Olivia Pura, Miss Illinois USA 2020, sits down with our very own, Trisha, as part of our Queenly Tea Talks Instagram Live series to talk about her journey into the pageant world.
Trisha: I wanted to start off by asking you how your year has been, given the challenging shelter-in-place situation and having to prepare for Miss USA in quarantine.
Olivia: I think this goes for everybody. This year has been so different than anybody expected. I was very fortunate to be crowned in September. Up until March, I was able to do a bunch of events. However, I have learned to use my title with technology and reach people in another way.
Trisha: We have to find those little slivers of positivity and silver linings. I would love to ask, what sparked your interest in biochemistry?
Olivia: This is something I discovered in college. I had a biochemistry class that I was taking as a general education course, but I fell in love with it. But my love for science comes from the time when I could talk and read. Science felt like magic, and I loved it.
Trisha: That’s interesting! We all know there is a huge gender inequality in the STEM field. What are some of the challenges you have encountered in the STEM field?
Olivia: One of the biggest ones is in chemistry. It is very hard to find mentors and find someone that I can connect with. I think anyone can be great at science, but when I think about a mentor, I want someone that I can connect with beyond science. There is also this notion that women are not as good at science as men. There have been many times where someone will question my academics when they hear I am in pageantry. Just because someone is more feminine, does not mean they are any less capable.
Trisha: When we started Queenly, a lot of people asked us about our team. We are a full team of females, and they always expected everyone but us to be behind the work. We are just as capable.
I think we need this new generation of Queens. I love that we are seeing this new type of unapologetic woman. Moving forward, how was the transition of being a Teen to being a Miss?
Olivia: I would say that compared to most people, I had a really fast transition. The biggest transition was going from “this is what I want to do with my life” to “I am doing this”. You can look at someone in the eyes and tell them, I am accomplishing this. There was also the swimsuit segment, which is more technical, but still a part of the competition.
Trisha: Speaking about the swimsuit segment, what are your thoughts on it? Especially considering that Miss America took it out?
Olivia: I think the decision for a pageant system to have or not have a swimsuit competition is completely okay. It’s completely up to the system. I don’t see anything wrong with removing swimsuit or choosing not to have one in the first place, as long as the reason is that they simply don’t want to have it.
I think it’s wrong to justify the purpose for removing it by saying that it is objectifying women. It sends the wrong message. Women can choose how they want to empower themselves, even if that means competing in a swimsuit competition. If a woman chooses to empower themselves in another way, that’s perfectly fine too.
Trisha: I agree, I think it definitely boils down to having that choice. Feminism is about having choices!
Actually we have a question in the comments, let’s answer it: With one year competing during COVID and the other not, is there anything you took for granted and what has been your favorite part of being a title holder this year?
Olivia: This year made me realize how much I could utilize social media. As a Teen, I did not use my social media networks as much, but it was definitely a big tool I could have used.
I took for granted how easy it is to just schedule things. Just in general. So many things are being rescheduled and being pushed around. I'm hoping that things can go back to normal and I can start doing more things with my title.
Trisha: With that in mind, I always love to hear what changes or improvements would you like to see in the pageant system?
Olivia: I wish we had more information going into Miss USA. They don’t give us an itinerary and that’s why you see girls come with like eight suitcases. We have to be prepared for anything!
Trisha: Something I would love to see is more publicized interviews. I am in the tech/startup industry where innovation and transparency are prioritized. I think a lot more can be done with communication and transparency and establishing that trust.
Someone asked: if you were to give advice to someone who is just starting in pageantry, what would you say?
Olivia: I competed for the Miss Illinois Teen USA knowing nothing. It was a crazy experience. Use YouTube and the internet. I used free coaching videos for advice for interviews, wardrobe, and anything! I wasn’t trying to fit a mold. I think that is the best way to approach things. Practice on being yourself.
Trisha: Exactly, I think it is about refining yourself. Every single year I competed, I found that there were things about myself that I knew were there, but I was too scared to let it out. Oh, this is a good question: How can male friends support their friends that are competing in pageants?
Olivia: I actually have a very supportive boyfriend. The best way a male can support their friend is by verbally supporting them. Tell them that you are proud of them. Tell them that the community service work they are doing is important. Even a simple Instagram comment. It goes a long way. And stand up for your friend if someone criticizes them for participating in pageants.
Trisha: Okay, one last question: In your experience competing in pageants, have you taken any competition losses?
Olivia: So I did lose Miss Teen USA. I placed in the top 16, and that was really special. Maybe it was because I was new to the pageant world, but I was okay with losing. I told my mom it went so well! And it did. I did not think of the loss as a loss. There is always something you can take from the experience!
Thank you Olivia! Check out the full interview here and make sure to follow Queenly on Instagram for more exclusive interviews.