Claudia Engelhardt, Miss Lynchburg Virginia USA 2021, sits down with our very own, Kathy, as part of our Queenly Tea Talks Instagram Live series to talk about her journey into the pageant world.
Kathy: So glad to connect after so many months. For those of you who don’t know, Claudia and I competed together in Miss Earth USA earlier this year. Let’s jump right into your background! I know you have a lot of success as a fashion model. I am so curious, how did you get into that?
Claudia: I was signed in 2018 with an agency. I believe timing is everything. They were looking for a curve model and at that time, I did not have a single photo. But luckily, I was signed! Now I am officially signed in Manhattan.
K: Oh my gosh! I am so excited for you. What were some of your favorite brands that you have enjoyed working with?
C: Pertaining to dresses specifically, I started with Faviana. I actually started out as a social media intern, and then I created a great relationship with them and was able to become an ambassador and then start booking with them.
K: That is so cool. You have great resume items there. As we all know, you are also a very established pageant titleholder. I would love for us to hear about how you got into pageants.
C: I started at a very young age. It started with acting, singing, and dancing. I love being on stage. I started my college career as a musical theater major. Now I am focused on social media management, but growing up I loved being on stage. I felt comfortable and like it was a safe place. It kinda just translated well into the pageant world. Everytime I participate, I try to be a better contestant and a better woman.
K: That is incredible. I would like to segway into the “tea” part of our tea talk. As you know, us here at Queenly are trying to break stereotypes in the pageant industry. We all know how pageants have a long and complicated history.
K: Let’s talk about body acceptance and body inclusivity. I know you have been a huge advocate and I would love to hear your thoughts.
C: In terms of inclusivity, I mean lets just look at the class of Miss USA 2021. We have all different nationalities, races, sexual orientations, etc. When we are able to see ourselves, whether that be our height, our size, etc celebrated, it encourages me to go and put myself out there.
K: Let’s get into the tough questions. What can the pageant world still improve on?
C: I think communication and just listening. It is so important to have our voices heard. I think when organizations take the time to listen and also act on that, that is where change is created.
K: If you feel comfortable sharing, I would love to hear more about any difficult experiences you had in the pageant world.
C: You know, I wish I could say it was easy. But it was not. I grew up working at dress shops. I dressed hundreds of girls, and I learned that anything above a size 10 was outdated. It wasn’t fun or trendy. And that was sending me a message that if you are above this size, you do not deserve the amazing fashion that is out there. So I struggled finding formalwear that resonated with me. So many brands are doing a better job now of being inclusive. We are walking in the right direction.
K: I think it is amazing to see beautiful women like you on our screen. It is really changing the conversation. Going back to that mentality: What was the journey like trying to promote your own body acceptance?
C: I actually decided to educate myself. It was a very selfish journey, but I wanted to do it for myself. I wanted to take care of my mental health and once I was able to get that training, I felt so much more empowered. And then I wanted to share this with other girls.
K: I saw that your started a hashtag #onewomenmovement within your organization, The Mindful Living Company. I know that is also the name of your body acceptance movement. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that means to you.
C: For me, we sometimes just place ourselves in boxes by silly things, but it is important to remember that we should all be supporting each other. With the help of a bunch of my friends, we turned it into a photo series. I wanted to provide the girls with the opportunity to be on a photoshoot set and feel beautiful and empowered.
K: And your organization does not just showcase pageant and fashion models, right?
C: Absolutely not, we have had so many women come out. We had a mother of three, a coach, etc. There is literally no one who cannot apply. Every woman is welcome.
K: Let’s jump into pageants again. There are so many topics I want your opinion on. I wanted to ask what the swimsuit segment means in pageants. Do you like or not like it, would love your thoughts!
C: You know at first, it was really daunting to me. I am 5’10 and if I do not have to wear heels, I am not doing it. I even competed in the Miss USA Teen competition when swimsuit was still a part of the competition. It was really a journey.
C: I now view the swimsuit segment of the pageant as the biggest confidence booster there could be. I think owning your body inside and out is something beautiful. We are so much more about our bodies and the swimsuit competition allows that to shine through.
K: I love that. What do you, outside the swimsuit segment, feel the most comfortable in?
C: I love a really good power suit and a really good interview dress, which brings me to my favorite part of a pageant, which is the interview! It just makes me feel like a boss and in charge.
K: I love jumpsuits! When it comes to body acceptance, what do you actively do to be a role model for younger women?
C: I have to give a lot of credit to my social media skills. But I realized, with social media we have the power to connect and be visible. Putting out that content is important.
K: To end, you and many others are at the intersection of representation. How does it feel to have all this pressure?
C: I have to say that it is an honor. Just having one aspect that I can be a role model for is huge. I would have looked to see someone you looked like myself when I was younger.
Thank you Claudia! Check out the full interview here and make sure to follow Queenly on Instagram for more exclusive interviews.