If at first you don’t succeed, try again. That’s what senior Breanna Kauffman did in her last year of eligibility for the International Junior Miss Washington pageant. She had been competing in pageants for a decade before finally being crowned Miss Washington 2017.
“Ten years. Ten years of competing to get that one moment onstage and it was far greater than I ever could have imagined,” Kauffman said.
The International Junior Miss pageant is a competition for girls and young women ages four to 24. The pageant has chapters all over the U.S. as well as in Australia, the Bahamas, Haiti, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The winners from each chapter go on to a final International Junior Miss pageant, which is held in July.
The Miss Washington competition, was held Feb. 10 to 12 in Renton. The pageant is split up into age categories starting with “Junior Princess” for the youngest competitors and ending with “Miss” for the oldest.
“It’s okay to have those differences, it’s okay that I’m not a perfect size two, it’s okay that I’m 24 years old and still in college. Those things, honestly, they make me stronger because I made the choice to come back to school and to get healthier.”
At the end of the weekend, 24-year-old Kauffman, a multidisciplinary studies major, was crowned as the pageant’s Miss Washington.
Kauffman didn’t get her start in pageantry with International Junior Miss. The Stanwood native competed in her first pageant, National American Miss, when she was 15 as a way to boost her self confidence.
“I was very overweight and very self conscious,” Kauffman said. “I was scared of public speaking, and I didn’t really have many friends, so I thought that this might be a good way to bring me out of my shell.”
National American Miss didn’t allow make up for girls under 12 and was more about being the girl next door, being a good role model and being comfortable in who you are. Over her teenage years Kauffman continued competing and started to have better self confidence.
“Whether that meant being a doctor or collecting every piece of “Star Wars” memorabilia in the world, whatever that was for you, they wanted you to accept it,” Kauffman said.
Debbie Judd, Kauffman’s mother said watching her daughter compete in pageants was rewarding because she saw self-acceptance happens gradually over time.
“I was seeing her slowly grow,” Judd said. “She had done other things like this before but this was giving her a lot of interpersonal confidence that I hadn’t seen before.”
After a few years, Kauffman discovered International Junior Miss, a competition that was new to the world of the pageantry.
“I fell in love with it right away. There’s always a pageant for someone,” Kauffman said.
Nicole Miller is the International Junior Miss regional director for the Pacific Northwest. She said the pageant is unique because it tries to teach girls and young women valuable life skills.
“International Junior Miss isn’t a glitz pageant and it’s not a beauty pageant either,” Miller said. “We’re really looking for the well rounded contestant who is comfortable in front of an audience and speaks well.”
In 2013, while attending the University of Idaho, Kauffman was crowned as International Junior Miss Idaho, but was the only contestant in her age group. While she was honored, Kauffman said she didn’t feel like she had earned the victory because she was the only one competing and therefore won automatically.
However, being crowned Miss Idaho gave her the opportunity to go to the International Junior Miss final competition.
Shortly after the international competition, Kauffman left the University of Idaho to come home to Washington. Kauffman said she took time off school to figure out what she wanted to do. She started to take classes at Everett Community College to make sure school was the path she wanted to go down. Once she had confirmed that she did want to keep studying, she applied to Western.
All the while, she was still competing in pageants. It was around this time she was crowned first runner-up for the Junior Miss Washington 2015 title.
In September 2015, Kauffman started at Western and joined a few clubs, including the figure skating team.
“I took a hard look at my life and said ‘I’m doing really good right now.’ I had friends. I had self confidence, I loved public speaking, I was great at interviews; all of these skills that I had gotten through pageants,” Kauffman said. “But I wasn’t healthy. I was very overweight, so I decided I wanted to make a lifestyle change.”
In preparation for Junior Miss 2016, she completely changed her diet and started a strict exercise regimen and ended up losing 20 pounds in two months. But Kauffman only made second runner up that year, leaving one more year of eligibility to compete.
“She had worked super, super hard,” Judd, said. “She also knew that if she didn’t win, she had attained a lot of her own personal goals.”
Once the 2016 school year started, Kauffman said it was time for her to buckle down and get serious about her training again. As she continued her studies at Western, she would make an hour and a half drive once a week to train with a fitness coach. In preparation for this latest pageant, Kauffman lost an additional 30 pounds.
“It wasn’t just about getting in shape so I looked better onstage in a gown,” Kauffman said. “It was really about finding myself again and that started with being comfortable in my own skin.”
Kauffman said she rejects the idea that pageants are just judging women and giving girls a warped body image to aspire to. Instead, she said pageants, especially those which include a swimsuit portion, showcase the hard work that has gone into achieving a toned body. While International Junior Miss doesn’t have a swimsuit portion, but Kauffman said the pageant does encourage a lifestyle that balances health and fitness with the fast pace of modern living.
While keeping with that healthy living style, Kauffman isn’t exclusively interested in it. She is a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Disney, “Star Wars” and “Game of Thrones.” Kauffman said accepting the things that make her unique is what makes her happy.
“It’s okay to have those differences, it’s okay that I’m not a perfect size two, it’s okay that I’m 24 years old and still in college,” Kauffman said. “Those things, honestly, they make me stronger because I made the choice to come back to school and to get healthier.”