Pageant Life: Empowerment Part 2

I don’t know what makes me sadder, the fact that I am yet again sitting in front of my computer refuting an article written by a woman bashing the women in pageantry, or the fact that this particular article not only bashed women competing in pageants but bashed women competing in pageants who came forward with a very painful confession.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely passionate about the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. As a titleholder myself, I can truthfully say that my experiences within this organization changed my life in ways that I could’ve never imagine. Did I wear a bikini on national television? Yes. Does that make me less of a role model for young women? No. Does that make my voice any less valuable than another woman? No.

For those of you that have not read this article in USA Today, I don’t suggest it. But I will give you the gist. The reporter speaks about the pageant saying it is a “tone-deaf affair”.

She references a commercial break filler, where multiple women in the organization were asked if they had ever experienced a “#MeToo” moment. The answers that followed were difficult to hear, painful to listen to. Everyone in the room I was in fell silent. To see these women, that so many look up to, come forward and speak about a moment in their life when they felt the most vulnerable they could’ve ever felt, it was chilling. Moments that we hope no woman ever has to face, yet we know that one and four women does. I was so proud to see this moment on TV, because it is a conversation that is often times ignored but NEEDS to be had. And if even one woman who was watching the telecast felt comfortable coming forward with her own story, looking for help, I would consider that a success. The most frustrating part of this particular point in the article, was the fact that the author made it seem that because the woman stood on stage in bikinis they had no right to share their painful experience, as if their voice didn’t matter because they were comfortable wearing a bikini on national television. Is that really the message that we want to send to victims of sexual assault? If you were wearing a bikini you don’t have the right to come forward, you don’t have the right to cry, you don’t have the right to feel pain. It’s sick to even imagine that someone would feel that way, let alone write it in a nationally publicized article.

“…as if producers thought that the inclusion of questions about marches and sexual violence would translate into an empowering affair” the author states. Everyone experiences empowerment in different ways, but I can tell you one thing, bashing another woman for how she feels empowered is downright cruel. Women all around the world are fighting an upward battle. And if you are a woman who is higher up that mountain, don’t push other women down, grab their hand and bring them to you. The only way that we, as women, are going to continue moving forward is if we do it together. To any woman who has had a their own #MeToo moment, know that you are not alone, know that you are not lesser, and know that you had every right to feel pain.

https://www.rainn.org/

Dream Big,

Skylar

Pageant Life: Empowerment

I don’t usually use my blog as a place to reflect on other people’s writing. That being said, last week, the Washington Post published an article about how the Miss America Organization is essentially the opposite of the feminist empowerment that we need, is outdated and not valuable to our society. The whole thing made my blood boil, and after watching some amazing women grace the stage at the Miss Fond Du Lac and Wisconsin Central pageants this weekend, I had a few things I wanted to say.
 
First of all, for those of you non-pageant followers, Miss America is different than and separate from Miss USA. But both programs empower young women to build each other up and work hard to achieve their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. Although I do not compete in the Miss America Organization, I do know that each of the women I have met who are a part of that organization are educated, strong, community-driven and impressive women. Now, let’s get to this article…
 
The article was written by a journalist and professor who is currently writing a “cultural history of the Miss America Pageant.” I will give her this, she had done her research about the history and  how the program began, but she fails to recognize how the pageant has progressed over its nearly 100 year existence. The part of the article that bothered me the most was the feeling statements about aspects of the pageant:
 
“The pageant has always been deeply invested in protecting the status quo in the face of women’s progress.”
 
Excuse me, have you spoken with anyone who has been a participant in this program or looked at the actual criteria by which the program operates? This article centers entirely on beauty and bikinis, missing the four points in the organization’s mission statement entirely; Style, Scholarship, Service, and Success.  The article fails to mention the platforms and community engagement the participants create, let alone what contributions the thousands of women who participate every single year go on and continue to make. In fact, there is a line that essentially scolds the pageant and the government for the scholarships that the organization offers for all of the hard work these women are doing.
 
“What failure of American democracy explains how a beauty contest accounts for the largest scholarship fund, about $6 million, for women in the United States?”
Isn’t everything that the participants do the exact criteria for a scholarship recipient? Dedicated to bettering their communities and themselves, working hard for the scholarship money they earn – by being phenomenal students, getting involved in community activities, creating platforms that go on to make impacts locally, nationally, and globally, and dedicating themselves for various goals: whether that means the goal of being Miss America, the goal of going on to graduate school or the goal of taking their platforms nationwide.
 
Google it I implore you, from former titleholders to local participants these women are literally changing the world. Stephanie Klett, former Miss Wisconsin and Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, you are my shining example.
 
Issues with the organization came from MEN tearing down these strong women, yet here is an example of a woman doing the exact same. Isn’t the whole idea of empowerment to build each other up and support each other as we fearlessly embark on our goals? I give the author of this article my respect as she furthers her journalistic career and research (no offense intended to this very well educated writer, my thoughts are just one woman’s opinions about one piece you wrote), but I will say one final thing. If you are going to write an article (or a cultural history) about an organization that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of women across the country, it seems only fair to actually interview some of those women. To ask them about what the scholarship money has done for them, to ask them how walking on stage in a swimsuit has boosted their confidence and empowered them to fearlessly do ANYTHING. It is not fair. And to the women in the Miss America Organization, I stand with you and appreciate each of you and the work you do as titleholders!
 
So ladies, even if we disagree with another woman’s decisions, let’s empower her to live HER life. If that means writing articles, conducting research, or wearing a bikini on stage let’s build each other up not tear each other down!
 
Dream Big,
 
Skylar
Mifflin, M. (2018, March 1). In the #MeToo era, it’s time to rethink the Miss America pageant. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/03/01/in-the-metoo-era-its-time-to-end-the-miss-america-pageant/?utm_term=.f07e4e114776

 

Model Life: Building your Network

Finding a foot in the door in this industry is hard, networking takes time, energy and the ability to handle a lot of rejection. But one thing I have learned is you have to make your success your own and you can not ride anyone else’s coat tails. So if you want to become a model, you need to quickly learn the difference between good connections, bad connections and overstepping your bounds.

This is a ‘sticky wicket’ as they say. When I started the first photographers I found and connected with came via several friends whose photos impressed me, and that is what I told the photographers when I reached out via email or Facebook. I  simply said, I have seen so&so’s pictures and I love your work, perhaps we could work together sometime. Sometimes I just loved their work and knew absolutely no one they worked with.  I then invited them to become my friend on Facebook so they could see what I brought to the mutual table. Some said they would love to work with me, others gave me a price they would be willing to work with me for and some didn’t return my message.

In turn when people reach out to me seeking advice or want to work with me I try to be both kind and helpful.  This isn’t a hobby for me it is a job. A great piece of advice I got early on is that you have to know where you fall on the scale. Are you a novice, inexperienced model or professional model who has appeared in several publications and done commercial or paid work? At this point I consider myself a professional working model, I expect to be paid for my time, however I am again a realist… I am not Lily Aldridge or Elsa Hosk. I also am not available all-day every-day, I do this on a part-time basis. I have a strong portfolio and a resume which includes national campaigns.  I take that all into account when someone reaches out to me.

As far as helping aspiring models, well it is why I started this blog, I couldn’t keep up with the messages. I used to get a few messages a month, now I get several messages daily and they come from aspiring models all over the world, which I am both honored and overwhelmed by.  I wish I knew more. I wish I could help everyone.  But as I have shared a million times over there is no secret here, you have to put in the work and you have to make the connections no one can ‘help’ you, simply give advice, that is what I do.

I am more than happy to connect people when I personally know them and their work. I get asked by designers and photographers if I know any other good models and I will gladly spread the love. Or at the very least tell them to go check out someones website, Facebook or Instagram, the rest is up to them. One of my greatest experiences in this industry came from someone helping me in the opposite direction. Cali Rae,  who is now a signed model met me at a fashion show and passed my name along to a photographer she worked with who was building his portfolio,  I have now done several great shoots with him. Our friendship and connection is just the type of networking that helps get models to new levels. In turn when I am contacted by a photographer or designer looking, I am always willing to pass along the names of models they should contact. I have made direct connections between people and believe in helping others grow.

Here is where people often overstep their bounds and it is hard to swallow as someone who worked hard to build a career. Don’t call, DM or message a photographer, a client who has paid me to represent them or my agent and tell them you are ‘friends’ with Skylar Witte and ask for something, especially for free. I think every working model or actor would agree, this is one of those crazy things that happens often.  Unless I made that connection directly you are likely to tick off several people in the chain. Great photographers cost money and sometimes they shoot for free but if they aren’t OK with TFP work using my name only looks bad for me and for you. My agent just put a very clear message to those represented stating if someone name drops by messaging, emailing or calling her personal cell phone she will not sign them, regardless of how talented they are, also I would risk being dropped because I gave out her personal information, and I really, really like my agent.   This does not constitute as networking, as a matter of fact it will likely ruin your chances as a model or actor.

Relationships are built on honesty, trust and kindness. Starting off by saying you were sent by someone when you were not or asking for free work can and most likely will upset all parties involved.  In turn, if I act as a reference or connection for you please do not destroy a relationship I helped you to build. This includes not responding to a message from someone you asked me to connect you with, not following their directions or call sheet information, rescheduling, cancelling on them or simply standing them up for a shoot.  They probably won’t want to work with you again and I will not refer you again.

Although this is my first ‘professional’ life experience I would hope this goes the same for any career choice I should make. Much like everything in the world even in the entertainment and modeling industry it is a small circle. Photographers, agents, scouts, designers and other models will quickly identify friend and foe. Reputations can be built and destroyed easily.  I am proud of the relationships I have with others in my market, it is a snowball that keeps connecting me and it is what keeps opportunities coming my way.

Also I am not shy at all about asking for help and advice myself. Before I signed with my acting agency I sent several of their signed actors a quick message asking about their experience. Some of us now follow each others budding careers even though we are thousands of miles apart. I have a whole network of amazing people whose hands I have yet to shake, but to me that is the best part of this industry.  I also was contacted by a New York modeling agency recently and reached out to several girls in my network who were signed with them or I saw had a connection to them.  These quick checks have been lifesavers to me, it’s also how I avoid creeps which will actually be my next post.

So read this blog, comment and ask me questions. If you are in my neighborhood and want to chat over coffee, let’s do it! I won’t tell you anything I won’t write about on this blog. There is no SECRET…seriously this is a job and like all jobs you have to build experience, network and grow day-by-day until you get to the next level. The unfortunate part of this job is it is based on your genetic make-up  and subjectivity, so success is based on several things you can’t control. If you are gorgeous like Ms. Cali Rae then you are a lucky one. But taking advantage of your relationship with others will not bring you success, you will lose opportunities and more importantly lose friends.

Dream Big, Skylar