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Miss USA on Stereotypes About Beauty Pageant Contestants: ‘We Come in All Shapes and Sizes and Colors’

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Miss USA Deshauna Barber is speaking out against the stereotypes she and other pageant contestants encounter.

“In pageantry, there are the stereotypes that women are airheads or that they’re not educated,” Barber, a military officer, tells PEOPLE. “By winning the Miss USA pageant, I was really able to show that a lot of women have so many backgrounds. We’re all so very unique and diverse so I’m so excited that I’m able to represent that, especially as a woman in the military.”

Pageant contestants are targets for harsh criticism — Donald Trump‘s body shaming comments about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado are a high-profile example.

Barber says she has been the target of a lot of name calling in her career. “I was called tar and monkey and the N word. A lot of people thought I should be Miss Africa USA not Miss USA.”

But the 26-year-old found that the best way to deal with negativity is to focus on the good. 

I try to stay as positive as possible and accept the fact that women — we come in all shapes, and sizes, and colors, and I’m glad I’m able to represent that,” she added.

And one of Barber’s missions is to honor military families. As the newly-named godmother of the Carnival Vista, a Carnival Cruise ship, Barber will get to work alongside the cruise line with Operation Homefront, an organization dedicated to serving military families.

“It’s an organization that I’ve worked with a few years ago and they are very much focused on providing a lot of resources for the military family and soldiers,” says Barber. 

RELATED VIDEO: Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber Crowned Miss USA 2016

Barber will help to welcome over 700 military families at the naming ceremony Nov. 4, for an evening on the ship featuring a performance by Carrie Underwood.

I come from a military family, my father, mother, sister, brother, all served the United States Army so I definitely know the sacrifices that military families make,” explains Barber.  “I’m glad that Carnival Cruise Line is showing its appreciation to military families by allowing this real day of luxury for all these families and a concert by Carrie Underwood. It’s going to be great!”