Some contestant platforms are much more than personal

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, June 21, 2018

For four nights during pageant week, the audience watches the contestants compete in talent, swimsuit, eveningwear and onstage question, but the role of a Miss Mississippi contestant goes well beyond their performance on the stage.

Each of the 49 contestants in this year’s pageant has a platform they have chosen as the cause they support as the titleholder in their local pageant and will raise awareness for if they are crowned Miss Mississippi or Miss America.

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This year’s contestants have platforms ranging from raising awareness for dance education to promoting organ donation and more, but for some of the contestants their chosen platforms are exceedingly personal and born from their life experiences and heartache.

“I didn’t really choose my platform. My platform kind of chose me,” said Miss Amory Molly May, whose platform is Molly’s Mammogram Mission and raises awareness for breast cancer. “My mom was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer when I was 8 years old…When she was diagnosed, our worlds turned upside down.”

May’s mom was able to beat breast cancer and is a 15 year survivor, but 11 years after her mom’s diagnosis their world was turned upside yet again when May received her own breast cancer diagnosis at only 19.

“I will celebrate my four year anniversary of being cancer free in less than a week. So that is super exciting,” May said.

At 19, May had a double mastectomy forever changing her life both on a day-to-day basis and in the pageant world where she is judged in part by how she looks in a swimsuit. As part of her platform, May has designed two jewelry lines to raise money for cancer research, works with a letter campaign to support recently diagnosed women and collects hats for people going through treatment. She also uses her platform as a contestant to empower women with similar stories.

“In the pageant world, it has given me a wonderful sense that I am proud of the body that I am given and that this body has done way more than walk on stage in a gown or a swimsuit,” May said. “I hope that it shows that you can have parts of your body and one of the parts of your body that makes you feel most feminine taken away from you and I can still get up there and be feminine and be proud of that.”

Miss Dixie Rachel Shumaker has also used her platform Ahead of the Curve- Scoliosis to show what your body can overcome. She was diagnosed with Scoliosis at 11 and at 13 had spinal fusion surgery to correct two curves in her spine. Her platform is centered on educating children about the warning signs and lobbying the legislature to mandate Scoliosis screenings.

“It was a no-brainer to choose this as my platform because there are no mandatory Scoliosis screenings in the state of Mississippi. There are actually only mandatory screenings in eight states so I was never screened,” Shumaker said.

Raising Money and Awareness

For Miss Delta State University Gillian Oakley her platform on suicide awareness was born out of her own heartbreak from losing her dad to suicide. It has enabled her to raise awareness and served as a cathartic process as she has grown more comfortable talking about the pain of her past.

“It has made my job as a participant in this competition easy because it is something I am so passionate about. Because it is something that caused me so much pain, I can bring happiness to other people,” Oakley said. “I think telling it so many times, I have found new ways and easier ways to tell it and it has become easier for me to explain the pain you feel.”

She uses her platform to raise money for the American Suicide Prevention Foundation and support the Semicolon Project to end the stigma around mental health.

Miss Rankin County Maggie Shoultz also uses her own life story to promote her pageant and has used it to become more comfortable telling her story. Shoultz, who was adopted at birth, chose Adoption is an Option as her platform and works with an organization that supports women considering adoption. In recent years, she has also focused much of her platform on supporting children in foster care.

“Children in foster care deal with a lot more than children who are just adopted out of the hospital or private agency,” Shoultz said. “I used to not be able to talk about it at all and get upset about it. It just goes to show that no matter where you are from or what happens in your life you can rise above it.”

Miss Warren County Vivian O’Neal’s platform is Flex Your Muscles for Muscular Dystrophy and was born out of watching her own brother struggle with Nemaline Myopathy, which is supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“Not many people are aware about what the muscular dystrophy organization is or what they do, so my goal is to change that,” O’Neal said

No matter their platform, each of the contestants said simply having their current title has drastically changed their ability to raise awareness and get in front of people who are willing to listen and can help, something that will only improve if they are crowned Miss Mississippi Saturday.

“The Miss Mississippi Organization has opened up so may doors for me because even though it is not about the crown, the crown will draw somebody’s attention to you, they will listen to you and they will hear,” O’Neal said.