Empowerment Series: NJ Miss For America Strong and New Jersey Pageant Co-Director, Ilsy J Hoo Shares her Beauty with AW
Today’s pop culture is filled with competitive television. America is captivated by contestants that sing, dance, model, design, sell, transform, fall in love or do anything that can furnish a prize. Fascination keeps audiences at the edge of their seats while rooting for a favorite competitor. Growing up, I recall, sitting in front of a television with my mother to watch beauty pageants. We were filled with admiration while women strutted their elegance across the stages of Ms. America and Ms. Universe. The only thing bigger than the glam was the anticipation of who would be crowned queen of the night.
Decades filled with beauty competitions whose scoring system was based on categories such as evening gowns and bathing suits are deemed superficial according to modern-day standards. This perspective has caused these types of events to lose some of their popularity, especially, as we lean into substance rather than aesthetics. Times are changing and with it, pageants have taken a different place in society, as women are being encouraged to embrace who they are instead of fitting a mold. These optics paint a picture that makes beauty contests a tough sell but this interview may inspire a conflicting outlook.
One of my responsibilities, as a writer, is to share views that challenge the status quo. I believe learning to keep an open mind about the world around us helps us to understand others better. The subject of pageants is of particular interest, although it can be portrayed by some as exploitative, others perceive it as empowering, using it as a springboard to advance in life or career. The contrast has been worth exploring, and interviewing NJ Miss For America Strong and New Jersey Pageant Co-Director, Ilsy Hoo offered a wonderful opportunity to spotlight the positive things that can come out of being part of such events.
Pageants are primarily perceived to be a display of a glorified aesthetic beauty. I believe there are different ways for women to take charge of their feminine power. However, some will argue that contestants flaunting their physical attributes in a swimsuit and evening gown has nothing to do with empowerment. You have held the title of Miss NJ for America. How did winning the competition empower you, as a woman? I believe that pageants encourage contestants to build self-confidence, individual pride, and greater self-awareness. The Mrs. America organization has done a fantastic job of having diversity and celebrating all women from different walks of life. Although we keep the traditions of swimsuit and evening gown competitions, we encourage the contestants to also focus on causes or issues they feel strongly about and to become involved in organizations that speak closely to their hearts. Although I am a naturally confident woman, being Miss NJ for America Strong has given me so many opportunities to connect with people in my community that have the same values to bring hope, light, and justice to the community.
Women are held to unrealistic standards of beauty in our society. The expectation has been to stay forever young but we are slowly pushing away from the demands placed on us. There is newfound freedom in owning who you are at any age. What would you say to women who may be feeling the pressure of playing the perfect beauty queen in their own lives? I say, own who you are and be proud of aging. I’ve met so many women in various age ranges who competed in pageants and WON a state title. I look up to them because not only do they represent their generation, they are full of wisdom and experience. There’s no such thing as being perfect therefore being a perfect beauty queen doesn’t exist. Don’t put that type of pressure on yourself and celebrate the woman you’ve become.
Beauty pageants have been around since the 1920s, gaining significant exposure and sponsorships over the years. What insight can you offer audiences, regarding any positive aspects of these types of pageants? It’s all about how we are going to make an impact in the world and who you can connect with that can join you. My mission with the New Jersey America pageant is to build strong relationships with NJ businesses and national brands that will support women who are doing great things.
Chimere Nicole Haskins, Mrs. New Jersey America has used her title to mentor young women and encourage them to challenge the status quo and think of innovative ways to better their lives. She’s volunteered to help feed 1500 families at the Soup Kitchen and Rise in the Trenton area and attend various community events that help the greater good.
Kristina Henderson, Mrs. New Jersey American, has used her reign to empower other women in business to take their existing companies to the next level. She’s also held a red-carpet event in Red Bank, NJ, honoring “Stars of Women In Business” in New Jersey. During the pandemic along with her husband, they donated over 125,000 masks to frontline workers and families in need through collaboration with Feeding America. I hope we can continue to bring positive exposure to those who are looking to collaborate with the New Jersey pageant system.
How have you been inspired by your journey as Miss NJ for America? How will you continue to spread inspiration among women? I’ve watched so many of my sash sisters across the U.S. do extraordinary things for their cause and communities. I think about what I can do today to create winning habits and how that can impact the community. During my reign, my efforts were to raise more awareness about domestic violence. I partnered with VictimsVoice to help people in unhealthy relationships document the right information to get protection, seek legal justice and help prosecutors hold abusers accountable. As a board member, I will continue to look for ways to help our communities outside New Jersey and raise awareness about VictimsVoice. As the new New Jersey Pageant Director, I will inspire the new delegates and state titleholders to keep pushing towards what you truly believe in. Never give up. Inspire others to give back. Be an inspiration to others because you never know who you may help and inspire along the way.
AW is grateful to have been given a chance to tell a different story about how pageants can promote positive outcomes. Women like Ilsy Hoo are an example of what can be accomplished when the mission is clear. The win gave her a larger forum to bring awareness to important issues affecting women everywhere.
The road to empowerment is not the same for all women. We make individual contributions to the world in our own way. Using activism, philanthropy, volunteer work, careers in the medical and social service field, becoming an ally to the community can get results but there are limitless possibilities to bring change. These competitions are a means to an end, giving women a platform to catapult them to the next big opportunity. The days of the 1970s pageants are long gone because women are thinking bigger. The crown serves as a small step before the big leap into the shoes of the woman they are truly meant to become.
AW is about empowering and supporting women while they are on the journey to becoming their best selves. The decision to participate as a sponsor to the New Jersey America Pageant was made easy, once I learned about all the great things contestants are doing to help shed light on causes such as poverty, domestic violence, and lack of resources in disadvantaged communities. In a world where there is plenty of negativity to go around, it was refreshing to find the real beauty of a queen. I took a moment to look deeper and read into the goodwill and hope for a better tomorrow.
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