Emma Loney, current Miss Wisconsin Earth, made a historic moment in pageantry when she placed top 12 at Miss Earth USA 2021, the first plus size women to place in a major national American pageant. Lucas Sigarini sits down with her as part of our Queenly Tea Talks Instagram Live series.
Lucas: Hi Emma, thanks for chatting with us on today's Queenly Tea Talks. Let’s start off with an introduction. Tell us about yourself!
Emma: My name is Emma Loney, the current Miss Wisconsin Earth USA. I just got done competing at Miss Earth USA 2 weeks ago. It was an amazing opportunity and was excited to place in the top 12 of the pageant. Thank you, by the way, for sharing my performance, especially in swimsuit! I love the outpour of support I’ve been getting from so many people.
Emma: I’ve been competing in pageant since high school, mostly in smaller ones like National American Miss (my first pageant!). I joined this most recent pageant because I felt a connection to the Miss Earth Organization. All these women were competing in a pageant, but they were also advocates in their community, working on that unified mission of protecting the Earth. I thought that was so amazing and wanted to get involved.
Emma: I can’t say that I ever had a horrible experience in pageantry, I’ve learned something from every pageant system I’ve done. I think everything is a learning experience whether you win or lose, it’s what you take away from it.
L: What would you say to girls who are interested in pageants but are nervous to start?
E: The most important thing is to embrace who you are. There was the longest time where I thought I had to conform and look like everyone else and do what everyone else was doing to win or be successful. I wasn’t embracing who I was as a person: what made me different, what made me “me”.
E: What makes you different is not something you need to hide. Being curvy and plus size in pageantry of course has its fair share of challenges, and instead of hiding that, I’ve accepted it and have been able to do so much with that platform.
L: We don’t see so many plus size women in pageantry, and to me it’s very frustrating. I remember in 2014, Miss Indiana USA was being called too big and shamed for her body, even for being rather slim and athletic. I don’t see too many women in the USA system place or win. For your historic placement in Miss Earth USA, how does it feel to be the first in a major national pageant system to place?
E: It’s definitely difficult, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. This perception was something I had mentally prepared for because of the backlash I anticipated. Following Miss Earth USA I received my fair share of negativity, and it takes a lot of mental strength to experience that. (On the topic of body representation) There are so many women out there who are assumed to be healthy when they might be over-exercising or starving, because of only what we have taught people to believe is healthy. So by competing in pageants, you can change those assumptions of what it means to be healthy and take care of yourself.
E: One important thing you said is how people don’t understand what plus size is. Even when people see a size 6 or 8, they’re shocked at the body type because it differs from the usual size 2 or 4. I’ve heard many negative remarks like “Oh she’s not plus size, she’s huge and unhealthy” because don’t have an understanding of what a plus size model is, but it’s important to know there’s so many different body types and so much more to see represented than what people don’t know.
L: The pageant world still. has a lot to learn, for a community that’s been around 80 years! Hopefully they open up their minds about body types and skin color, because pageants are supposed to be fun! It’s supposed to be about embracing different women.
E: Yes! What is the point of pageantry if it is not to empower other women, and we should be representing people of different backgrounds. We have so much work to do in pageantry as a whole!
L: What is your favorite competition segment of pageants in general, as a current titleholder?
E: I have always loved the interview segment! I have experience as a public speaker and am in law school right now, so the pageant interview is a place where I can really show my platform and education. With that in mind, as a plus size contestant, I know I need to perform extra well in this segment , with the preemptive knowledge of being scored lower in swimsuit and other physical categories because of my body. It’s a good place for me to say “hey, I can speak well, I can represent the title well if you give me the chance”.
E: But in terms of fun, I really do love the swimsuit segment! I think it shows so much empowerment, as an opportunity to show your confidence and stage presence and being able to love yourself. I wish that more people would see that it’s not just one body type meant to , and here we are with this past competition to have been able to see that!
L: I really loved your swimsuit performance. It was everything, on point, seriously.
L: Let’s talk about the evening gown! How was shopping for a gown for Miss Earth USA? Was it hard for you to find a gown in your size?
E: In the past I’ve only bought US based designers, and I’d try to buy for my size, but they’re not designed to look good in my size! So I’ll end up in that situation, and I wouldn’t have other options. But something really cool happened this year: my dress designer is from the Philippines and reached out to me. He’s a new designer, who just started his couture label King of Queens Fashion and Design, but I said “all right, sign me up!” I ended up with a gown that I absolutely love, and it was a really amazing experience.
L: Let’s talk about your walk. Your walk is seriously on point. Hair flips, poses, everything!
E: I’m going to be completely honest, I hadn’t had the chance to practice in that dress because that dress shed glitter everywhere! I was very limited in my options to practice. I have had experience runway modelling in the past, and was able to take what I’ve done before, and just went on stage and embraced it!
L: What have you seen from the response on the national level on body positivity?
E: Both positive and negative. I’ve made the mistake of going through and reading comments on videos people posted of me. I was really taken back by that hate, but at the same time, I’ve gotten hundreds of loving, supportive messages from people. These are people who have felt empowered by someone like me, and I think that’s so much more important than all the negative things said about me.
E: Of course, no one wants to see the negativity, but every time you challenge a societal norm, negativity is going to be there. After taking a step back, I said to myself “You know what? This is irrelevant, I’m going to keep doing myself and encouraging others to love themselves and embrace their bodies”.
L: This is bigger than haters. Actually, I love my haters, there’s always going to be talking bad things about you, when someone says something bad, I’m going to say “I’m going to prove them wrong”. You’re going to show them!
E: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and as history showed us, there is backlash to anyone challenging a norm. They don’t dictate your life, and don’t dictate what you do.
L: What is your life right now? I know you’re in law school right now, what are your days like?
E: I leave in a couple weeks to go to New York for New York Fashion Week! Along with that, I have a friend that I made at Miss Earth USA who is also a plus size model, and we’re going to Miami soon to do a few photo shoots. But I’m mostly grinding out my work at law school, focused on reading and classes. My constitutional law book is 3,000 pages!
L: I have to ask: do you have a favorite pageant girl or favorite pageant titleholder?
E: I fangirled when Deshauna Barber commented on my social media posts and started following me. I followed her since she was crowned as Miss USA and right before leaving for nationals, I sat down and watched her graduation commencement speech. I was so inspired by her words!
L: Do you have plans to join Miss USA? Everybody wants to see you competing at Miss USA. The new Miss USA director, Crystle Stewart, did an interview where she expressed support for inclusive body sizes on the USA stage.
E: I think that could be a journey at some point, but right now I have not made any official plans. That’s so good to hear about the new director, because Miss USA has been known for so long in looking for a very specific look and body type to crown. We love inclusivity, so hearing Crystle Stewart saying that makes me really happy.
L: Last question: what’s the most important thing you’d want to say to girls who are thinking about going into pageantry, that might not fit into the standard mold of a pageant girl?
E: The most important you can do is not lose yourself. Especially if you are curvy or plus size. In my pageant career, I achieved more than I could do, and it’s because I didn’t give up. It’s because I kept going and challenging everything, saying “I want to be here and I care about all these things (in my platform and advocacy)”. Whatever makes you different or sets you apart, I really encourage yourself to never change it, and don’t change it based on expectations by other people.