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Meet Marisa Butler of Miss World America in West Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marisa Butler.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Growing up I was far more likely to wear cleats than high heels, have mud on my face rather than makeup, and “doing my hair,” meant a tight ponytail to keep it off my face while I played sports. So much to everyone’s surprise, when my senior portrait photographer suggested I should compete in a pageant, I said yes and signed up.

Initially, I will admit I did it more as a joke and out of curiosity than out of a drive to actually win. I had it in my mind that pageant girls were superficial, lacking in intellect, and were catty. But I would soon find out, as anyone who has actually been within the pageant world knows, those stereotypes are far from the truth. At the orientation, I met the outgoing titleholders, Alexis and Ashley. I was so impressed by how eloquent, well put together, classy and intelligent both the titleholders were. What initially started as a fun joke quickly morphed into a serious goal.

I wanted to experience the same growth they did during their year of service and inspire other young women the way they inspired me that day. I went on to compete in the teen pageant that year, placing first runner up. It was the best decision of my life because it was through pageants that I found my voice, my truest friends, and the woman I am today. To date, I have competed in 12 pageants – from the local level to the international level and within four different systems. I have competed in pageants on the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest, and even all the way to the Far East in China.

I have won, I have placed, and I have been a non-finalist, I have won special awards and won nothing at all. No matter the outcome, I always walked away having gained something. At my first pageant, I learned to not stereotype groups of people because more often than not those stereotypes are unfair and incorrect. In fact, the girls who compete in pageants are often some of the most intelligent, compassionate and well-rounded young women I know, which is a far cry from my initial judgment. During my second pageant, I learned to overcome my fears as I sang in front of an audience for the first time.

My third pageant, I learned humbleness as I went from consistently being first runner up to not placing. My fourth I learned resilience, and to always keep fighting for your dream. It was not until my fifth and sixth pageants though that I began to realize that the most important thing you can gain from a pageant is friendships and personal growth. It was this revelation that I believed allowed me to finally be in the right mindset to win for the first time in my seventh pageant, Miss Maine USA 2016. Since then I have won two more titles, Miss San Diego 2018, and most recently Miss World America 2018.

Out of all the titles, I could have won, Miss World America is the one that resonates with me the most. Since beginning my pageant journey, it has always been a dream of mine to be a national titleholder and represent my country at an international pageant. Miss World is the oldest and largest international pageant in the world. It is also the pageant that, in my opinion, promotes the most well rounded and empowered individuals and fits my personality the best. Where most pageants only have an interview, swimsuit, evening gown, and talent portion, Miss World has more diversity in their areas of competition.

Miss World is judged based on a series of fast track events, their core competition areas, and your overall personality. The fast tracks include Top Model, Multimedia, Sports (instead of swimsuit), Talent, the Head to Head Challenge (public group interview), and Beauty with a Purpose (the contestant’s charitable cause). In addition to these fast track events, each contestant also participates in a private interview and submits multiple video entries prior to the final night. Final night events include modeling a cocktail dress and evening gown and enduring multiple rounds of on-stage interviews.

Other areas of competition that are not directly judged include the national costume, traditional dance, opening number, tourism promotion video competition, world fashion designer award, and multiple online popular votes. The contestants are also judged on how they treat one another and pageant staff and sponsors throughout the entire five-week long competition. Becoming Miss World America 2018 is the culmination of seven years of hard work and dedication to my pageant journey, and twenty-five years on this journey we call life.

As someone who has multiple and, some would say, conflicting, interests (an academic, a jock, a conservationist, a classical singer, and a woman in a STEM career path just to name a few) I found myself belonging to many different social circles, but not quite fitting into any of them. Pageants – Miss World in particular -gave me a place where I finally felt like I fit in, a place where my many interests were applauded instead of stifled, a place to belong and grow. To be able to represent my country, my pageant family, and myself at a national and international level is the greatest honor of my life so far.

During my time at Miss World, I felt like my pageant journey came full circle. I not only accomplished my goal of winning a national title and competing at an international pageant, but I surpassed what I had believed was possible for myself. During my time there, I placed in the top 18 for talent with my opera piece Nessun Dorma, which was a big personal win for me. My older sister is a phenomenal opera singer, so I often felt as if I was in her shadow.

Placing in the top 18 for talent, performing my song for the world, and being met with so much support and encouragement from my fellow contestants allowed me to return home with a new sense of confidence in my singing ability. Another, somewhat smaller, win for my self-confidence came from an unsuspecting place – the opening number dance. Anyone who knows me knows I am a self-proclaimed bad dancer. Arguably, the opening number dance has always been the aspect of pageants that I have struggled with the most.

At Miss World, I somehow found myself at the front for the routine. Scared I would mess up the dance, I practiced night and day to get it right. Then, one day at rehearsal, our choreographer announced if anyone was having trouble with the dance, they should ask USA (Me) for some help. Being named as one of the girls who knew the dance well was something I have never experienced before, and while it was a small win, it was a big deal for someone who thought dancing wasn’t and couldn’t ever be their thing.

Knowing this should give you some peace of mind because it allows you to let go of things you cannot control and let go of unneeded stress. Don’t spread yourself thin worrying about things out of your control. Just go and be the best you, and show them you are one of the girls who deserves to win. That is all you can do. Uncontrollables determine the winner after that.

Going into pageant weekend, control the controllables, and forget about the uncontrollables. It should be a fun experience that you can walk away with not only new found friends, but sisters for life.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road no. It took me seven tries before I won a competition, which included three first runner up placements, a fourth runner up placement, and two competitions where I went unplaced.

I even had one judge tell me after a pageant I came the first runner up in that they selected the winner because she did the best she could do, and despite me doing better than she did that night, they knew that wasn’t the best I could do and wanted to preserve my one shot at nationals for when I was at my own personal best.

While it was hard to hear at the time, I am glad they did that because it was the right decision. Because if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have been able to become Miss World America, and wouldn’t have met my best friend Vanessa (Miss Mexico/Miss World). Everything in our life, the timing, the pain, the success, happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to. You just have to have faith in that.

Please tell us about Miss World America.
I touched upon this briefly in my general story – Miss World America/Miss World is the most well-rounded pageant competition. Where most pageants only have an interview, swimsuit, evening gown, and maybe a talent portion, Miss World has more diversity in their areas of competition.

Miss World is judged based on a series of fast track events, their core competition areas, and your overall personality. The fast tracks include Top Model, Multimedia, Sports (instead of swimsuit), Talent, the Head to Head Challenge (public group interview), and Beauty with a Purpose (the contestant’s charitable cause).

In addition to these fast track events, each contestant also participates in a private interview and submits multiple video entries prior to the final night. Final night events include modeling a cocktail dress and evening gown and enduring multiple rounds of on-stage interviews.

Other areas of competition that are not directly judged include the national costume, traditional dance, opening number, tourism promotion video competition, world fashion designer award, and multiple online popular votes.

The contestants are also judged on how they treat one another and pageant staff and sponsors throughout the entire five-week long competition. One of the major differences between Miss World and other International pageants is the lack of a swimsuit competition, which was replaced in favor of the sports fast track which I won. The most important fast track for Miss World is our Beauty With a Purpose.

Beauty with a Purpose was created by Julia Morley in 1972. It is at the heart of Miss World. Hundreds of millions of pounds (Miss World is UK owned) have been raised and donated to local and international organizations in aid of disadvantaged children the world over. The winner of Miss World goes on a year-long Beauty With a Purpose tour, in which she aids and advocates for a special humanitarian cause all over the world.

At the Miss World competition, we hold a charity gala in which each contestant brings an auction item to help raise money for the Beauty With A Purpose fund. This year, I tied for the auction item that raised the most money 50,000 RMB. My auction item was a signed Tom Brady Jersey and a signed 49ers football.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would not have originally seen the other contestants and competition, and instead, see them for the friends and mentors that they are. All my closest friends I have made through pageants, but when I was younger and first starting out I could only see them as competition, and I fear I missed out on meeting even more amazing young women because my heart was closed to it.

My advice to anyone competing in a pageant is to support one another. I learned far more about myself and had the most personal development once I started to do this. The benefit of pageants is creating a sisterhood of support. The girls I competed against at Miss USA helped me with my preparations for Miss San Diego and Miss California. And a connection I made through them helped me film my submission video for Miss World America.

The support system you gain and the network you gain are going to become the most important thing to you in the long run, not the crown. I now have multiple friends in every state across the country, and in 118 countries worldwide. You can learn so much from one another if you realize you are not competing against them, you’re competing against yourself.

Below is an excerpt from a training package I had put together for the girls I coach that explains this: I am sure by now you have heard the age-old phrase “You are not competing against the other girls, you are only competing against yourself.” I am sure, if you are competitive in nature as I was, you think internally “yeah, yeah sure, but at the end of the day it is a competition, and we are competing against each other.”

One thing you need to realize that took me a while to comprehend is what they really mean is more than one girl deserves to win at any given pageant. There will always be other girls who are putting their best foot forward, who want it just as much as you and has worked just as hard if not harder. Your job is to prepare yourself to be one of the girls who deserve to win. THAT is the real competition.

Out of this group of girls is where the winner is found, but she isn’t selected because she is skinner or prettier or smarter, etc. because once you are in that group, it is an even playing field. Everyone in this group has controlled their controllable, the objective and tangible factors. Instead, the winner is selected due to subjective and intangible factors such as the unique preferences of the judges on that day.

Which brings me to my next point: “Different judges, different results” or even “Different night, same judges, different results.” It could be as simple as the timing, perhaps a blonde barista was rude to the judge that morning, and because of that, they subconsciously prefer the brunette contestant that day, yet perhaps any other day they would have liked the blonde a little more.

Judges are human, and because of that, they can not completely isolate their own bias no matter how hard they may try. This is why in my thesis report in college where I analyzed as many tangible factors as I could regarding pageants, the data was only able to explain less than 20% of the results, with a wide standard deviation. This means 80% of judging is done subjectively instead of objectively.

Knowing this should give you some peace of mind because it allows you to let go of things you cannot control and let go of unneeded stress. Don’t spread yourself thin worrying about things out of your control. Just go and be the best you, and show them you are one of the girls who deserves to win. That is all you can do. Uncontrollable determine the winner after that.

Going into pageant weekend, control the controllables, and forget about the uncontrollables. It should be a fun experience that you can walk away with not only new found friends, but sisters for life.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jonathan David @jon.snip

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