Just Life: Being Respected

I recently had the most real conversation of my reign as Miss Wisconsin USA with two girls who must have been in the 7th or 8th grade. I was visiting a middle school to give one of my usual presentations about setting goals, living your dreams and choosing to be positive at an age where bullying just seems easier. Afterwards, in the lunch room these two bright-eyed beauties approached me and presented me a question I had never been asked…but boy, did it get me thinking.

Why is it that you are so beautiful and all the boys in our school listened to you and were so respectful of you when you were talking, they were calm and kind, no one made rude comments  but to us they are always disrespectful and sometimes just mean?

And immediately, just like that, in a split second I was thrust back to middle school myself, there is a reason I talk to this age group and this was it. Suddenly my life advice could mean something. So I sat up straight and launched into my brief but hopefully lasting rant.

I was treated the same way, most girls in middle school are! Is it right? No. Is it OK? No. Is it part of everyone growing up and learning to build friendships and relationship? YES. Is it likely a boys way of getting a girls attention? 100% YES… but do you have to accept rudeness and mockery and cruelty? NO.NEVER.NOT EVEN ONE TIME!

So I told the girls to stand-tall, be strong and never let a boys words or actions get the best of them. I explained how even though it is easy to cry, to be cruel back or to simply go and tell on a someone for being disrespectful, the best course of action you can take is to not allow it in your life. Like all things hurtful or mean, the effect of the action is only meaningful if it elicits a response that the tormentor was seeking. I shared the story of being booed once at a pep assembly by a large group of nasty boys because I had recently broken up with one of their friends. I felt like running from the gymnasium but I didn’t, I did my part with a smile on my face and simply kept going. Once a boy was a jerk to me and I didn’t speak to him for a good three years, until he grew out of this unfortunate-jerky-phase. That is not a scientific phase of puberty but I believe it exists. He came around and later apologized for all the mistreatment when we were younger.

It is hard advice…not allowing your feelings to be hurt is a nearly impossible task, but choosing to not allow someone the satisfaction of slowly beating down your self-confidence is a necessity, in middle school and well beyond.

I told them that being that strong brings with it a new set of challenges. People will call you cold, snotty and much worse. People, especially mean ones hate to be ignored. But in the end the right people (and in the case of dating, the right boy) will rise to the surface. When you are older and have gone through all of the growing pains, those boys will start to respect your strength, your conviction and your independence. They are the people you will want in your life.

Dream Big,

Skylar

 

Just Life: Becoming You

There is not much about me you can’t find out by searching my name on Google or reading any of my blog posts. I am an open book. Some people find this perplexing, why would I share so very much of my life, my thoughts and my unsolicited advice. The answer for me is a rather simple one, something that I share will help someone, somewhere, someday.

My journey into modeling, my life goal of becoming Miss Wisconsin USA, heck even my frustration with the dating world have all been unique to me, however in each arena in my life I have gained some useful insights that frankly, I wish I had known when I started down that path. So I share. I do so without hesitation and sometimes without care for perfect grammar or AP style (apologies to every English teacher in my life). My writing for those who know me personally is probably more like a conversation you would have if you sat down and visited with me in person. Informal, candid and with a tone that always, always skews on the positive but not annoyingly sweet. That’s just me.

It wasn’t always me, it took me a long time to get here. When I meet young girls who are just finding themselves and struggling with finding the right friend group, the right team, the right ‘thing’ that they love, the right boy, the right path, even the right style that suits them, I can’t help but think…been there, done that. Add on top of that struggle the pressure of the world that you are somehow doing it all wrong. That pressure can come from your peers, your parents, your teachers, everyone you come across in life will have an opinion on who you should become. They all for the most part will come from a place of love. They will all want what in their minds is best for you. But becoming you is the most personal journey you will ever go on, and no one can determine the desired outcome. Becoming you is the only journey in life you must take solo.

The harshest reality out there is that the only person who can hold you back from achieving your wildest dreams is you! People will try, they will stand  in your way, they will give you a million reasons why you can’t do something, they will question you and they will judge your every move. But in the end those people will only control your destiny if you allow them.

People thought I was crazy for traveling every weekend on a shoestring budget to work with photographers for free, building a modeling portfolio for a career I didn’t have. They wondered why I would skip ‘the social event of the year’ to hit up a casting call a hundred miles away that would only last 5 minutes and likely end without a job! Everyone thought I was crazy, until that portfolio and a single 5 minute call ended in getting me a modeling job that any big agency signed model would die to have.

Even my biggest supporters (mom, calling you out) told me 19 was too young to attempt a run at Miss Wisconsin USA, “wait it out a few years, your time will come.” But I knew I was ready and I knew I was certain of who I was and where I was going. I knew they were right if it wasn’t my time it would be eventually,  but I knew something they didn’t… in the year between the 2015 pageant and 2016 pageant I had become Skylar Witte.  I was so certain of what was in my heart, and I knew that if I could just get that out to a set of judges I had already won. Apparently I did, they knew who I was in under 5 minutes. I showed them my heart!

Becoming you is a confidence that is hard to explain. It is the ability to believe in yourself when no one else does, it is wearing a full-length sequin bodysuit with huge faux leather cape sleeves when everyone else is wearing a cocktail gown. It is knowing who you are so beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one can change that vision; their words, their suggestions and their criticism will fly right off you like those cape sleeves in the wind. I am told that 19 is a young age to get to this place.  I don’t really apologize for that and I hope I never leave it. Becoming you doesn’t mean that you are finished, oh not by a long shot. You will change your life direction, change your goals, change your boyfriend, change your style, all of those things will happen as you continue to evolve as a person and that’s the way it is suppose to be. But once you find your peace, once you embrace that solo journey and learn to love who you are, the rest is all just growth.

My wish for all those I love and have yet to love is that they too can become who they are meant to be. It might not happen in a minute or a year, but it will happen if you allow it.

Dream Big,

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: HOME

They say, “Home is where the heart is.” and if that is true my heart is spread out across most of Wisconsin. But there is one place in this world that has the biggest piece, a small little community on the western side of the state, Altoona. On the outskirts of Eau Claire this little piece of heaven is where I grew up.

I lived in an idyllic neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac  in a big white house surrounded by trees and love.  The block where I grew up was home to the people who ultimately became my family. There were no less than 10 kids all about my same age who did everything together. Our families spent weekends around backyard campfires and large ‘family’ dinners on Sunday. Yes it sounds too good to be true, but it was the reality of my life and I thank my lucky stars that I was fortunate enough to experience a childhood filled with such positive memories and loving people.

From 1st grade through my sophomore year of high school I attended the Altoona School District, it was the very first place I visited with my new title and was honored that they asked me back once again to celebrate homecoming this past weekend. There are so many children growing up in areas of our nation where school systems are failing and education has become less and less of a priority. Altoona is not one of those places. A district with a strong commitment to making sure that children have access to the resources and support that they need.  A group of teachers who see beyond a child’s limitations and help them to discover their place in the world. I was given so many opportunities to find mine. I hosted a middle school weekly news program, performed with the award-winning show choir and participated in some of the most unique academic opportunities I kid could wish for…from Math Olympiad to National History Day, this girl took advantage of every opportunity presented. Altoona taught me that you can develop many skills in your lifetime and you don’t have to have only a single passion or dream.

Things in my life haven’t always been perfect or peaceful or idyllic, whose life has been. But every person who meets me knows I choose to focus on the positive. I am the type of woman that likes to make the most out of every day, every minute and every gift I am blessed with. Altoona and the people in it are among my greatest gifts I have been given in my life and no matter how far I travel or where this crown takes me it will always be my first home.

GO RAILROADERS!

Dream Big, Skylar

 

 

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: My Time

I once wrote how it wasn’t my time and how I was completely at ease and peace with that, and today looking back,  I realize the why…because right now is MY time.

Everything in life happens for a reason and I now understand the reasons for the blessings and lessons in life. My past year preparing for Miss Wisconsin USA was a year of tremendous growth where I learned so much about myself and exactly what having this job meant to me. I knew exactly why I wanted it and what I would do if given the honor. On Sunday night a group of judges decided it was my time to represent Wisconsin. It excites me that I now get to do this job every day. It is my time and I plan on living every single minute of it to the absolute fullest.

A couple of big things have hit home, I am now the representative of the 40 other women standing on that stage with me Sunday and I do NOT take that lightly. Among them was a PhD candidate, a collegiate level volleyball player, countless entrepreneurs, women who work tirelessly to promote organizations they are passionate about and freely share their stories of both obstacles and unparalleled achievements. When that crown went on my head it did not elevate me above that amazing field of contestants and friends, it only made me the official representative of them all. As I continue this journey, a piece of each of them is with me and will strengthen and motivate me daily.

The other reality, and this one makes me tear-up every time I say the words, I am now an ambassador for the State of Wisconsin. What greater honor could there possibly be? As a girl who grew up in the Chippewa Valley, moved to Central Wisconsin, spent countless summers working in the Northwoods and now have the privilege of attending UW-Madison, Wisconsin is the core of who I am. I will be writing more about my adventures around the state in my new role and there will be much gushing, it’s all just too much to write in one blog.

My goals are simple: represent Wisconsin and the Miss Universe Organization in the best possible way each and every day and continue to promote a strong and powerful message throughout my reign as your Miss Wisconsin USA.

I was told I could do as many appearances as I could handle and I say…BRING IT ON! I have done 7 media interviews and already have appearances booked into November. This is what I want to do, this is what I’m ready to do. If you would like me to appear at your event or if you are connected with a school (middle schools in particular) please fill-out an appearance request form.

I can’t wait to live this dream, meet all of you and relish my time as Miss Wisconsin USA 2017.

Dream Big,

Skylar Witte

I end every blog  with the same words and have for the past year you have all been following me and if this isn’t proof of my DREAM BIG mantra I don’t know what is.

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Just Life: Starting Over

When I was a sophomore in high school my family had a conversation about moving to a different city. I think it was the most terrifying and exciting thing to happen to me in my lifetime. If you go on social media you are likely to find any number of teenagers posting about wanting more than anything this very opportunity:  I wish I could move, I wish I could start over, I wish I could get out of this town, I wish, I wish… I think everybody thinks about it at one point or another. But let me tell you there is a cold, hard truth about starting over. It is hard, the hardest thing I have had to do.  But had I not experienced it I would be a completely different person today. Sometimes getting pushed out of your comfort zone as far as you can go changes everything about you.

First, I was completely on board with the move. In Wisconsin we have open enrollment so I had the opportunity to choose the school I would attend in our new community. I based my decision on two elements only, who had the best academic courses and who had the best dance team. The latter part of my decision making process would determine the course of my last two years of high school. It would give me both some of the biggest opportunities and the biggest lessons of my life.

The best dance team in the area we moved, wasn’t just a good dance team, they were the best and had years of competition trophies to back up the claim. Problem was, I was a mediocre dancer. I was the captain on my previous dance team, but I was also the dance captain of the show choir,  played roles in the drama department, in local community theatre, sang in multiple choirs and was involved in several volunteer organizations and I pretty much knew every other student at my high school, plus their parents (and their dogs). That school afforded me the opportunity to do lots of different things and be really good at some of them and mediocre at others, it gave me the chance to be involved in a million things and the small community supported my ‘all over the place’ attitude.  I didn’t have to be the best I just had to do my best. My new school would teach me that to compete with the best, when you are not the best, means you have to work hard and harder than you ever imagined you could.

I missed tryouts for that team but the coach(es), there were three, agreed to let me tryout a few weeks before summer practices began. I made the team, still to this day I am not sure how. One of the coaches of the team recently wrote it was because she knew I had the “heart of a champion”, and that had to be it, because I had the feet and skill level of a newborn calf. Making the team was the easy part, that summer I struggled to keep up. After a few months I was made an alternate on the competition team. From a captain to an alternate. It was a brutal awakening. Now, school hadn’t even started yet, I could have been done right there, heck I could have very quickly enrolled at another school and pretended the whole thing never happened. But I didn’t, I stayed. I had grown to love my fellow dancers and I knew alternate or not, at least I would be starting in the fall with a group of new friends.

Somehow that first year on that team taught me almost everything I would need to know about life. Don’t quit when you hit your low point, ask for help when you need it, work harder than you think you can, don’t expect things to be handed to you or to be easy, set goals and priorities, find a good mentor or two, believe in the process and don’t settle for being an alternate (in dance or in life).

That summer I asked for a lot of help. I was fortunate to find it in my coaches and a few older dancers who were willing to stay after on their own time to help me learn. By the first fall football games I had accomplished my first goal, just fit in, don’t be the girl who falls or is off by two beats or looks crazy compared to the whole team, just fit in. I did. No one could pick out the new girl from the crowd. I wasn’t in the back, but certainly wasn’t in the front. By the time we started to prep for competitions I had been moved to the competition team and was no longer an alternate. The dedication and skill it took to be on a team like this is hard to explain. The team not only practiced daily but sometimes twice a day, once a week we had an a.m. practice before school and we did strength training, LOTS of strength training. It was all summer, most of the school year and tryouts happen about a month after the last competition and the process began again. There was not time to be in a hundred other activities. This team became my priority.

By the time the team went to state that year,  not only was I up to the caliber of the team but I was able to lend some perspective.  This was my third year dancing and my first time at the ‘big show’ and I appreciated that fact and shared it with everyone who would listen. I think my pure joy was a reminder to the others on the team that the accomplishment was truly something special, even though the team expected to go to state and has done so every  year under the current coaching staff. It was a triumph hundreds of dancer in the state would never experience.

By senior year the newness of the school and the dance team had worn off but the lessons continued. That year we would go on to not only be among the best in the state but earn the championship title for our pom routine, for you non-dance team folks a D1 Pom title is the ultimate, and it is some fierce, brilliant and amazing competition. A title not lost on a girl who moved half way across the state and worked her tail off just to make the team. Among the many defining moments of my life, this was one. I think it was the first time I saw really, really, really, hard work, big goals and dreams realized. For me it was never a dream I even thought was a possibility in my life, so it also made my scope open up widely. After that day becoming a model didn’t seem so far fetched, becoming Miss USA didn’t seem completely unthinkable. I never had fathomed that I would someday be a state champion dancer so certainly all the other things I had never thought about suddenly became possibilities.

Starting over gave me a lot of gifts,  the greatest of which was the confidence to believe that if you want it badly enough, accept that you aren’t perfect and sometimes need a lot of work, are willing to do that work and earn your place you can pretty much accomplish the unimaginable.

(If you are interested in that championship routine you can actually watch it here, years later and I still get chills!)

 

Dream Big, Skylar

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Just Life: Being a size 0

I like to share different stories/experiences on my blog and this one is difficult for me to share, because it’s difficult for me to admit. The other day I was at the mall with my mom shopping for an event. I was trying on all of these adorable outfits yet nothing fit right and made me feel great (like any good outfit should). That entire week I had been struggling with my body in general, I just felt like each time I looked in the mirror I was unhappy with what I saw. That shopping trip to the mall ended with me in tears and my mom attempting to comfort me by saying “honey, you are a size 0 why are you self-conscious there’s no reason to be upset, you literally can’t be any skinnier, or you will have to buy kids clothes!” She was right but it didn’t make me feel any different in that moment.

I want to take a minute to discuss body image with you all because I think it’s important and I hope that everyone I know can read this and take what I learned that day and often have to remind myself. No one can be confident 100% of the time. Fat shaming and skinny shaming don’t help. People judge you no matter what you look like and it is OK to look in the mirror and not love every ounce of yourself (every once in a while). Love the skin you’re in is a great and wonderful tagline in the world but the reality is no one, regardless of size, is without flaws. You are always your harshest critic.  People can be horribly mean and tactless and it’s ok to not love all of you all of the time.

After all was said and done I look back and think how silly I was acting, but you know what…it happens. Everybody has off days where they just don’t feel they are looking their greatest or their body is in the shape that they want it to be. A part of life is moments where you are self-conscious, and that’s OKAY! And it doesn’t matter if you are a size 0 or a size 24. Moving past those moments is where strength and confidence converge. Being able to brush off a horrible criticism….She needs to eat a burger, she looks sick….She needs to workout, look at how fat she is…these words sting, and man do we all hear them, and sometimes they seem impossible to move past.

When I decided I wanted to model on a regular basis it was the acceptance that my healthy lifestyle now had to become my permanent lifestyle times about ten. It is more pressure than I could have imagined when the decision was made. Not only do I have to stay thin and fit but I have to make sure I don’t get too thin or too muscular. It is a wild balance and it takes a lot of time. That being said, I am not even close to perfect and nobody is, who the hell is to say what perfect is anyhow!!  And sometimes with all the pressures I face, I break down and after that mall catastrophe I want to say a few things to anyone out there who has felt the way I did that day:

You are beautiful because you are you. I have talked about this previously,  but at the end of the day I am the best Skylar Witte that I can be. It’s okay to have imperfections, but embrace them and remind yourself why you are beautiful…I guarantee there are an infinite amount of reasons. Work for the things you want (in my case lady abs) but love what makes you–you, and I guarantee it will never be lady abs. I think I am kind and compassionate. I would like to say people who meet me enjoy my company, I am extremely outgoing and my smile is often both made-fun-of and complimented because it is unique and frankly I love it, I think it is my favorite feature. I know I work hard and have a lot of work ethic because I wouldn’t be doing what I am today if that wasn’t the case. Lady abs are completely unrelated to any of those things which I am confident make me beautiful. Your beauty is not found on you it is found inside of you, plain and simple.

Respect your body and accept the things you have, be able to separate who you are from how you look, even on the bad days!

 

Dream Big, Skylar

Model Life: Free Agent-ish

So I get asked a lot why I am not seeking agency representation for my modeling career, I think for many people who have a different approach to this industry that is the way and only way to go, it is just not my way. I shared my big agency experience with you all a few weeks ago. Acting is a whole different beast and I will address that today as well, I love my film/television agency and I will explain why. But no modeling agency yet and there are a few reasons I will share for my career path in this post.

First, modeling agencies come in all sorts of levels of support, promotion and industry rank. There are small agencies that do mostly regional work, large agencies that do national work and/or will act as a mother agency connecting you to the big dogs who are the international players in the modeling world. I have been approached by three regional agencies and was just  approached by a Chicago agency, which could act as my mother agency in the next step of my career, and so far I haven’t signed on a dotted line with a modeling agency.  Many of my friends in this business are signed with regional agents or signed with agencies in large markets but are trying to live in the Midwest. I am fortunate, because they have all shared their wisdom and pitfalls of their contracts with me.

Once you sign that piece of paper often you are obligated to work with that agency and no one else, good models get asked to sign exclusive contracts. The relationship is meant to be mutually beneficial, they promote you on their available roster for paid jobs and you either go to a casting call/audition or get a paid job based on that promotion. They get a cut of your payment. Now that is great if the relationship is great. What if the agency doesn’t promote you?  Are you buried somewhere on page 27 of 50 on a website? If you are one of 400 female models the regional agency represents how much are you being pushed alongside of the 399 others? When a client seeks a blonde-haired, blue-eyed model is your info being sent, shared, viewed or even found? Many agencies aren’t agencies at all they are paid websites which are a monumental database of hundreds of inexperienced models who are willing to pay to be included. Do clients actually go there and offer jobs to models, who knows? I have never heard of someone getting their big break this way.

Sometimes you can get a non-exclusive contract and have multiple agents. This route works well for those who want multiple chances to get their face out there and be submitted for a handful of jobs, especially in markets like Chicago and Minneapolis.  A few models I know live in Chicago and are signed with LA or NY agencies and they all tell me the same thing, it is really hard to live where your agency isn’t, they might put you up for paid gigs in NY or LA but guess what you are in Chicago. Now you are asking for travel expenses and more. Sometimes the job makes the travel worth it but often it doesn’t and sometimes the client doesn’t want the hassle.

Upon the advice of one of the very first make-up artists and photographers that I worked with I have decided to not sign with a regional agency and instead pursue building my regional career on my own, until I know I am ready for the next move. If you have read any other blogs you know I hustle and so far, so good!

But what about that great agency that pushes you and believes in you and promotes you like no other, well I’m not ready for them. Frankly, I am still committed to my college career meaning I need to be able to choose my own jobs on my own timeline. It would be completely unfair to get a great modeling agent who finds me all sorts of great opportunities that I am constantly declining. Really big, big opportunities are going to take me out of the Chicago market and I’m not ready to go yet! Flying to New York or Milan on a whim just isn’t my life right now.   I will say it again 25% of this business is relationships and why burn a bridge by not delivering on your end of the deal. I won’t do that to someone, when I am to that point I will seek out the proper representation for where I am at with my career. If I sign with you I will give you all that I have 100% of the time.

So I guess my reasons are actually only one reason, right now I need to have complete control of my career, my approach is different than most, find success on your own and then find the right person to acknowledge that success and bring you to the next level. I know the type of agency I want to work with and when I am ready for them I hope they will take me. (fingers crossed, toes crossed)

Now I do have an amazing acting and film agency, YJB Talent out of Atlanta with an office in Chicago. They are a boutique agency and represent only a handful in their regions and work very hard on development. My agent is helping to develop me knowing that I have a looooooong way to go. Acting is a whole different game! I have done one film and been offered a few roles in others. I hope to work more in this field but without an agency in the acting field I would not be able to move forward. The agency submits me for SAG/AFTRA paid jobs and they also have me connected to receive information about unpaid jobs and opportunities. They also understand I model and will even give me the inside track on jobs I maybe haven’t seen on my own.  So I can chose to pursue student films, independent films and other career builders. They help me with head shots, available acting workshops and classes and building a brand. I shared in my last post about not paying to become a model, again acting is a very,very different beast. A good acting school, classes and workshops at some point are musts. It is an art and a talent which can and must be developed. I am working on that right now. My agent is available to help and willing to help and that is a relationship I am thankful for every single day.

Hopefully in a few years I will be able to add to this blog and share my experiences in becoming an actress, much like finding a modeling agency partner I’m just not there yet.

 

Dream Big, SkylarYJB