a Beauty Queen
words by Jackie Dale • image by Frankie Leal
Heidi Schmidt’s path to the coveted crown was not the gleeful skip down a gilded road one might imagine. Her journey was fraught with personal obstacles and self-doubt. Often people will erroneously assume that a pageant girl has a perfect life. A peek behind the stage curtain can sometimes reveal a more stark reality.
Heidi describes herself as average looking, small, thin and petite. “For some reason, the kids in school made fun of me for being small,” said Heidi. “I am also a person who gives and gives without expecting much in return. People took advantage of that by using and abusing my friendship.”
Born and raised in Reedley, Heidi and her family moved to Kingsburg when she was 13. With her strong German features inherited from her father and the olive complexion of her Spanish mother, Heidi has a somewhat “exotic” look that seemed to draw the attention of the bullies. As time went on, the teasing steadily escalated and Heidi became the brunt of daily bullying by her schoolmates. “They zeroed in on everything I was insecure about regarding my appearance,” Heidi confessed. “They made fun of my nose, my size, and the fact that I had to go to speech therapy for a lisp. It was just awful. My school years were miserable.”
Heidi did make some friends, but when she declined to join in on her peers’ decisions to indulge in questionable activities, they too began to tease and harass her.
Heidi became depressed and withdrawn. Her mother suggested she shift her focus and put forth the idea of Heidi entering a beauty pageant. Heidi loved the stage. Participating in musical theatre was her escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. However, the thought of competing, of being on a stage with girls who all seemed to be blond and perfect, was extremely intimidating. Years of being relentlessly torn down by the bullies had eroded her self-esteem down to virtually nil. Heidi’s father advised her “not to worry about the other girls.” “They are not the point of this competition,” said Heidi’s father. “Your job is to work on you. Be a little conceited and focus on just yourself.” Mom’s advice? “Have fun with the make-up, the hair and the clothes!” Heidi decided her only realistic option was to accept and embrace her looks. “Every girl wants the crown, but my main goal became a whole new level of self-improvement.”
Heidi entered the National American Miss Pageant at 16 and was instantly “hooked.” “I just loved everything about the pageants,” admitted Heidi. “After years of being bullied, I finally had my opportunity to shine” she beamed. Heidi competed in that pageant twice to get her feet wet in the pageantry waters and learn the ropes. She then moved on to compete in the Miss Teenage California Pageant. “It was a horrible flop,” Heidi said. “I didn’t do well at all and it totally shattered my confidence. I was ready to quit pageants completely.”
Heidi’s supportive family convinced her to try another pageant. Heidi decided on ThePageantUSA.com and submitted a resume. She was contacted and asked to submit an essay on her particular platform. Heidi wrote an essay that detailed her years of suffering at the hands of bullies and her efforts to overcome the effects of this abuse. In addition, she wrote about how pageantry has made her a better person; the person who she is today, a person of confidence, poise and determination. The judges were so impressed with Heidi and her essay, that she easily won the appointment of Miss Northern California. Heidi immediately moved onto the national competition level.
The National Miss US Pageant consists of formalwear, a personal interview, her platform speech, a “fun fashion” category where the contestants showcased an outfit of their choice, and a first for Heidi, a swimsuit competition. Although she had insecurities about showing her body, Heidi decided this would be a good opportunity to learn to accept her body. She also knew she had the power to improve herself. Heidi worked out and ate healthy foods. She also gave up soda. “That was so hard!” said Heidi. “But,” she added with a laugh, “it was a great motivator to know I would be appearing on stage in a swimsuit in front of hundreds of people.”
In August of 2013, Heidi, now 20, was crowned National Miss US! Heidi beat out a field of 40 other contestants to bring home the title. Heidi feels that her fun fashion outfit may have been the nudge that pushed her to the winning edge. She chose to emulate one of her personal heroes, Audrey Hepburn. Heidi designed and made a dress indicative of Ms. Hepburn’s classic style, did her hair in a similar fashion and threw herself wholeheartedly into her part. Heidi said, “I had so much fun on stage as Audrey mainly because I admire and look up to her. I envisioned her personality as a kindred spirit. I really think the judges noticed that.” Heidi was also pleased when she heard what her on-stage question would be. Heidi was asked; “As a title holder, should you hide or share your faith?” “I was so happy to get that question,” Heidi replied. “I am passionate about my faith, I strive to keep God first in my life and I try to project that. Not in an aggressive way, but in a loving everyone, being kind and spreading joy kind of way.”
Heidi used her scholarship award to pay for her education at Marinello Beauty College in Visalia. She graduated with honors and began her career working as an esthetician at the Skin and Wax Bar in Kingsburg. Despite the years of bullying, Heidi rose above her tormentor’s efforts to crush her spirit. But the bullying still resonated deep within her mind. She wanted to take that negative and channel it into something positive. Working with a partner, Heidi created a business called Boot Camp Beautiful, a Christ-centered day camp for girls. They partner up with a host church and girls are invited for a day of motivational speaking, mentoring, and a beauty makeover. Heidi is also a talented photographer so after the makeover, each girl is treated like “a star” with her very own photo shoot. “We try to focus on how inner beauty is what makes outer beauty,” Heidi said enthusiastically. “We really want to help them overcome their insecurities as well as deal with issues like teen bullying. I try to make each girl realize that “you are truly beautiful for the reason God made you, you! You are an individual; there is no one else like you!”
The final portion of the program is an exercise in catharsis. A huge board is brought out and the girls are asked to write anything they are insecure about; any mean or hurtful words that have been said to them. Then they are given paint ball guns and told to “shoot the snot” out of the board. Heidi added; “ It helps the girls to understand that words are meaningless, that it’s all about how we absorb it or just let it bounce off ourselves.” Heidi went on to say, “Then we pray about it. I have seen so many girls do a complete turnaround and grow from this experience. It is lots of fun but it is truly a bonding experience.”
Heidi’s favorite Audrey Hepburn quote is a precise description of her own personal philosophy;
“For beautiful eyes look for the good in others, for beautiful lips speak only words of kindness, and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone!” –Audrey Hepburn