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 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

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Just Life: Have Room

The past few months have been a whirlwind. I joined a Student Org, have been working a part-time communications position, traveling (more than ever), modeling, and continuing to be involved in “pageant-land” (in a much less bikini-on-live-TV kind of way). Oh, and I am taking 6 courses at UW-Madison! Whew!

I often get asked “how do you do it”? This question is a really multi-layered one, much of my energy comes from loving what I do, but I think the main motivation behind keeping myself moving is allowing myself to have room for the good, the bad, and every little thing in between.

Have room…

To fail. I am one of the biggest perfectionists you will meet, I always want to give 110% to everything I do and lately that “everything” has turned into the most magical yet overwhelming mix of things. My biggest successes in life have come from moments of “failure”, or missed opportunities.

Have room…

For weakness. With the world so full of blessings, it’s OK that your soul (or smile) doesn’t shine it’s brightest every single day. Take a break, cry, call your mom. Recent conversations with my Miss USA sisters have reminded me that everyone experiences moments of weakness or self-doubt, and each person experiences those feelings in different ways. Just because you have a moment of weakness does not mean that you are weak.

Have room…

For other people’s successes. THIS IS A BIG ONE, and probably the most important. I’m going to relate this to pageantry, however I feel the lesson is applicable always. When the crown is placed on another woman’s head, it can feel so easy to go into a negative place. Why wasn’t it me? Why was it her? I worked so hard, I deserve this. Change your narrative! Share in the excitement, feel honored to have had the chance to share in another woman’s success, and remember that everything happens for a reason. Jealousy is so ugly, and can cause for a heavy weight to be carried around. Have room for more successes than just your own.

Have room…

To enjoy your life. Put your phone down, grab your BFF and have a girls night! I have been making a habit of making sure I set aside one night every week to “just relax”. It involves me doing a bit of extra work every other day, but it is so worth it when you spend a night, stress free, at a comedy show with your best girl, or get to do sheet masks with your momma! Find time to make time to enjoy being present!

Your mental health is EVERYTHING! With everything going on lately, I have found that the one way I keep myself most “sane” is to allow myself ALL the emotions, even if they involve tears. Have room to feel overwhelmed, but above all have room to be happy!

Dream Big,

Skylar

Pageant Life: Post-Pageant Blues

Everything I write is happy, happy, positive, but guess what life isn’t always happy, happy, positive…even mine. It’s amazing but I have my days, my weeks, my months and even my years (sorry Friends fan) Every pageant girl out there has gone through the PPBs Post-Pageant Blues, sometimes it happens after a state pageant, sometimes after a biggie like Miss USA, but we all face it and if you don’t think it will happen to you prepare yourself.

I am digging myself out of it as we speak.  People will always jump to the conclusion that you are upset or sad that you didn’t win or place….always. But for most of us it has nothing to do with the outcome, it has to do with coming off of the high. Just over two months ago I was coming from this place of total mind, body and soul preparation.  Ever inch of my being was humming in perfect unison.  Not only did my butt look fantastic, but I could answer any question you threw at me from my thoughts on government funding of Planned Parenthood to my favorite flavor of ice cream, and everything in between.  PEAK pageant performance.  I had spent months investing in not clothes or make-up but in myself  in preparation for the big show.  And honestly all the time was worth the investment. I am a different person because of it!

Now on top of all of that, throw me in a place for 11 days with 50 literally amazing humans who have all been doing the same thing, who all have perfect butts and brilliant banter and you have now entered this alternative universe and that place is hard to leave. Everyone imagines Miss USA is this cut-throat, competitive experience where everyone pretends to get along but the minute interviews and prelims begin the gloves come off and the claws come out….hahaha someone actually told me that before I went. But guess what, the opposite usually happens, by the time prelims hit you have found your pageant soul mates and you cheer for each other; HONEST TO GOD.  You become completely protective of your new family, when the crowning is done and they whisk away the new queen talk turns to your wishes and hopes that she has an amazing year…then everyone stands on-stage and  the reality hits you…IT’S OVER!  Tomorrow or even that very night everyone will once again go their separate ways and you have to hope that you can reconvene at reunions, other pageants and maybe if you stumble into the state where they live. And the weeks and months pass and you miss them.

That’s phase one.

Then there is phase two….your mind goes insane….”I don’t have to do two-a-day workouts, I’m in Vegas and they have infinite pizza and buffets, when I get back to Wisconsin I’m getting Culver’s…..all of Culver’s, everything they make at Culver’s! Thank God I can stop with the hours of  FOX News and CNN coverage to try to get a full and realistic view of every single thing happening in every corner of the world. I’m shutting off for a bit, and when I’m ready I will turn back on.”

Everyone goes a little crazy after the pageant, again if you don’t think you will be this girl, prepare yourself. I have finally quelled my need to experience all of the things I had been missing, at the expense of the butt, my belly, the thighs and every other part of my body that has gone into a little bit of shock. I have started to pay attention again to the things I’m passionate about happening in the world and want to follow, everything else will be handled by a daily look at ‘The Skimm’.  Yesterday I went to the gym……I didn’t recognize the front desk attendant……uffda….it has been a long time.  I’m slowly finding my way back to me. Will she ever be the sculpted, news junkie who made her way to Miss USA, probably not?!?! But she will be a better version of who she was before this journey began and she will have some of the coolest, most insanely beautiful long-distance friends…..YEP she will and she does.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened……blah, blah, blah……it’s OK….YOU CAN CRY BECAUSE IT’S OVER, just know when it’s time to stop whining and get back to what’s important.

Also don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually sad, down-and-out or going through real depression….I’m loving my life. One part is over but a million other things are just beginning. I have thoroughly enjoyed hitting up the Culver’s and experiencing a million life events that could only happen after Miss USA.  But every once in a while the pangs of PPB flair up…..and there is no remedy.  It happened, it’s over……accepting it….slowly!

Dream Big, Skylar

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Just Life: Grounded

Someone the other day asked me the “secret” to staying true to myself, even when the world around me is moving so quickly. Even when you are just weeks away from the ‘big show’.   I don’t know if I have a secret, but I do have some methods.

Say thank you:  This is the most important and quite frankly the easiest. Never stop saying thank you and never stop being grateful. Thank the woman who is giving you your morning coffee, something that keeps you running through the day. Thank your parents, let them know that you appreciate them and all they do for you. Thank the people who put up with your madness, my roomie Sav fits this bill. Right now I find myself thanking sponsors and my directors on almost a daily basis for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. Never forget to say THANK YOU!

Remember the struggles: This year I have chosen to talk to middle school students, because frankly it was the most difficult and uncertain time of my life. For almost everyone it was the period in life when you lose the idealism of your elementary school days and start to realize that it is a lot harder to become Hannah Montana than one would think. All our crazy dreams start to get beat down, the awkwardness and growing pains means everyone becomes competitive, girls and boys forget how to speak to one another and support each other and all of the reality of life starts to set in. It is the time when most kids stop with the big dreams and they start to look like fairytales; unachievable and ridiculous.  Add to that literal growing-up, the braces, the bullying and in my particular case  dealing with actual life….My entire middle school experience included living with and watching my grandmother slowly lose her battle with cancer. REALITY SUCKS. Don’t forget the struggle, don’t forget how it felt when your life was less than perfect, don’t forget what made you, YOU! Embrace it because it will keep you focused on your dreams.

Set achievable goals and then make it happen: This one is near and dear to my heart. This year I did not set out to “Become Miss USA or even to walk in New York Fashion Week” two monumental goals that frankly I have no actual control over. Judges will decide if I am the right woman for the job on May 14th and a designer had to pick me from thousands of model hopefuls. But I did set achievable goals to prepare myself for these things to happen. My physical preparation is all on me. Everyday getting up, hitting the gym, eating clean, all the trainers in the world can’t make your body ready for a competition or to walk a runway… if you don’t do the work. A series of small fitness goals and a plan that is achievable and realistic. Building a modeling portfolio and network of industry professionals all done with a series of small, systematic goals. I did set a goal of being the best Miss Wisconsin USA once I was crowned. For me that meant making a lot of appearances, promoting my state, promoting my #skysthelimit philosophy to every school that would let me in the door, promoting the Miss Universe Organization and just working really hard all day, every single day for the 365 days I am fortunate enough to wear the crown and sash.  This method works for almost all big dreams. Break it down and make it happen.

Just recently I watched film of JJ Watt (NFL rock star and Wisconsinite) returning to thank his 4th grade teacher for believing in his Badger/NFL dreams.  Even in 4th grade JJ knew his end goal but to get there every day he worked on the small things, every day focused and committed. Plus, he never lost sight of the people who helped make it happen, and even at the height of his career is gracious and thankful!

Don’t let anyone else define you: The hardest of all my suggestions…really hard when you are 13-18 years old, still hard when you are an adult. I am currently putting myself in the position to be ‘judged’ by the world. The harshest kind of judgment, the kind that will come in a bikini, in front of a LOT of people. The kind that will come with such quotes from viewers at home and even online like, “Oh Wisconsin is hideous!” “Not my pick” “Hate that girl” seriously those things will be said about not just me but every contestant by someone somewhere in the world. But here is my reality….NO ONE ELSE DEFINES ME! No ones judgment of me on a single day or in a single moment will be the foundation for how I live my life or the goals I am able to accomplish. This whole experience is a drop in the bucket of my life.

My middle school visits almost always circle to this place where a sweet girl or boy connects with me afterward and talks about someone mistreating them. And we almost always have a discussion about not allowing someone to define you. No one is allowed to tell you your dreams are too big, your passions, your ability to achieve, no one knows what is in your heart and no one has the right to take what is away from you.

This is how through the craziness and through what I will likely remember as some pretty big defining moments in my life, I have never lost sight of Skylar Witte. The girl, the middle school girl uncertain, scared and sad…the woman walking the runway in New York, same person….always stay grounded in who you are.

Dream Big, Skylar

New York Fashion Week February 2017

 

 

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Best You

I think the biggest myth in pageantry is that in order to win you must fit a certain mold. You have to wear a white dress, or have perfect pageant curls. The girl who spends the most has the best chances or you must give the judges the answer that you think that want to hear. If I have learned anything in my preparation for Miss Wisconsin USA and now Miss USA it’s that the one way to take yourself out of the running for the crown is to try and be something you are not.

When I was preparing for the Miss Wisconsin USA competition I had lots of input on lots of different things. What colors to wear, how to wear my hair and do my makeup, which swimsuit fit my body the best, and strangely enough…how to answer questions about myself. Weird! I loved that input and I listened to that input and it helped me sort through what I was and what I wasn’t, but at the end of the day I took it for what is was, someone else’s thoughts on pageantry, life and me.

It would have been so easy to fall into a trap of comparison. What did the top 5 wear last year? What have the past 5 winners done with their hair? What “story” has been most compelling in the past? What did someone else answer in their top 5 that sealed the deal?  And I think it happens all the time, in all sorts of industries, that women start to play the comparison game and feel they need to become somebody else in order to find success. NEVER NEVER NEVER!

Let’s be perfectly frank, creating a fake version of yourself is a game you will have to continue to play. I have literally watched women create versions of themselves so outlandish that they become lost in their own creation. So focused on maintaining the façade they no longer remember who they are, what matters to them and what they really have a passion for.

I decided very early on in my preparation that the way I was going to win was to be completely sure of who I was, and if it wasn’t this year it would happen when it was supposed to happen. I needed to know myself inside and out. As I’m sure you all know at this point, I love to write and that’s exactly what I did. I wrote about myself, what I loved, what I didn’t necessarily love, how I felt about issues in my life, how I felt about issues in the world and when I walked into the interview room I knew Skylar Witte from head-to-toe. (Novel about the minutiae of my life forthcoming)

When it came to being on stage, knowing who I was gave me the confidence I needed to rock my secondhand bikini with my six inch heels. I did not spend thousands of dollars on a gown or an opening number outfit. I was fortunate that my wardrobe was sponsored by designers and fellow pageant friends. (That’s the blessings of relationships and a whole different blog) It worked for me because I loved every piece of it, just look at my face, this coral spoke to me. Not because anything was custom or the fact I wore red gown or because I wore a coral jumpsuit with gold accents to interview.

People often ask me, “what was going through your head when you were walking on stage?” As goofy as it sounds, I just kept saying over and over “I am Skylar Witte, I am Skylar Witte”, and I was so excited to let the judges see ME.

So to break some pageant myths. White doesn’t always win, the color, price and style of the gown doesn’t make a difference, it’s the woman in the gown and how she graces the stage. You don’t need to ever be someone different in an interview.  You don’t need to always be pushing a created agenda.  Sometimes the judges ask the questions you have rehearsed in your head a million times, but often they simply do not.  My state interview was filled with laughs about my distaste for kale (for real, not a fan) and how my dad and I do a mean rendition of “Fergilicious”! When I walked out of that room I felt so confident that those 6 strangers now knew who I was, and that was because I knew who I was.

I want to take some time to tell every young woman out there who feels she needs to be someone else, that the very best person you could ever be in this world is YOU!! When you find confidence in who you are, it changes your world. There isn’t a secret to ‘winning’ a pageant or ‘winning’ at life. Life is all about constantly learning and growing, but when you choose to start learning more about you everything and everyone that surrounds you will gain clarity.

Dream Big,

Skylar

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Path Pavers

One of the most overwhelming ‘truths’  of becoming Miss Wisconsin USA was the fact I was suddenly launched into the same category as some of my idols. This is not hyperbole, the 12 women in this photo (Courtesy: Pageant Update)  who have come before me are, with all sincerity,  my lifelong heroes.

I have been fortunate to follow their journeys and some I have been blessed to personally get to know. Many have impacted my own path in ways they may have never even realized…but isn’t that what a blog is for…to share your inner most thoughts. So I’m about to tell them.

Kate Redeker, your pure beauty is incomparable. When I found out you would be competing as a miss the first year I was a teen contestant I tried not to ‘fan girl’ the moment I met you. Winning your title at 19 gave me hope and courage.  Just two months later while attending the Miss Minnesota USA pageant my mother and I got into a lengthy conversation with your parents. I told them how much I wanted to become Miss Wisconsin USA but thought I should wait, worried I was too young to compete. They were so absolutely inspiring. Your mother told me I had something special and the judges would see it at any age. They are such a huge reason this was my year, they planted a seed that grew all year long.

Haley Laundrie, there is a photo of you and Bucky Badger throwing up the “W” that was my ‘goal image’. Whenever I imagined my dream, what it meant to be Miss Wisconsin USA and how I envisioned it,  I thought of you and UW-Madison and that image. Bucky and I have yet to recreate, but I’m working on it. There will be a picture of Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 with Bucky, it will happen.

Bishara, I once referred to you as the “Queen of Queens”, and it is the truth. This year I finally had the chance to meet you and learn from you. I even had the opportunity to try  on the yellow dress you wore the night you were named into the Top 10 at Miss USA (fate anyone)!

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Your mother was on a mock interview panel that day and she gave me the best piece of advice I had gotten up until that point. She asked me about my dream job and I started by talking about becoming Miss Wisconsin USA and then Miss USA but quickly apologized for sounding too over-the-top. She stopped me and said “never apologize, be strong and confident in what you want and don’t be afraid to say it out loud!” I’ve thought about that moment many times since. When I completed the Miss Wisconsin USA interview I was disappointed that the judges never asked me that question. I’ve come to the conclusion they already knew the minute I walked into the room. Strength and conviction, they knew exactly why I was there. Thanks to your beautiful Momma for reminding me it’s ok to know what you want!

Courtney we have yet to meet, however my mother and your mother have formed a unique mommy mojo that makes me laugh. Your mother has always let it be known she believed in me and she saw something in me before anyone else had quite yet noticed it. She was convinced of my fate and kept my biggest fans sane in their most insane pageant moments not one but two years in a row. She just knew, I don’t know how but she believed in me when others doubted! I have to think it is because she raised a double crown winner and astonishing human being. She once said something about me reminds her of you, there is no greater compliment in the world.

Jordan I remember meeting you at the tender age of 13 when you were helping Kenna Mia as we both enjoyed our first stage experiences…I remember being completely enamored by you and your smile. You were the most beautiful woman in the room and still are everywhere you go.

Alex Wehrley, you are living my dream by creating a successful career in the entertainment industry. Not only that, you are doing it with grace, style and remaining true to yourself the entire time. You are the woman I aspire to become. I hope we can meet in person one day, because my connection to you is strong and that’s all I can say about that. #empowerista

Caitlin, your undeniable commitment to the growth of young women is evident. You have been such a force in the Wisconsin pageant community. You and your mother are the mentors every woman hopes to find in this world. Your motivations are so clear and so genuine… to build up others. I feel like I look just a little bit like you in our reaction photos and that gives me happy chills (fate anyone)!

Finally, Melissa there are no words. You are a beacon of pure light and energy. For years I ‘just missed you’ while those around me shared your story of hope and inspiration. In the end I believe it was only fitting that we finally embraced in-person the night I was crowned. Your life, your persona, your ability to create a legacy so much larger than yourself is the stuff dreams and legends are made of. You are the real and forever Miss Wisconsin USA.

My path has been paved by each of these remarkable women and their families even those I have yet to meet and know; each laying stones of hope, guidance, inspiration and love.  I feel like I am somehow the end product of each of their time with the crown. I followed their each and every move, dreaming of my moment, while working hard to create my own destiny. I can only hope that some Miss Wisconsin USA hopeful is reading this right now and someday feels the same way about me! And whoever she may be, it is just as spectacular as you have imagined it in your dreams.

Dream Big, Skylar

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: Now What

A month in and the biggest question on everyone’s mind is, Now what? Will you stay in school… will you stay on your path to become a lawyer… can you still come hang out… will you still model…are you going to the game on Saturday? The answer to all of the above is Yes…but!

Becoming Miss Wisconsin USA doesn’t mean I am no longer Skylar Witte, but  it means that God has given me the greatest opportunity and for one year only I get to be Skylar Witte, Miss Wisconsin USA. For those following my crazy, wild journey this year that involved 18 credit semesters, two jobs and launching a modeling and acting career it seems like one more huge endeavor seems impossible. If my life has taught me anything it is the only limitations in the world are those which are self-imposed. So here it goes.

I am staying in school, but I have reduced my credit load, my professors and UW-Madison administration have been helpful and accommodating, and for that I will be forever thankful. My goal of blasting through my double major undergrad degree in 3 years is being modified, but just slightly. Let’s be honest it was a hefty goal to begin with, the over-achiever in me is still adjusting to the idea but the realist in me knows I have one chance to be the best Miss Wisconsin USA I can be and like most things in my life I am dedicated to doing it well.

My modeling and acting career are not over, as a matter of fact I make my network television debut in two weeks. But my ability to shoot and do runway shows will have to come secondary to the ‘big job’ at least for a bit. I owe some people, there are a few photographers and designers out there who gave me everything when I had nothing. I did not nor will I ever forget about you. There is a list and I will get to all, I promise.

Will I become a lawyer, a model, an actress? Will I work in PR or in the fashion industry? Become a social media guru? The greatest joy in my life right at the moment is the door is wide open. But, I don’t have an answer. When life presents you with an unbelievable gift you graciously accept it, even if it means you open your heart to change and growth, at a level and speed nothing can prepare you for. Right now, I’m focusing on the new job and it will lead me into the direction of my dreams. The scope and power of those dreams continues to broaden.

Can I still hang out, go to games, live my life? You better believe it. Frankly, I am busy and my social life will take the hardest hit. My inbox is overflowing and I might miss a text or seven. But,  one of the resounding messages my parents have repeated my entire life is that your true friends, the people who love you and understand you will always be there. When you call them at 1 a.m. with a flat tire they will come rescue you. It won’t matter if you are on the top of the world or the lowest point of your life, the people who matter will be there. So many wonderful people have been on this journey with me up until this point, I love each and everyone of you. The next chapters are certainly going to be exciting and written as I go, but I AM READY!

“Only as high as I reach can I grow,

Only as far as I seek can I go,

Only as deep as I look can I see,

Only as much as I dream can I be!”

                                   ~Karen Raun

Dream Big,

Skylar

My roomie who I only actually get to live with part-time but keeps me sane full-time. A job she didn’t exactly apply for, but she is perfect at it and I love her for it.