The new Miss Washington USA, Kelsey Schmidt, has big plans to use her title to educate young women about nutrition, exercise, and the importance of following one’s dreams regardless of one’s cultural identity.
Crowned on Saturday, January 30, Schmidt is excited about her new title of Miss Washington USA because she believes there is not enough Asian representation in the media.
“There are not enough Asian American models or actresses,” she said. “I would love to see more Asian Americans represented in that light to be out there in the public eye.”
Maureen Francisco, co-executive producer at Northwest Productions, has seen the pageant industry become more racially and ethnically diverse.
Schmidt is one of the first Asian American Miss Washington USAs. “That’s quite an honor for me,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt is a fourth generation Japanese American. Her grandparents immigrated from Japan and during World War II, her grandparents were imprisoned under Japanese internment—her grandfather in Colorado and her grandmother in Arkansas.
After the passing of Schmidt’s grandfather, her grandmother, mother, and her mother’s six siblings moved to Eastern Washington to live closer to relatives who owned farmland.
Schmidt and her mother do not speak Japanese. “After the [incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II], my grandparents wanted their children to be as Americanized as possible and to identify with this country,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt reflected on how proud her grandmother in particular would be to see Kelsey as Miss Washington USA.
Schmidt hopes to learn Japanese one day, as she feels it is an important part of her identity.
“For me, a big part of competing in pageantry with my grandmother is she identified pageantry with being an American,” Schmidt said. For Schmidt, being Miss Washington USA is an opportunity to help Asian women see themselves as capable of being public figures.
Aside from the responsibilities that come with the Miss Washington USA crown, Schmidt is currently taking a full course load at the University of Washington and doing dissertation research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to study the relationship between lifestyle factors and chronic disease. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science at UW.
However, Schmidt’s passion to promote health and wellness started with her involvement in different community outreach opportunities. She volunteered at Lettuce Link, a program that teaches kids about fresh produce. She also volunteered at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through volunteering she realized her long-term educational aspirations.
As Miss Washington USA, Schmidt wants to promote health and wellness, which applies to everyone—but is of particular concern for the Asian community.
Reflecting on the health disparities in the Asian community, Schmidt pointed to the higher risk Asians have for diabetes. “In terms of influencing the next generation, it is important to know our family’s history because it impacts our health future,” Schmidt said.
She also wants to change the dialogue on health and wellness, which she is learning about in school and is practicing in her personal life in the lead up to the competition for Miss USA pageant. There are many mixed messages about food and exercise out there, Schmidt said.
“She wants to be really transparent to young women how she is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes her workouts and nutrition to encourage young women to follow in her footsteps,” Francisco said.
Schmidt has personally struggled with body image and wellness issues as a young girl. Her mother, Diane Kobuke Schmidt, remembered her daughter being teased about her weight when she was younger and in high school.
“When I was younger I was teased for being overweight,” Schmidt said. “I distinctly remember in preschool a girl coming up to me and telling me she wouldn’t play with because I was fat.”
The experience of being teased prompted Schmidt to devote her life to nutritional science to learn how to be healthy, said Francisco.
Through her personal struggle, Schmidt now recognizes the importance of loving and honoring yourself—a message she hopes to spread to many young girls.
Schmidt said she is excited about the opportunity to represent Washington State at the national level, especially as a woman of Japanese heritage. Schmidt said she is able to represent the Asian community in a sphere that is not only about smart women, but also about beautiful women.
“There are so many young girls who don’t have someone in that kind of position to look up to that looks like them,” Schmidt said. “It is refreshing to be able to talk to people of all ethnic backgrounds, but especially those young girls that have Asian heritage to be able to say, ‘You know you can do whatever you want. You are absolutely beautiful and you are an American.’”
Schmidt said her focus for her platform message is universal, as she is not just representing the Asian community, but the entire Washington state.
“It is important that my message is applicable for all young people,” she said. “I want every little girl out there to know that I don’t care how short you are. I’ve been told I’m too short, too Asian, and too fat to be Miss USA and that’s the wrong message to send.”