Renee Felicity, Miss Stanford USA, sits down with our cofounder Kathy Zhou, as part of our Queenly Tea Talks Instagram Live series to talk about her journey into the pageant world.
Kathy: Hi everyone! Thank you so much for joining us and thank you Renne for letting us host you. Renne is a first generation Filipina and the current Miss Stanford USA. Throughout her reign, Renee has used her platform to bring awareness to alopecia and break beauty stereotypes in the pageant industry.
I wanted to start out by saying I am such a fan. So I wanted to ask you, how do you feel about all the attention you have been getting recently surrounding your title win and platform?
Renee: Honestly, it’s really surreal. I never expected to get this popular online. I didn’t think that it would gain so much momentum. You know, I am just a local title holder so I did this because I thought it would be empowering for me. I had no idea it would be picked up internationally. It’s been really crazy.
K: We wanted to kick off with a fun question. We want to know more about your pageant wardrobe. Tell us more about your wardrobe and your dresses!
R: So The most popular dress that broke the internet was my evening dress. It is by a Filipino designer named Benj Leguiab. My mom found him on Instagram and Facebook and thought “Omg it is so beautiful!”.
I was really looking for a dress that would complement a bald head. I really wanted a high neck or turtleneck. He is not the kind of designer to give away a dress, but it was really special to me that my story resonated with him and he was willing to do this for me. I hope I made him proud.
You looked fantastic! How has your pageant experience been overall? How did you get started?
R: I first competed as a teenager in Miss Connecticut Teen USA 2015 and I was 15 years old when I entered. I wasn’t really interested in pageants before. I joined the Miss Connecticut Teen USA pageant because my mom actually nominated me. She submitted a selfie to the website and they got back to us and wanted me to be a contestant.
When I first competed, I was just a shy high school student. I didn’t really think that much about what I looked like. That was just not part of my world. It was nothing I thought I would do.
The first time I competed, I didn’t think it was something I liked. It was fun, but everything was very new to me. I was just so nervous and so intimidated. I definitely learned a lot and gained more confidence my second time.
K: It’s great that you got to start at such an early age. The pageant world has changed so much in the past few years. So, we really want to know how activism has been part of your pageant career!
R: So the reason I joined a pageant this time around was because I got to the point where I was pretty comfortable with my own body and alopecia. I believed I had reached a point where I could be a role model to other people.
I thought about my time in the teen competition, and at that point I didn’t really have a platform. So I thought this was a great time to compete and grow my platform.
K: That’s amazing! I love that and thank you so much for sharing your story with the world!
R: I think in a lot of ways it is hard to put yourself out there. People always have a lot to say. I have gotten a lot of nasty dms..but I have also gotten a lot of positive feedback. I can’t control what other people think, so all I can do is just be myself.
K: That is a really powerful message. Do you have advice on how to deal with the haters in general?
R: It depends on the kind of person you are. You have two options. You can put your phone down and don’t look. Don’t read the comments, don’t look at your messages..and you will be fine. But you can also come up with some witty clapbacks. That’s fine too. The key thing is just to do what is going to make you feel good.
K: Circling back to your pageant experience, what was your overall experience?
R: Oh my gosh! I keep telling everyone that it was the best weekend of my life. I was happy crying from all the fun I had. It wasn’t about winning for me. It was more about feeling free and confident in myself. Of course I had so much fun meeting all of the girls. I felt like I was at a conference with the most influential women.
K: I feel that too from my personal pageant experience. I feel it’s such a diverse community. I also love that it inspired you to start your own business.
R: So when I first lost my hair, of course I turned to the internet first for help. There were a lot of support groups but I found that they were kind of outdated. I found that these sites were more so giving advice on how to cover the condition rather than how to embrace it. With the AloPeace Project, I wanted to offer both solutions.
K: That is such an inspiring message. Do you have thoughts on society as a whole? What do you think is the best way people can educate themselves to change their perspective on alopecia.
R: With alopecia specifically, something I say that sticks with people is that it is literally as common as having red hair. When I say that, people stop thinking of it as a disease. This is just basically another form of hair that people can have, like red hair. Similarly with wigs, it’s not a way to hide your hair loss, but just another accessory you wear on your body to accentuate yourself and express yourself.
I think beauty is not a look, but a feeling. It is a state of mind and I hope that that is how people start to think about it.
K:I love that! That is such a good mentality and I am so glad that you are able to speak to the world with your platform.
To close out our chat, do you have any advice for girls who are looking to join pageants but think that they don’t fit in?
R: I think that you should just go for it. A beauty pageant is just what you make of it. There isn’t a pageant image that you need to fit into. Do it with confidence! Just be you!
Thank you Renee! Check out the full interview here And make sure to follow Queenly on Instagram for more exclusive interviews.