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Halima Aden Wears a Hijab
Halima Aden decided to enter the Miss Minnesota USA pageant on a whim, never expecting to make history. Though she didn't win, the Muslim teen became the first to compete while wearing a hijab, and her story influenced people around the world.
“I wanted to inspire the other girls that if I could do this pageant, where everybody would be wearing a bikini and I would still find a way to stay true to my religion and stay true to myself and still participate, you can go out and you can be in your basketball team, or you could represent in your volleyball team,” Aden, 19, told PEOPLE.
“I hope that in the years to come I will see more girls that wear a burkini. Or even if it’s not a burkini, to see more women in other communities come and represent themselves. I feel like I’m here to help the next girls.”
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Sarah White Rocks an All-Ages Competition
When Sarah White heard that her breast cancer had returned — and was now stage IV — she got to work on her bucket list. The mom of two and former pageant contestant entered an all-ages competition — and won.
“It was a shock, like, did this really happen?” White says of winning. “Because when I started the journey towards Miss West Virginia, it was just something to focus on. Win or lose, I was just going to do it. If I lose, I lose. It was just something to get me out of the funk. But something good has obviously come out of it.”
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Erin O'Flaherty Becomes the First Openly Gay Winner
“I don’t want to hide any part of myself, I am very proud to be gay, and I am proud that I am bringing visibility to the LGBT community. I never would’ve wanted to hide that,” she told PEOPLE of her decision to be openly gay in the pageant world.
“I think there’s a huge potential to really make an impact, to inspire not only young women, but any young person who feels like they have a dream that might be a little out of their reach, or if they feel like they’re held back by fear,” she says. “My message is, don’t be paralyzed by your fear.”
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Miss Teen USA Ends the Swimsuit Portion
In 2016, the Miss Teen USA pageant put an end to the swimsuit portion of the competition. Instead of strutting their stuff in a bikini, women on stage rocked athletic wear.
“This decision reflects an important cultural shift we’re all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same,” Miss Universe president Paula Shugart told USA Today. “Our hope is that this decision will help all of Miss Teen USA’s fans recognize these young women for the strong, inspiring individuals they are.”
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Jan Gilmore Wins Local Pageant — Curves and All
Jan Gilmore always dreamed of entering a beauty pageant, but the Arkansas mom thought she was too curvy to compete. "I kept saying, ‘No, I’m not the right size or shape to be in a pageant,’ ” Gilmore told Arkansas Matters. But with encouragement from friends and family, she entered her local Miss Conway County pageant — and won. That gave her the confidence to enter the statewide Arkansas Mrs. Fair Queen Pageant, where she placed second overall.
“It took a lot of courage to get up there on that stage, because everyone there was very small,” Gilmore said.
“I overheard [another contestant] talking to another girl, ‘A chubby girl beat me!’ and I was like, ‘Shine like a superstar.’ That’s what I said! And I walked away,” Gilmore added, laughing. “In a sense, what she said was true. But I was like you know what? I’m beautiful just like everyone else. Everyone deserves a chance and I won fair and square.”