Seeking the Crown

Writer: Shannon Severson

Photography: Georgina Vaughan and Brad Olson

Beauty pageants date as far back as Medieval England’s spring celebrations. Each year, a beautiful young woman would be chosen to give a speech officially opening May Day ceremonies. She was dressed in white and crowned with a wreath of flowers for the occasion, a tradition that continues to this day in many European towns.

It took a bit for the tradition to make its way across the pond, but in 1921, East Coast newspapers, looking for a way to boost popularity and circulation, promoted photographic contests to spur young ladies to vie for “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America,” complete with Mermaid Trophy.

Anthem’s Mimi Hymel is the face of pageants in the 21st century. The Boulder Creek High School senior will travel to Disney World this July to compete for Teen USA National Miss and the $5,000 scholarship that comes with the title. The pageant is affiliated with the USA National Miss (UNM) system, an organization that bills itself as having a positive, community-conscious approach to pageants.

“I like to be out of my comfort zone,” Mimi says. “I’ve learned it’s important to polish a certain look and be ready to speak in public. It helps in every day life, too.”

Mimi will compete in evening gown, fun fashion (a non-traditional, runway-style segment where contestants express their personal style), an interview panel segment, lifestyle and fitness (modeling activewear) and talent. Mimi’s talent will showcase her dance abilities, something she has developed over many years of studying ballet pointe, contemporary, and hip-hop.

Mimi enters the contest as the reigning Miss Golden State Teen. Since her father lives in California for his job, UNM’s dual residency rules allowed Mimi to apply for and win the title.

When the Hymel family moved from St. Louis, Missouri, it was a dance store owner who first recommended that Mimi compete in pageants.

“I never knew much about it,” says Mimi’s mom, Allison Hymel, “but I trusted Nathalie. The more we got involved, the more we enjoyed it. Mimi has lots of friends from pageants and community service. It has been a really good experience.”

Mimi is just the type of well-rounded student that today’s pageants seek to attract. She is on the BCHS Spirit Line, has been inducted into the National Honor Society for Dance Arts and her favorite classes are English and College Algebra.

“I enjoy the challenge,” says Mimi. “It’s satisfying when you get a problem right”

This fall, Mimi will attend Grand Canyon University with an academic scholarship, where she will study graphic design and advertising.

“I want to become involved in social media or be in public relations for a magazine company,” Mimi explains. “Pageants have helped me develop not just public speaking and people skills, but I’ve also learned to design graphics for social media. Now I have all the pieces to fit together for a career.”

Mimi’s public speaking skills have been put to good use in the community as an ambassador for UNM’s anti-bullying effort, Crown C.A.R.E.S. (Creating A Respectful Environment in Schools), where she has chosen to focus on allergy awareness. It’s a cause close to her heart because she herself suffers from the condition.

“I had an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts and ended up in the hospital,” Mimi says. “I’d had allergy shots for years, but had never had a major reaction. It ended up being caused by cross-contamination, which was something I didn’t know about before.”

Mimi joined the Teen Advisory Group for Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) non-profit and had a nationally published blog post on the topic. She has focused not only on awareness in schools, but on how children with allergies may experience bullying for their food allergies.

“Last October, I got involved in FARE’s Teal Pumpkin project, which households can use to symbolize that they have non-food treats or allergy-safe treats to pass out at Halloween,” Mimi explains. “I created an anti-bullying food allergy coloring book and gave a presentation at Esperanza Elementary School and I made teal pumpkins for them to award to raffle winners.

“The kids asked some good questions and I think they enjoyed the coloring book as a fun way to learn about the topic.”

At BCHS, Mimi made 2,000 “Palentines” for Valentine’s Day and the Student Council’s Kindness Week.

“I stayed up so late,” says Mimi. “I tied teal ribbons on Dum Dums lollipops, which are one of the top allergy-friendly candy treats. Each one was tied with a message encouraging students to ‘Be a Pal’ to those with food allergies. I also brought teal ribbon stickers for students to wear in support of those with food allergies.”

Mimi’s work in the community is part of her duties as a titleholder, but she explained that all she does in support of her pageant participation is a part of who she is.

“There’s a lot of criticism about pageants, but that’s mostly because people don’t know a lot about it,” Mimi says. “My image represents who I am. It’s not an act. You need to be a driven, smart, well-rounded person to participate in pageants. It’s way more than just how you look.”

Beyond the chance to help the community, develop her personal image and gain public speaking skills and experience, the top thing Mimi has enjoyed about pageants is the friends she has gained.

“I have so many friends I’ve made through pageants,” she says. “I’m still friends with the same girls from when I started in the Miss America system We are definitely BFFs and lifelong friends.”

If Mimi wins the national title, she plans to continue her schooling in addition to traveling monthly to fulfill the community and sponsor obligations that come with the crown.

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