736

How This Teen Pageant Star Refused to Be Fat-Shamed and Went on to Win

Olivia McMillan’s inspiring words of wisdom about body image and beauty.

 

by Julie Pennell

Seventeen-year-old Olivia McMillan started competing in pageants in the 7th grade after she saw how much fun her friend had participating (and winning!) the previous year. “I love to sing and be on stage and thought pageants were another opportunity to do these things,” she says. And it totally paid off: This year, the Georgia-born belle walked away with a win as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. But pageant life isn’t all glitter and sparkly crowns.

Through the years, Olivia has learned a lot from these competitions, including not taking herself too seriously. “It’s funny—before I go out on stage to sing, I actually forget every single lyric,” she admits. “I stand there and freak out for a second, but then I remember to take a deep breath to center myself, and the words come back to me. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not perfect.”

That attitude is what makes Olivia the kind of kickass girl we love to see win the crown. But, of course, the pressure to be perfect in pageants is a reality, and when Olivia first started competing, she heard an offhanded comment about her weight. “It wasn’t from anyone directly related to the pageant, but it still hurt,” the then-size-16 says. But she didn’t let one hater keep her down. “Hearing the critic made me take a step back, and I realized that although I wasn’t fat, I wasn’t healthy.”

Having struggled with diets in the past, Olivia credits pageants with giving her a tangible reason to push herself—not to get skinny, but to get fit. “It wasn’t easy to lose the weight, but I worked with a personal trainer who also acted as my nutritionist,” she says. And the result? A transformation that changed her life. “Physically, I now look at myself and see someone who is healthy and fit for her own body type,” she says.

It’s a lesson we could all stand to hear more often: “I’m not going to compare myself to someone like Angelina Jolie,” Olivia says. And one of her favorite things about being Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is the ability to pave the way for other girls. “The best part about winning this pageant is that little girls who have struggled with their weight email me and tell me I’ve inspired them,” she says. “I didn’t know that was going to happen, but it’s what my life has turned into.”

The other perks aren’t bad either: She won $30,000 in scholarship money along with her crown. “A lot of times pageant girls get this stereotype of not being smart—but going to college for free? That’s smart!” The high school senior hasn’t officially decided where she’s headed next fall but is having fun visiting different campuses in the meantime.

While juggling senior year and the college admission process, Olivia is also busy with her duties as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. She’s a huge advocate of the National Siblings Support Project, an organization that works with the brothers and sisters of those with special needs. She chose this as her personal platform because her brother is autistic and bipolar. “Growing up, my parents had to pay more attention to him, so this is a place where kids 8-14 can go and get the attention they need,” she says.

Her mantra? “I’m all about self love and appreciating your life no matter what cards you’re dealt,” she says. That’s how she got where she is today—and we couldn’t be more inspired.

Have you ever felt body-shamed like Olivia? What did you do to combat the criticism? Tell us in a comment below!