On Pageantry, Body Image, and Self-Esteem: A #WorthyInterview with Ms. Maine USA Ambassador 2020, Abigail Peabody
Selys Rivera (SR): Today is July 19, 2020. It’s 4:11 pm EST. I’m here with Abigail Peabody. Abby, do I have your permission to record this interview and use it for my business, Worth a Read Too?
Abigail Peabody (AP): Yes.
SR: Awesome! Okay, so to start, can you tell me what your official title is and kind of what that entails, like your responsibilities?
AP: Yeah, so I am Ms. Maine USA Ambassador for the USA Ambassador system, which is a national system whose charitable beneficiary is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
AP: My responsibility – yeah! My responsibility as Ms. Maine is to represent the state in the Ms. Category, which is 26 years of age and up. I like to represent my state by getting out and doing a lot of community service and servicing the community I live in and the state in general. So, I participate in a lot of charity events and volunteering. So, that’s kind of how I like to represent the state for this pageant system.
SR: Awesome! Doesn’t surprise me. You’ve always had a big heart. (laughs)
SR: So, how did you get into pageantry?
AP: So, we have this little – I don’t want to say it’s rinky dink – but we have this smaller –.
AP: …pageant down here. (laughs) A lot of our state fairs have some kind of pageantry involved and if you win you actually represent that industry for a while. For a year. So, I entered the Maine Wild Blueberry Pageant at the Union Fair. My aunt used to run it and I had cousins that always did it. So, I figured it was my turn. And I entered in that and it really sparked an interest in me. It was getting all glammed up and getting out into the community and helping the community, which is something I already loved to do.
So, after that pageant, I decided to enter the Ms. Maine Sweetheart Pageant, which is part of the mass organization here, which is Maine Academic Scholarship Pageant. And it just kind of took off from there. I’m not going to lie, though, that first pageant I entered, I actually did not like, and I didn’t think I wanted to do it again.
But I decided to give it a go. And I think I did Miss Vacationland after that. And I really, really fell in love with just the charity aspect of it and the community service. And a little bit of the glamour. The glamour is kind of fun.
AP: (laughs) [2 minutes and 35 seconds]
SR: Yeah, you get to help and look great while doing it, so (laughs).
AP: Yeah! It’s kind of fun to put on a big, fun frilly dress!
SR: How many pageants have you done now?
AP: I’ve done, I think – I switched programs – so, I think when I was in the MASP program, I think I did 4 or 5? And then I moved to Global Earth Elites and I did that for a year. And then I kind of didn’t do a whole lot for like a year or so. And then I found USA Ambassador and I’ve been with them for 2 years. And in the charity pageant that I run, my winners have the chance to go on to compete with USA Ambassador, so I get to collaborate with them a little bit.
SR: How many, I guess, titles?
AP: I’ve held 3 official titles. I’ve been Miss New England Elite Global Earth, Ms. Maine 2018, and Ms. Maine 2020. And now, 2021! (laughs)
SR: True, going into that. (laughs) Cool!
AP: Yeah! (laughs)
SR: All right, well, awesome! So, okay. Let’s get into some of the deeper questions here. So, beauty pageants and beauty queens have a history of being kind of controversial in feminist circles, especially because of objectification.
SR: So, keeping this in mind, can you tell me how experience has been as a woman in pageantry? And that can be positive and/or negative.
AP: Yeah! So, my – when I started pageantry, I was covered in piercings and very few tattoos. I think I had maybe 3 or 4 at the time that I started. Now, I’m covered. I have a full sleeve. I have 14 other tattoos. And I found that most pageant systems did not like pierced and tattooed girls. A lot of systems still tend to be very traditional and, what I like to say, “cookie cutter.” Every girl kind of fits the same mold, which I don’t –.
AP: …love about pageantry? But there are systems that are becoming more progressive and being more accepting of women of all shape, sizes, colors, differences, ages, which is really cool. Before USA Ambassador, I definitely was treated kind of like a token tattoo girl, where I was used as a prop to sell different systems as being accepting, but they weren’t. [5 minutes and 15 seconds]
And you get that. Some systems are very hit or miss. They’re very set in traditional ways and others are very progressive and accepting. And I think you just got to find the right one. And I think USA Ambassador definitely is one of those systems. They just want to showcase women for everything that they are and that includes all of their differences, which I think is wonderful ‘cause you don’t find that with a lot of systems. (laughs)
SR: Yeah, yeah. Diversity for sure. Actually, would you be willing to show your arm sleeve, which I think is so –.
AP: I have my sleeve, which is lots of different animals. There’s some imagery of Maine and different tracks you might find in the woods. Each animal represents a symbolism I really find – well, is important to me. Like I have otters on my arm, and they symbolize love. I have a lune, which symbolizes dreams and following your dreams. So, they’re all very purposeful tattoos that have a lot of meaning, which –.
AP: …is important.
SR: I specifically love the one that you have about – I know it’s on your foot – but the one, the peas in the pod, and then all the little peas –.
SR: …are the – what was it? The birthstones? Like birth colors –.
SR: …of the family.
SR: So cute!
SR: Okay, so awesome. So, what advice, then, would you give if there was someone who wanted to get into pageantry, but is struggling with those issues of body image or self-esteem or just being objectified as a woman? How would you –.
SR: …react to that person?
AP: Definitely, you know, do your research. I had very, very, very low self-esteem. I still struggle with self-esteem, but since getting involved in pageantry my self-esteem has completely changed. I’m much more [confident?] in the way I present myself and the way I present myself and my ideas and talking to people. And I find that pageantry has actually opened a lot of doors for myself. Without pageantry, I wouldn’t have been able to start the charity organization – or the charity event that I do for an organization. [7 minutes and 15 seconds]
But you definitely want to do your research ‘cause there’s pageants out there for everyone. Just because one system doesn’t work for you, another one might. And there truly is – there’s pageants for everything! There’s this really cool one in the state of Maine I believe. And it’s about agriculture. So, the pageant represents farm girls and what they do and how their work is so important!
And then there are others that are focused more on making the planet green. And if you don’t like the charity that a certain organization represents, you can find another pageant that does represent a charity that you’re drawn to or support more than perhaps another organization. So, research is important.
I think my biggest bit of advice is if you want to do it, though, you just got to do it. It’s going to be really uncomfortable. And that’s okay! Because I think life is about being uncomfortable a little bit. But the benefits that you reap from pageantry are incredible. Your interview skills go up. Talking to people. It becomes easier. You become more confident.
And if you're a little different, that’s okay! Not everyone’s cookie-cutter. And there are going to be little girls and little boys that look up to that. And there are going to be people your age that look up to that and older. So, I think it’s just about embracing your differences and going for it.
SR: The diversity to be a source of strength, that is.
AP: Yeah. Absolutely.
AP: And you connect with so many people that have been through similar things that you have or feel the same way that you have that you would never have met except through pageantry. I find that the people involved in pageantry are very, very passionate people.
SR: My friend for 8 years. (laughs) That took a second to think about that. I was like, “Oh my gosh! 8 years!” I’m so proud to see where you’ve gotten to, especially considering like when we were friends and we were just in college. Freshmen. Had no idea what we wanted to do. So, it’s been an honor to see you grow as an individual, especially as you mentioned. Overcoming mental health challenges. [9 minutes and 30 seconds]
So, what difficulties and strengths have you found out about you and yourself along this journey?
AP: For those of you who are unfamiliar with pageantry, you usually have to pick a platform. And this platform is something that is important to you and you advocate for. So, you kind of have to be a little bit vulnerable. So, I definitely learned that I am much stronger (laughs) than I give myself credit for.
Life has taught me some very cruel lessons. These are things that are important to me that I want to advocate for and, by wanting to advocate, I have to be okay talking about those things. So, definitely just being comfortable in my own strength is something I’ve learned and that I’ve started to embrace.
Something that was shown to me was that I did have a lot of self-esteem (laughs) issues. That was definitely a weakness, but I did find over time my self-esteem is now where I think it should be and I see that as a strength that’s come from pageantry. It’s just kind of owning my confidence (laughs).
I think a major weakness of mine is I just didn’t embrace myself for who I was. I constantly felt like I needed to change things about myself. And not to say there aren’t some things I should still change, but pageantry has definitely taught me that I just need to accept myself for the way I am and to keep bettering myself. And I think coming to that realization is a huge strength that I would not have recognized if not for pageantry. [11 minutes]
SR: Learning to accept yourself. In order to do that, you had to get past wanting the acceptance of maybe, you know, some critics maybe. For things like your tattoos or your body piercings or, you know, like we mentioned, being objectified as a woman or even used as a token tattoo girl, like you mentioned. But I love that.
I love how you were able to kind of work that out through yourself. It’s like weird. It’s like instead of getting other people to help your self-esteem, it’s like you had to get your own and then other people were respectful of that.
I mean, is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about already.
AP: Love yourself for exactly who you are. It was something that took me a really, really long time to do. I did not love myself for a very, very long time. Pageantry definitely has helped me appreciate myself for who I am. But, you know, don’t focus so much on the things about yourself you don’t like. And just learn how to love and appreciate everything that you are because you’re on this earth. This earth is amazing. You have a place in the world. Embrace that. And go do the things you want to do and change the things you want to change. But love who you are because you’re an incredible person. And I think everyone needs to accept that about themselves.
SR: How you mentioned also earlier, like advocating. You know, even finding your own – loving yourself even through fighting for the things that you care about. Like the change that you do care about. Actually, you mentioned some of the causes. May I ask what kind of charity organizations – you mentioned [Big Brothers Big Sisters]. But is there a specific cause that pulls you more towards advocating for that specifically or a specific organization more than that?
AP: I also love getting involved with local charities in Maine. I run a charity pageant that benefits The Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers. They deal with fostering and adoption. They also do a lot for teen parents, which I think is really cool. I also love getting involved with local Red Cross events, donating blood. Just literally anywhere I can go to help, I will. [13 minutes and 10 seconds]
Charity organizations that involve children are very near and dear to my heart. I work with kids in a school system and I kind of see everything that they have to go through now. So, Camp Sunshine is a big one. I love doing their polar dip every year, which is an icy jump in the ocean in the middle of February, which is super cool! (laughs)
But I just love helping anywhere I can regardless of what the organization is. But organizations that have positive impacts on children are very near and dear to me and I try to really go to those ones and advocate for children.
SR: I mean, kids don’t have a voice, even though they should. You know, as they grow up, learning to just speak up. The whole, “Oh, you’re a child, better seen than not heard” sort of thing. So, I think it’s important to have, especially for foster kids.
Especially right now with COVID and everything. For the safety of where you’re going to be when you don’t have a home. A lot of foster kids are usually in the same place. But, yeah. Have you gotten to do anything for dealing with coronavirus and COVID related to the causes that you are supporting?
AP: I haven’t really just because, in Maine, they were on a pretty strict quarantine. Like you were only allowed to go outside if you were going to be hiking or doing something active and fitness-wise. And it was only essential trips. So, only like trips to the grocery store or to like Walmart or something, if that’s where you do your grocery shopping.
I did try to do my part during quarantine. I put together care packages for nurses that involved like these little bands to help keep the elastics off their ears. And I gave those – I have a friend who works in the hospital and I gave those to her to give to her coworkers. [15 minutes and 20 seconds]
So, I tried to make an impact as best I could. Unfortunately, a lot of places weren’t accepting donated goods. They weren’t accepting unfamiliar help. So, I tried what I could during the time (laughs).
SR: That’s all right. I mean, “better something small than nothing at all,” I guess. That’s my new saying (laughs). Well, thanks so much, Abby, for taking this time to do the interview with me! I appreciate it. I’ll send you the link, you know, and everything later.
AP: Thank you so much for having me! I really, really appreciate it. I look forward to seeing this and watching it grow. I think it’s super, super cool and I’m really proud of you. So, thank you so much.
SR: Aw, thank you! (laughs)
Abigail Peabody is Ms. Maine USA Ambassador 2020. She is also the Director of the Miss Holiday Angel Pageant, a charity pageant that benefits The Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers. Abby is a lover of community service and enjoys baking cupcakes in her free time. Follow her @missmaine2018usaambassador (Facebook) and @ms.maineusaa (Instagram).