She’s not your typical pageant queen.
As the newly crowned Miss Wolcott, Laura Christie, 23, is working to shatter stereotypes and redefine beauty. After finishing as first runner-up in the Miss Connecticut pageant last year, she’s hoping to take her message of body positivity all the way to the Miss America stage -- a place contestants like Laura could only dream of reaching until a few years ago.
In 2018, after an internal power shake-up, the Miss America pageant underwent a major image revamp in an attempt to modernize the century-old tradition born in Atlantic City as a bathing beauty contest. As part of the transformation to “Miss America 2.0,” the organization eliminated the controversial swimsuit competition. A new scoring system based largely on interview, talent and community service opened the doors for contestants of all shapes and sizes.
For Christie, it was the moment a lifelong dream suddenly seemed within reach.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
“I grew up in this world where I didn't always see people who looked like me at the forefront,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of people don't hold up to the media standard of beauty. And so only five percent are typically represented, and I want to be the person to represent the other ninety-five.”
Each contestant and titleholder in the Miss America pageant promotes an individually chosen community service platform with a social impact.
For Christie, the topic of body positivity is timely and trending, especially given recent Congressional scrutiny of Facebook and reports of its social media platforms’ damaging effects on young people.
“Our young children nowadays are spending hours in front of screens, just seeing these perfectly edited and curated posts and videos,” she said. “And it's not actually reality.”
But a quick glance at social media comment sections proves that even a feel-good movement is not without its critics. To those who say body positivity promotes lazy or unhealthy lifestyles, Christie cautions against a rush to judgment.
“I actually have been a competitive swimmer for my whole life,” she explained. “Going through high school, I had a lot of medical issues. I just didn't really know the reason also why like, I would exercise so much, but I wouldn't always feel the greatest and I would gain weight.” At age 15, Christie got some answers. She was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, a hormonal disorder which frequently leads to weight gain. Several years later, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and lupus.
By sharing her personal story, Christie hopes to challenge assumptions about weight and body image.
“You never know what a person is going through. Everybody comes in all different shapes and sizes and abilities. I have so much more to offer than just what I look like on the outside.”
Christie said she’s been well received in the pageant community. Contrary to the stereotypes of catty contestants depicted in movies, she’s made treasured friendships in her three years competing – along with nearly $9,000 in scholarship money so far, which the trained vocalist plans put toward her master’s degree in Music Therapy.
“I think that everybody has been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “I mean, there's always online talk, some people are like, ‘Oh, like, can the fat girl really win? Or can she do well? But I think that that's what I'm trying to prove. I’m more than just a body type. I’m a person with a story to tell. And that's why I'm here. I'm here for the questions.”
Christie will compete for the title of Miss Connecticut in April. The 100th Miss America will be crowned before a live audience at the Mohegan Sun casino on Dec. 16. The casino in Uncasville will be home to the competition for the next three years.