Say what you will about the Miss America pageant (like how it sexualizes women and perpetuates our society’s unhealthy obsession with body image), but they are doing something really awesome right now: They have announced their first-ever contestant with autism.
Meet Alexis Wineman. The 18-year-old recently entered the pageant and became not only the first autistic competitor, but a really healthy role model at the same time. It’s something that is a dream come true for her:
“Growing up, I never was really interested in pageants. I thought it would be something I was never able to do,” she told Today.com. “But by the time I graduated, I kind of realized I’d done a lot of things I’d never thought I could do.”
And this is not the first time she’s entered a beauty pageant either. Wineman was crowned Miss Montana last year, and it’s something she says has been “an amazing, wonderful journey so far.”
Being autistic has been a challenge though. Growing up, Wineman says it was difficult and she struggled to fit in. She didn’t know what was wrong with her until, at age 11, she was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder and borderline Asperger’s syndrome–both which are related to autism.
I was wondering why I was different, why I couldn’t make any friends, why I was bullied. I just kept asking myself, ‘Why, why, why?’
But now, the Miss America contestant has a different view. In high school she became a cheerleader, a cross-country runner, and part of the speech and drama team. Oh, and she also does stand-up comedy about how women are never satisfied with their body image (hooray for bringing attention to that). These are all things, she says, that helped her get out of her comfort zone and discover her true self (without letting her condition hold her back).
Growing up, all I wanted was to be normal. I just wanted to fit in with everyone else. Looking back, I realized it was a waste of time, because normal doesn’t exist. If we could just accept people for their differences, it will make life for our children and for ourselves much, much easier.
How awesome is that?
Wish her luck this Saturday night, January 12, on ABC!
Photo: miss america