Beyond the glitz and the glamour, to some, pageantry can feel like an inaccessible practice in which the genetically gifted compete for the approval of others. While plenty glamorous, Shelby Brown has dominated the North Carolina pageant scene, and has done so with the intention of challenging stereotypes toward pageantry as well as our society’s relationship with the concept of beauty.
Shelby Brown has more titles and crowns that she can name, but her drive does not end when the pageant does. Brown has had a lifetime of experiences in which her ambitions and achievements were undervalued, with many making assumptions of how she acquired all that she has. Brown noticed a problem that was affecting her community and understood she had the power to start a dialogue. Brown started the movement, “Beyond the Pretty Face,” to empower young girls with outer beauty to discover their inner power.
While some may view the world of pageantry as conservative, Shelby Brown is radical when it comes to the concept of beauty. In a society that teaches girls to be hyper-aware of their imperfections, Brown is not afraid to admit that she is beautiful. However, even in the world of pageantry, that beauty only goes so far.
Brown has always had a passion for competition, but she understands that nothing comes easily. With a drive to be successful at everything she does, her prior achievements in competitive cheerleading and track and field primed her for the hard work and dedication it takes to build a career in pageantry.
“So much more goes into it. Practice, knowing your craft, interview skills, public speaking, all of which I’ve studied and worked for,” Brown told Level21 Magazine.
Brown explained how throughout her life she has always faced backhanded compliments. “Growing up I always heard ‘oh you’re so beautiful’ and ‘you must get everything that you want in life.’” While acknowledging her physical privilege, Brown grew to resent those who would overlook her character.
Eventually, Brown reached a turning point. Confiding in her mother, she said, “‘I can’t be the only girl who feels like this.’ ‘Why would someone tell me to just rely on my looks to get far in life?…Why would someone assume that everything I’ve worked hard for, I got because of my face?’ My mom responded and said, ‘Shelby, it’s time for you to be the change!’”
That change grew to become Brown’s movement, “Beyond the Pretty Face,” a philosophy she uses to empower those around her to value themselves in their entirety, not just the parts that people notice.
“It’s about looking beyond physical attributes and stereotypes, and instead using that as a source of empowerment to reach audiences everywhere, especially young girls. It’s time to break and redefine the stereotypes/stigmas that society has created for beauty and I’m doing that one day at a time,” Brown said.
With inspirations such as Michelle Obama, Brown looks up to strong women who never apologize for being glamorous, but instead embody a level of sophistication and success that challenge the public to recognize the dimensions and diversity of women.
Brown now follows the lead of the women who have inspired her and offers coaching and advice to younger girls who see her as a role model. Brown teaches young girls to use their strengths and attributes, as well as their hard work, to impact those around them and uplift their voices.
Brown has since used her impact to bring attention and awareness to causes she is passionate about, working as an advocate and volunteer for Autism Speaks and Special Olympics.
“This is something I will keep doing for my younger brother Nicholas who is autistic,” Brown said, explaining that she has been able to integrate her cause into her pageantry by using her platform to enhance awareness.
Brown’s continued dedication to community service has even earned her a Spring Leaf Humanitarian Award, twice.
While she continues to represent her community, she is currently preparing for her next pageant, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown explained that even though she is trying to take advantage of her time and use it for self care, “things happen, so you can’t just stop because of what’s going on in the world. Things still have to keep continuing to get done.”
Currently, the Miss Cosmos United States Pageant is set to be held in Orlando Florida from July 1 to July 4. Brown is constantly training physically with her extreme workouts as well as mentally with interview lessons and maintaining her public speaking skills.
Brown is continuing to grow her platform, “Beyond the Pretty Face,” explaining that her understanding of the meaning of beauty has developed through her deconstruction and redefining of the concept of beauty.
“My goal is to let other girls know that we don’t have to look or be or act a certain way to achieve our dreams. I want girls to look at me and say that I’m an inspiration to them, and that’s something that pushes me to continue to still do it,” Brown said.
For those interested in learning more and becoming part of the movement, “Beyond the Pretty Face” will be having a launch party later this year to announce some new details and advancements for the platform.
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SHELBY BROWN: MISS NC COSMOS 2020 / FOUNDATION: FENTY BEAUTY / LIPSTICK: MAYBELINE ( SHADE 45) /LASHES : LILLY LASHES ( MIAMI)
PHOTOGRAPHY: LAURENCE LOGAN