There’s more to Miss Universe than flubbed notecards and confused contestants – two former competitors teamed up to create Universal Confidence, a series of workshops to help young girls dealing with low self-esteem.
It’s a topic Tegan Martin, Miss Australia, and Nia Sanchez, Miss USA, understand personally. Though both made it to the Miss Universe finals in 2014, they grew up feeling uncomfortable in their skin.
“I had a difficult time in school,” Martin, 23, tells Australia’s Newcastle Herald. “I most certainly didn’t have model looks, and I was tangled up in a very draining group of friends in year seven to eight. I went through a stage where I didn’t want to go at all.”
As a model in Paris, Martin says she suffered from “a period of extreme body confidence issues,” coupled with a friend’s suicide at 15.
And Sanchez, 25, had a tumultuous teen life, living in a women’s shelter at one point after her family split apart.
Now, as former Miss Universe contestants, Martin says they constantly hear from young girls battling similar feelings of low self-confidence. In one recent letter, Martin heard from a girl who wants to model but feels discouraged because she gets bullied for her weight.
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“The fact that young girls feel pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty and sizes is really sad,” Martin says. “We all face difficult times growing up, and Nia and I are very open about our own teen battles.”
Thus came the idea for their Universal Confidence conferences, which kicked off in Las Vegas on Dec. 19. Now they’re headed to Martin’s native Australia for workshops in Tasmania, Sydney and Newcastle, where they’ll teach girls everything from how to master interviews, health and fitness tricks, and dealing with stress, to how to walk.
“You don’t have to be a pageant girl or model to carry yourself like one!” Martin writes on Instagram.