As an avid soccer player, pageants were never on Isabel “Izzy” Peters’ radar. But one day during her sophomore year at East Ridge High School, the lifelong Woodbury resident received an invitation to compete in the Miss Minnesota Teen USA pageant.
The invitation was addressed to her sister, but she didn’t split hairs. On the upswing from having to quit competitive soccer, she thought it might give her a new place to focus her time and attention, and she applied on a whim.
“[Soccer] was my life. But I just got too many concussions, and I realized it just wasn’t worth it anymore,” Peters recalls. So she went all-in on the pageant, practicing interview questions with her dad and perfecting her walk in heels. “It changed me! It really gave me a different kind of confidence, which spills over into the rest of my life. I realized, ‘if I can do this and be this confident in front of 6,000 people, I can do it every day.’”
The pageant bug bit Peters hard. She’s competed in four Teen pageants and will transition to the Miss division in 2018. At that level, winners advance to the nationally televised Miss USA competition, giving them a much larger stage on which to advance their platforms. As a University of St. Thomas student majoring in history and pre-law—and thinking about a career as a lawyer or a professor—she says she now filters everything, year-round, through a pageant lens.
“When I’m making a career move or even deciding what to study, I’m always thinking about how it will impact my resume or my interview,” she says. She eats clean and exercises year-round, keeping herself fit for the stage. While active wear (think yoga pants and tank tops) replaced swimsuits in the Teen division, swimsuits are still a part of the Miss competition. So she’ll compete in a marathon just before the pageant, in part to be in peak shape for the November event. But for Peters, competing is less about beauty and more about camaraderie with a diverse group of powerful women.
“It’s such a unique experience to add to your life, and it’s a huge confidence and character-builder,” she says. “These women all have awesome things going on. They’re so qualified. The pageants really reflect the diversity of our state.”
Denise Wallace Heitkamp is executive state director for Future Productions, which hosts the pageants in Minnesota and six other states. She’s seen first-hand the way the pageants are becoming more diverse and more about a celebration of well-rounded, confident women than just pretty faces. “The stereotypical ‘pageant girl’ doesn’t really exist,” she says. She recalls the time a woman with cerebral palsy won in Iowa, or when Minnesotan Halima Aden competed in a hijab or Mikayla Holmgren rocked an extra chromosome on-stage. In an era of women fighting for equality, these amazing women have used pageants to find their voice, celebrate their diverse beauty, and help change the world. “These are all phenomenal, brilliant, go-getters who care about their community and take action to make them even better,” she says.
Thinking about entering? Minnesota’s Miss Teen USA (ages 14-18) and Miss USA (ages 18-27) pageants happen Thanksgiving weekend, November 24 and 25. Apply online, and acceptance packages include instructions and helpful resources for competitors. A summer workshop in Bloomington gives young women and families an overview of what to expect.
“There is absolutely no experience needed,” Wallace Heitkamp says. “And, of course, winning is amazing. But there’s so much to gain just from the experience of competing. I don’t know a single woman who walks out the door and isn’t more comfortable with herself, who doesn’t interview better—and with more confidence.”
For more information on Miss Minnesota USA, visit the website here.