In the logo for the Miss Universe Pageant, the slender silhouette of an otherworld beauty reaches for the stars. Her gown pools around her feet, and a tiara crowns her head. Candidates for Miss Universe are beautiful, certainly, but for all her intergalactic ambition, the woman of the Miss Universe logo falls short of the real women who compete to take on the world.

The candidates for Miss Universe are often as vibrant as the silhouette is artificial—they are compassionate and involved and yes, by all means, they really do hope for world peace. Beyond that, they are thinkers, entrepreneurs, and go-getters; and pageants offer them a platform to make an impact on the world.

IVY Member Kinesha Goldson is competing in the Miss Universe Jamaica Pageant in three weeks, the first step on the road to Miss Universe. She recently sat down with IVY Magazine to talk about what it’s like to be in a pageant: how she handles nerves, stress, and objectification. Miss Jamaica is an all-in package, and Kinesha shows us all how these pageants can both elevate and diminish the morale of its contestants.

Kinesha is an IVY Member (BOS). Connect and collaborate with her here!

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IVY: What attracted you to the Miss Jamaica pageant?

Some of siblings and both my parents were born in Jamaica, and I used to spend summers in Jamaica with my aunt. I’ve always been jealous of my siblings who grew up in Jamaica. It’s such an amazing country — and now I’m in full emersion mode here. More than anything, I’ve found that everything’s so peaceful. I couldn’t imagine spending the summer any other way.

This is my first beauty pageant ever, and my last due to the competitions age restriction. One of good my friends from home has competed in the Miss Massachusetts pageant for the past 4 years, and after following her in the competition, I’ve always wanted to give it a shot. On a whim one day, she suggested that I compete in Miss Jamaica, and then the next thing you the know, I had a one-way ticket to Jamaica. It all happened really, really quickly.

IVY: How is Miss Jamaica different from Miss USA?

If I were competing in Miss USA, I’d have to first compete in the Miss Massachusetts pageant and then if I won, go on to the Miss USA pageant. With Miss Jamaica, there is no smaller pageant. It’s like being on the fast-track.

The pageants in the states are totally different. They require you to come in and know what you’re doing. But with this pageant, we have classes to prepare us for the coronation stage: speech classes, social grace classes, make-up and beauty lessons, stage presentation, how-to-walk (yes, we’re gliding) classes, even the gowns that we wear. And everything is paid for by our sponsors! (I’m sponsored by Ping’s Fabric, the largest fabric retailer in Jamaica who provided fabric for the reigning queen Kaci Fennel’s national costume at last year’s Miss Universe competition.) So, a lot of people without the funds to do a pageant are suddenly able to do it. In the states, this definitely isn’t the case. Girls in the states have to invest so much of their own money preparing—and they literally spend years getting ready for a pageant.

IVY: What are you most nervous about in the competition?

I’ve always been a very shy person, and I realized that a very young age. When I was younger, I was very goofy at home. I used to do a Steve Urkel impression, and one day my sister spontaneously signed me up for a talent show and didn’t tell me. My family dressed me up in suspenders and highwater pants and glasses, but when it came time for me to take the stage, I panicked.

So, in school at Northeastern I studied communications and took public speaking classes to help myself overcome my fears. This pageant is another step for me. When you ask what I’m nervous about, the answer is everything, but I’m definitely learning how to manage my fears and be stronger.

IVY: What advice do you have for conquering nerves?

The best advice I have for people who are not good with public appearance is to always show up early to everything. I am always early! It’s so much easier to get there an hour earlier and be the first person sitting in the room than to show up and be the 26th person walking into a room with 25 other beautiful girls.

IVY: There’s always been controversy around whether these competitions are beauty pageants or scholarship programs. How would you respond?

I think that people are going to find something controversial in everything. For me, the pressure has been the hardest part of the competition — not the competition itself, but what people are saying about me. They’re telling me I’m getting too skinny. Or that I’m worrying too much about my body or my look. But I’m doing something new, something I’ve never done before. This is a totally different experience for me, and there’s no time or energy to focus on negatives here.

If people really had a chance to meet these girls, they’d see what true motivation all the contestants have. This movement is so much larger than everyone realizes. Just seeing the reaction the little kids in Jamaica have with us has been so empowering — we’re such role models for them. They see how beautiful and strong women can actually be, and it’s super empowering.

IVY: How do you feel these competitions are empowering women around the world?

The pageant really forces all of us to be our best selves. You want to be the most confident and feel amazing about yourself. I’ve never been more aware of social issues or more sensitive of how people feel. I’ve never better shape, never taken better care of my body. I feel like an A+.

IVY: Does the objectification bother you?

It’s really unfortunate, actually — regardless of what we do, as women, we’re going to be judged by someone at some point, whether on a stage or in a business suit. I’ve found it’s just crucial to feel confident as myself, as an individual.

Objectification comes in so many forms: sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes it’s when people are really critical. Ultimately, for me, conquering objectivity boils down to being my best self and managing my expectations at every moment. Theres nothing more difficult than walking onto that stage in a bikini and being judged. But we do it — and when we’re confident in ourselves, it’s actually pretty empowering.

IVY: Do you feel pageant winners have the ability to be a spark for change? What role for social justice do you feel a beauty pageant title carries with it?

Certainly — people fail to realize how big pageants are. There are girls who start when they’re as young as 3 years old and go on to do it for the rest of their lives. The Miss Universe and Miss USA winners have a responsibility to show these young girls there there is real substance to pageants.

Pageants are also a great platform to bring attention to the causes that are important to us. For me, that cause is to combat childhood obesity. People often don’t stop and consider how much more to us there is than just pretty faces — we really care about the our communities and the people in them. And we’re doing real things to make an impact where it’s needed most.

IVY: You’re so diplomatic with these questions. Lots of practice from the pageant?

Definitely, diplomacy is the biggest thing here — I can’t be too far right. I can’t be too far left. I can’t even be too neutral because then I’m not answering the question. It’s tough!

IVY: What has been the most overwhelming aspect of this experience?

All of the work. Our schedules are crazy. Everything is back to back to back. Also, the days are so long. I’ve heard horror stories from Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition models that the water was actually 40°, and it was freezing cold outside. Now, I can say I know exactly how they feel. For us, the temperature was over 102° outside, and the wind was blowing. We couldn’t get our hair to stay. We had no food, no wifi, and no breaks. It was just the most uncomfortable situation ever, but despite everything, we had to look really beautiful.

I think that’s the fun part though, that people don’t know what happens behind-the-scenes. It makes you feel like you have a superpower.

IVY: Do you have any secret tips to de-stress?

Wake up early, and work out. In general, just get up and do whatever you like doing before any day, and especially a long day. That way you know you’ve spent time for yourself before giving the rest of the day to others.

IVY: What do you do when you’re not in a Miss Universe pageant?

I own a foodtruck in Boston called Cameo Macaron that sells French macarons. I’m one of those people who if i’m not doing everything in the world, I absolutely lose my mind! I was studying abroad in Paris one time, and I came back to Boston and realized there was a need for macarons and no competition because no one was doing it at the time. That’s what keeps me going here — that working out.

IVY: What macarons are you craving while you’re in Jamaica?

Dark chocolate and passion fruit. It’s funny, I’ve been reposting customer photos on social media since I’ve been here, and I can’t even have any. It’s so hard!

IVY: What can the IVY Community do for you?

I would just love everyone’s support — like my Facebook page to learn more about the pageant. Even having one person on my team is really great. (And if you’re in Boston, look out for Cameo Macaron. While I’m away, we only selling on Saturdays and Sundays, but I’ll be back soon and we’ll go back to our regular schedule.)

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