffiliated “message board” exists, where anyone who wants to can openly (or anonymously) write comments about contestants. It’s awful, cruel, and plain ugly. The girls I competed with at Miss America all knew to stay above it and not pay any attention to what people were saying. It’s still sad though, that some individuals bully young women behind a computer screen based on how they look.
Was there any prevalence of eating disorders among contenders, or is that just a myth associated with the pageantry business?
Annie: I was VERY surprised at how few of the girls I met at Miss America had eating disorders. There were two state contestants (I won’t name them here) who visibly ate very little the week of the pageant and who worked out ferociously after each meal to burn off whatever calories they’d just consumed. One had major insecurities about her body weight, size, and image, and the other had this constant pressure from her state board to stay stick thin at the pageant. Naturally, most of us were the fittest we’d ever been- we had trained hard to get there- but it was still shocking to see such extreme measures being taken for fitness. I stuck with the girls who weren’t afraid to eat at dinner. There were more of us than the girls who didn’t eat.
When did you feel most empowered?
Annie: I felt most empowered during my year after winning Miss Pennsylvania, when I would engage in conversations with young women who were also interested in participating in pageantry. One young woman’s mother told me that her daughter looked up to me as a role model. That meant a lot to me. For all the community service and networking we do to support our causes -just to hear that- I felt like- that was the moment I knew I was really making a difference.
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
How did you view your body during the pageant?
Annie: I trained harder than I ever had before to get my body in top physical condition for the pageant. I had a wonderful trainer who worked with me twice a day, five days a week, and who had me on a strict eating plan. It may sound extreme- and it was- but WOW did I feel good! I felt energized and strong. I loved the way I felt at Miss America.
How do you view your body now?
Annie: Like most women, I struggle daily with body image and body positivity. I will be honest and say that I feel less healthy and less attractive than I did at Miss America. The truth is that I can’t physically maintain that type of physique in everyday life (no one can). It just isn’t possible, at least not right now with all the others things I’m doing with my time. I have to remember to love myself and remember that my body does not define my worth as an individual, but it is still a struggle.
Although body image issues and negative body image practices continue to be associated with the world of pageantry, Annie Rosellini reminds us that body image issues are a problem that many women struggle with. Even a beauty pageant queen can become discouraged about her own body image in comparison with the unrealistic ideals that our culture contrives. Annie Rosellini reminds us that to feel beautiful is to feel healthy and confident, and although diet and exercise can benefit our lives, it is important to love one’s body at every stage of life. Women should resist the temptation to adopt negative body image practices in order to force themselves to fit a beauty ideal that is ultimately unattainable, or at least unmaintainable for long periods of time.
(This article is dedicated to the memory of Cara McCollum, Miss New Jersey 2013, who passed away on February 22, 2016.)