I rushed down Las Vegas Boulevard, dipping and dodging through hundreds of cars. I had totally forgot that I was heading straight into the war zone of traffic for the anticipated Miss Universe pageant. MISTAKE. Finally breaking free of the chaos I saw JoAnn. Standing tall on the sidewalk in a full fur jacket and amazon heels, she waved excitedly as I pulled up. She always seemed to carry that spirit of peace and happiness and I admired it a lot.
I couldn’t help but think “this is totally not the Jo I remember.” Back in high school she was a wrestling star but now, instead of slamming bodies to the ground she slammed pageant titles. Like WWE, incredible Hulk style. She’s had many difficulties throughout her life including battling her weight and feeling unnoticed by many people but discovered an outlet that has allowed her to overcome them all.
Starting over six years ago in college, JoAnn found her passion in beauty pageants after reaching her highest weight gain of 225 pounds.
In the beginning of college, I wasn’t known to be the ‘ideal’ pageant girl and was definitely overweight. The year before my first pageant I distinctly remember being overlooked as guys were recruiting my friends as contestants for the Miss Black and Gold pageant and how awful it made me feel. I realized how my Freshman 15 had turned into much more and set out to become healthy and confident in my weight. A year later, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to compete in that same pageant and won. I fell in love with pageantry and it ignited my journey for taking names and titles.
Besides the fact that she can slay a photo shoot or a mean contour, JoAnn often reflects on why she chased pageantry and the impact it has on her life.
As I began to compete in more pageants I realized how low of a representation it was for curvy girls. This motivated me to continue competing because I knew what it felt like to look in a magazine or online to watch videos and seeing that the “perfect” girl doesn’t look like you. It made me question and compare myself many times. Pageant competitions allowed me to show that it’s okay to be the best version of yourself and letting your light shine brighter than anything else. With pageantry, I have a purpose and goal that makes me better each and every day.
Often finding herself in emotionally vulnerable situations in the past, her journey taught her important lessons that helped her find freedom.
My biggest struggle was accepting the fact that not everyone is going to like you and not everyone understands why you do what you do. I’ve lost friends and had people who thought I was supposed to stay the same and didn’t realize my change came from knowing what I deserved and making a promise to get it. You have to be comfortable by yourself and confident enough to say no to things. Its so easy to want to make everyone understand and appreciate who you are that you build a mask for people who don’t matter. Learning to stay rooted as a woman and in my values has been the most difficult lesson but one I feel everyone needs to learn.
Losing weight was only half the battle. JoAnn firmly believes in changing your mindset before setting out to conquer your goals.
I didn’t start out as the “IT” girl but definitely got to experience both sides of what society wanted me to be. The body can change all day but the mind doesn’t. When I look in the mirror I still see that 225-pound girl even at a size 4 but I love what I see, which took a very long time to believe. Change all comes from within. For the girl who is struggling with her identity and acceptance I just say look in the mirror and say “I’m perfect the way I am.” Don’t let hateful opinions stop you from finding out who you truly are and once you do find it, own it.
I really connect to JoAnn’s story of finding herself and embracing who she is. It’s hard to be original in a world that tells you to be an Amber Rose or Rihanna…or a no name Instagram model, because we all follow one of those. (guilty) Even though she goes through competitions where she is questioned and judged, she found the secret of true happiness: loving yourself regardless of what society tries to convince you to be.
JoAnn has been gearing up to take the title of Miss US International in Florida on Thursday, June 23. You can follow her at @jojo.emale.#glow. #all. #DAY, Jo!