Pageant competitors band together to fight Twitter bullying

Katie Knowles, Miss Statesville 2015 and marketing director at Charlotte’s Miller Street Dance Academy, posted these photos in a N.C. pageant contestants’ #nomakeupselfie campaign against cyberbullying.
Katie Knowles, Miss Statesville 2015 and marketing director at Charlotte’s Miller Street Dance Academy, posted these photos in a N.C. pageant contestants’ #nomakeupselfie campaign against cyberbullying. Katie Knowles

If you tried to think of who might be least likely to want to be seen without makeup, you might come up with “beauty pageant contestants.”

But a social media campaign went viral this week, with contestants for Miss North Carolina and Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen doing just that.

And, actually, more: Many paired these closeups – hashtagged #nomakeupselfie – with their competition headshots. “The most glammed up versions of ourselves,” as Miss Statesville 2015, Katie Knowles, puts it.

The result, in many cases, is stark.

Why the campaign?

Because an anonymous Twitter account posted no-makeup and with-makeup photos Tuesday of 16-year-old Isabella Gaines of Wilmington. The account’s bio calls it “the page where youll (sic) find the prettiest NCOT girls WITH NO MAKEUP! YUCK!”

So you get the tone: Not pleasant.

“It startled me at first,” says Isabella, who shared the tweet on Instagram, with a caption that included Scripture and a reminder that “you are all beautiful.”

Friend and co-competitor Kenzie Hansley, also 16 and from near Wilmington, saw the post and “felt the need to post my own no-makeup selfie and (her competition) headshot … You can see my freckles and my blemishes.”

Hansley had been cyberbullied in the past, she says, and reacted emotionally: At about 1 a.m., she posted the paired photos on Twitter, then on Facebook, asking people to post their own no-makeup selfies.

By the time she got up the next morning, she says, she had a hundred Facebook notifications, many of people posting their own selfies.

The run was on.

“We all just started blowing up our social media accounts with it,” says Knowles, 23, a Mooresville High graduate who now works as marketing director for a Charlotte dance academy.

The Miss North Carolina organization, part of the Miss America organization, says there have been hundreds of postings, so many they made a collage. At the center: a no-makeup selfie from current Miss America Kira Kazantsev. Pageant workers, moms and grandmothers – even kids Kenzie babysits for, she says – and boys posted.

“It’s expanding throughout the Miss America organization,” Knowles says. “Outsiders think … we only care about our appearance. But we wear makeup as an accessory, not a necessity.”

‘We’re there with you’

The story hits a nerve with people.

Ask Sharon Decker.

You may remember her as N.C. secretary of commerce, or as founding president of the Lynwood Foundation in Charlotte (think Duke Mansion) or as a corporate VP for Duke Energy.

You may not know her as Miss Ashbrook 1975 or Miss Gastonia 1978.

“I loved the response to this,” says Decker, who immediately offered her own no-makeup selfie, paired with her corporate bio photo. “I’m so thankful older women have joined in the cause. We’re there with you, sister!”

Now president of NURAY Media in South Carolina, a digital media startup, Decker says social media ratchets up the pressure on young women to feel “whatever you have isn’t enough.”

“We need to encourage women to be themselves,” she says. “And it’s not just an issue for pageant girls. I looked at my (bio photo), and I thought ‘That’s how people see me.’ Even today, after all these years, we think about public figures, fashion figures, pop-culture figures, we think of them in a ‘photographed’ way.”

And is this side-by-side presentation – the bare face juxtaposed with what’s often perceived as the ideal – a revelation in that ongoing effort?

“It is,” she says. “It is.”

‘Issues that I deal with’

The campaign is personal, differently, for Knowles.

Each titleholder has a community service platform, she says. Hers is mental-health awareness. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression at age 9, she says, “Being comfortable with myself and with who I am is really important to me. … There are these issues that I deal with: This is what I look like, take it or leave it.”

So she found inspiration in the exercise. Its taking off in social media has been particularly rewarding.

“We’re saying (to the anonymous tweeter), ‘You tried to attack these girls who are minors … trying to do good things for their communities,” Knowles says. “Well, in the most positive way possible, we’re going to show you it makes no difference what you say.’”

“The moral,” as she posted on Facebook: “Mess with the crowns, you get the points.”

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