Changing society’s beauty standards and creating inclusive spaces in pageant competitions is the ultimate goal of the current Miss Teenager World, who is from South Surrey.
Jessica MacNiel, 16, has been competing in pageants for years, but still sees issues in competitions that she wants to help change.
“When I was younger, I was looking up to these beauty icons and I never saw myself in them. It was heartbreaking, I tried everything to change, to be like them, to pursue how they look and it was not healthy, it was not safe, quite honestly, it almost killed me,” she said.
“My real goal with competing nationally and internationally was to give kids a role model that I felt like I never had.”
After not placing as high as she was expecting in a Canadian competition in August 2021, MacNiel was elated to win Miss Teen World Canada, her second time around.
One week after receiving her national crown, MacNiel headed to Ecuador in October 2021 to represent Canada, among 40 contestants from different nations at an international teen competition.
Up for grabs were the Miss Teen World title, which is won by the contestant with the best talents and presentation, Miss Teen Model of the World, which is for the girl most promising to become a fashion model and Miss Teenager World, which encapsulates both titles.
MacNiel was crowned Miss Teenager World, albeit in an unprecedented way.
Right before her title and Miss Teen Model of the World were announced, there was a massive power outage, leading all contestants to be rushed to their hotels. It was there that MacNiel found out she was chosen Miss Teenager World, which was exhilarating for her.
“Somebody had taken my hard work and seen it,” she said.
Since being crowned, MacNiel has been the subject of negative comments and cyber-bullying on her social media accounts.
“I’ve faced a lot of people telling me I’m not pretty enough for pageants, they can’t believe that I’ve won pageants, that it’s not real. It’s really mean, it really hurts. I’m still a kid… People keep trying to push me down but I keep getting back up.”
This is partly why MacNiel’s platform is ‘Beauty is not skin deep’ – a mantra about which she is very passionate. So much so, in fact, that she is working on putting up posters in high school and dance studio washrooms – MacNiel is dancer herself – around the city with those words written on them.
“I find those are places where body image issues present themselves most,” she said.
MacNiel wants to remind young people that they are “a beautiful person because of the way you act, the person you show people, not the way you look.”
What was lacking in Canadian competitions, MacNiel easily found in Ecuador.
“Nobody looked the same… Some are mid-size, some are super thin, some are tall, some are short, all different races, it was impressive to see something in the pageant world of that nature,” MacNiel said.
“It made me feel more significant than competing in Canadian pageantry, which are often looking for one thing and that is a tall, thin girl. I don’t think that’s the only way to display beauty.”
MacNiel would like to see her friends in the pageant world who do not fit typical beauty standards be crowned also.
During her reign, MacNiel has focused her attention on raising money for charity and community service work. She raised more than $5,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation, runs summer camps for kids, ran online donation campaigns, while also raising money through bake sales and going door-to-door.
MacNiel emphasizes that beauty pageants are not just about how someone looks and that crown-holders are “doing real good for the world and making real change.”
Her time in pageants is far from over, with MacNiel hoping to one day be crowned Ms. Universe.
In the meantime, she is judging pageants, and is particularly excited about an upcoming Canadian personality pageant.
“My ultimate goal is to kind of re-write history of Canadian pageantry, to make it open to anyone who’s willing to put in the hard work.”