“I just needed something to look forward to. And I loved the glamour … it’s fun to embrace your sexuality.”
Miss Utah has opened up about being the first openly bisexual contestant in the Miss USA pageant and touched upon other topics such as mental health and growing up in a conservative household to celebrate Pride Month.
Rachel Slawson, 25, who is currently the title holder older of Miss Utah, spoke out about about the responsibility she felt for being a representative of the LGBT+ community in the contest, which she won in January 2020 after five attempts at securing the crown over seven years.
“It’s about the people you’re representing. You might think it’s you, because you’re the one wearing the crown, but it’s really not,” she said of potentially being a role model to NBC News. “It’s about the ones who are watching you and learning from you.”
The Miss USA pageant has run since 1952, and is currently held by Asya Branch, who was the first Black winner of Miss Mississippi and the first Miss USA to win from the Magnolia State. Due to her father being sent to prison as a child, she has become a dedicated criminal justice reform activist.
For Ms Slawson, aside from giving her opportunity to be an LGBT+ trail blazer, it was also a route that saved her from mental health problems, homelessness and losing her job.
“I just needed something to look forward to. And I loved the glamour … it’s fun to embrace your sexuality,” she said.
According to a 2020 interview with Glamour, Ms Slawson was homeless for four months saying it “was the worst time in my entire life,” and without help from others she would not be as successful as she is now.
“Yeah, I might have nice hair extensions now. I clean up nice. But I know that there’s no difference between the people that have been on the streets for a long time and me, except for the time we ended up there.”
She opened up about living bipolar disorder on Just The Sip, an E! News podcast, and how she found the mania she experiences as a part of her condition to be “far scarier than being suicidal”.
Ms Slawson also gave some insight into why she loves competing in pageants because it was a breakaway from her conservative Mormon childhood. She found novelty in “having a place where you were actually celebrated for being in a swimsuit and it wasn’t degrading was empowering,” she said to NBC.
Pageants being empowering is something that has divided people since the birth of feminism in the 20th century. For instance, contestants cannot be married, have children and are judged on their looks, despite the inclusion of a talent component.
In 1970, British feminists stormed the Royal Albert Hall’s stage at Miss World with flour bombs. In 1984, the BBC stopped airing beauty pageants.
“I believe these contests no longer merit national airtime. They are an anachronism in this day and age of equality and verging on the offensive,” said Michael Grade, the controller of BBC One.
However, academics have recently concluded it is not that easy to categorize it as a negative or a positive for women’s equality.
“Like most things in life, beauty pageants are not all good and not all bad, and their story reveals women’s history.” said Hilary Levey Friedman, author of Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America to Authority magazine.
The Independent reached out to Rachel Slawson for comment.