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Mikayla Holmgren Is the First Woman With Down Syndrome to Compete in a Miss USA Pageant

Mikayla Holmgren took the world of pageants by storm by showing them that beauty need not fit one rigid, exclusive, mold; there’s room for everyone. The 22-year-old became the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA State Pageant.

The Miss Minnesota pageant, which took place on Tuesday, hosted yet another historical barrier-breaking moment of inclusivity, with Halima Aden’s — a Muslim hijabi woman — participation in 2016.

Mikayla Holmgren is from Marine on St. Croix and a student at Saint Paul’s Bethel University. At 6 years old, she started dancing and hasn’t stopped since. She has been a part of dance troupes and is currently in her university’s Dance Team.

Mikayla did not simply come to compete — she comes with a message.

“I want the world to know that Down syndrome does not define me. With your help, I can help break through walls.”

She wrote this on her GoFundMe page, which sought to raise money to cover unexpected expenses during her participation in the Miss Minnesota Pageant.

She also won the title of Minnesota Junior Miss Amazing 2015.

View this post on Instagram

#Repost @projectjustlikeyou (@get_repost) ・・・ Meet Mikayla! This is her story as she shares it. "My passion is #dancing. I have danced since I was 6 years old. I have been on dance troupes and am currently on the @betheluniversity Dance Team. I choreograph my own dances and have won awards. I have performed at competitions, fundraisers, halftime shows and most recently at the @bestbuddies Leadership Conference in front of 2500 people ( I was asked to be an Ambassador for them). I also enjoy drawing and painting, gymnastics, horseback riding and golf. I was crowned Minnesota Miss Amazing Junior Miss in 2015 and loved it. I was able to go to Nationals in LA and compete there. I love the hair and makeup and wearing a pretty gown. I love the stage. When I got the application in the mail for Miss Minnesota USA, I asked my mom to let me do it. I applied online and was excited when I got the acceptance letter. I want to be able to show others what inclusion is all about, that someone with special needs can go after their dreams. I hope to continue dancing. I want to teach art to young children. And would love to model. I want to live independently and continue to be an advocate for inclusion. I want to be a light shining for acceptance." Mikayla, as you enter into Miss USA, you are paving a way for inclusion, acceptance, and an inspiration for all girls both young and old. You are crushing barriers, stigmas, and making history! Never ever give up on your hopes, dreams, and goals! Mikayla is #JustLikeYou Follow Mikayla- @mikholmgren_inspiring_others

A post shared by Mikayla Holmgren (@mikholmgren_inspiring_others) on

While her Instagram name seems to say it all, it is important to add that Mikayla Holmgren did not just stop at one win. She wanted bigger, more bountiful successes to break stigmas and barriers for women facing disabilities. So she applied for the Miss Minnesota Pageant.

Her participation in Miss Minnesota bought her the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award. In a beautiful blue gown and joyful tears adorning her elated face, she accepted her awards and showed the power of diverse beauty.

Beauty pageants with their fancy, elaborate gowns, shiny ringlets of freshly curled hair mound onto a head brimming with makeup, does not at first glance say “meaningful.” But they can be. Many times the definition of beauty itself is so exclusive and superficial that it becomes a form of degradation. And while outer beauty alone should not express a woman’s value, a pageant’s practice of diversity defies this superficiality and opts instead to honour the beauty of every aspect of every woman.

Girls with disabilities lack positive media representation. They deserve to be portrayed as beautiful and human. They are not merely pity projects whose only asset is an extraordinary “inner” beauty because our society still cannot fathom the idea of beauty belonging to diversity. When a pageant, a cavalcade dedicated to celebrating beauty, opens it arms to various forms of beauty, it sends out an important message of acceptance to the public. It is essential for pageants like Miss Minnesota to use their influence in the world of beauty to show how beauty should not be restrictive in its definition. Pageants have a voice in the media, and they should use it to send messages of empowerment and inclusivity and give girls with disabilities a platform to show their beauty and share their messages.

When the definition of beauty is diversified, it can become a concept of liberation and inclusivity, allowing all women to embrace it by being themselves. Mikayla’s participation shows that any girl should be able to feel good in makeup and a fancy dress. Just because she does not bear several resemblances to your typical model, does not mean she is not beautiful. Beauty belongs to girls with disabilities, too. You shouldn’t have to look a certain way to feel good about yourself, nor should you have to adhere to constraining guidelines to be considered attractive, and Mikayla is here to show that. Conventionality is painfully exclusive, and unnecessary to confine to.

Even though our society has put restraining bars on what beauty is, it is people like Mikayla, following their dreams and passions, who break the bars and shine their brightest and show the world what beauty really is. Mikayla Holmgren will continue to meet an abundance of successes and show the world that no restrictive barrier will stand in her way. Girls with disabilities deserve to feel and be seen as beautiful because they are- inside and out.

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Ibnat Islam is a high school student who loves dedicating her time to reading mountains of books, writing, and watching workplace comedies.

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