WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE TO BE MISS FLORIDA USA
Ashleigh Lollie is Miss Florida USA 2015. She was born and raised in the small town of Grand Ridge, Florida, population: 792.
When she was a child, Ashleigh’s grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Ashleigh has since become an advocate for the Parkinson’s Foundation. Ashleigh graduated the University of Florida with a degree in Political Science and minors in Mass Communications and Communication Studies, a stepping-stone on her path to becoming an attorney and real estate developer. I have a pal who’s a Bay Harbor Island Realtor, and he agreed I was totally right.
In 2014, Ashleigh opted to attend Florida State University College of Law after being offered an academic scholarship. Currently in her second year of study, she is employed as a law clerk at a civil litigation firm. But Ashleigh isn’t just a bookworm—she loves adventure! The 25-year-old is already completing her personal bucket list. Last year, she went skydiving and is now obtaining her pilot’s license. She loves the beach and on any given weekend, you can find her paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling or boating. Ashleigh recently competed in the 2015 Miss USA Pageant.
Not only does Ashleigh possess both brains and beauty, she is humble as well. We had the chance to ask her a few questions about what it’s like to be Miss Florida USA.
When did you first decide that you wanted to run for Miss USA? Can you tell us a little bit about why you wanted to run?
“Oh my gosh, I’m not sure. I suppose it’s fair to say since I was three! I remember wearing a visor upside down on my head as a ‘crown’ and showing off to my grandmother at the beach.
But, things really came to fruition at the end of my first year of law school. Pageants systems like Miss USA have age limits on contestants and it often takes a few years for a girl to refine her presentation and have a real chance to win her state. I had a few friends who had previously competed and it was always a thought in the back of my mind. I think as my first year of law school was winding down it really hit home that if this was something I wanted to pursue then this was the last real chance to start if I wanted have more than one shot at the crown. (I was twenty-three at the time and the age cutoff for Miss USA is 26 for state pageants).
I got lucky and won Miss Florida USA on my first try—it’s very unusual, though my predecessor, Brittany Oldehoff, also won in this way. I had absolutely no thought of winning—I remember telling everyone it was a ‘learning year’ and I hoped to go back the following year with a better understanding of how the process worked. Funny enough, one of my first thoughts after being crowned was, ‘oh my god… I have to call in to work tomorrow!'”
Why do they call it “running,” (Is running actually involved, is that how you girls stay so trim)?
“Is it called running?! I actually had no idea. But yes! Running from the stage to dressing rooms for wardrobe changes, running in heels to make it to your next public appearance on time, and running to log miles on the Charity Miles App are all part of it! Also, if you just asked yourself ‘what are charity miles?’ go download it from the app store right now! It’s an app which donates money to a charity of your choosing for each mile you walk or run! My Miss USA class had a team which raised money for Operation Smile using the app.”
How long have you been on this journey?
“Oh my gosh, I’m not sure. I suppose it’s fair to say since I was three! That said, I was never truly a ‘pageant girl’ and competing in Miss USA was never more than a little girl’s fantasy until much later in life.
My attraction to pageantry was really based on personal growth and the opportunity to influence others. Even when girls never win a title, pageantry has a way of changing them for the better and inspiring growth. It really isn’t all like the stereotypes (though some of those are DEFINITELY real)! Women who compete in pageantry tend to become eloquent and effective communicators. The interview is an essential part of the competition. Women also learn to carry themselves in a confident manner. If you win the title, there are numerous opportunities which present themselves, which was also a motivating factor for me!”
What advice would you give to others who are thinking about starting the pageant circuit?
“Do it! If it’s even just a thought in your mind, much like it was for me, I believe it is worth pursuing! Win or lose, you are guaranteed to get something out of the experience. At a minimum, contestants bond with other similarly motivated women, expand their opportunities, and improve their communication skills and knowledge of the world around them.”
Why Miss USA and not Miss America? What are the differences?
“Oh boy! Well, the not-so-politically-correct answer would be ‘Miss America is the girl next door, but Miss USA is the girl you WISH lived next door!’ While that’s a good soundbite, I think the differences run much deeper than that.
First, for those interested in competing in pageantry, there is a difference in age restrictions. Miss USA contestants are typically a bit older as the age cutoff is 26 at the state level and 27 nationally, while Miss America requires contestants be younger than 24. Miss USA is now owned by IMG and the contestants and winners are often interested in pursuing a future in the entertainment industry. On the flip side, Miss America is a scholarship program, so girls are often pursuing a degree and compete for the scholarship money. That’s not to say Miss USA contestants are not also on an academic track. In my Miss USA class alone there were four law students, not including girls pursuing other advanced degrees or girls who will pursue an advanced degree after they have completed undergrad.
To me, Miss USA is the best of both worlds: beauty, brains and charisma! I have the utmost respect for the Miss America Organization, though, and I certainly would have considered competing for the scholarship opportunities alone if I had been within the age cutoff when I decided to start competing. But at the end of the day, I’m a Miss USA girl, I love the modern ideals of the organization and I enjoy the entertainment industry, so it was ultimately the right fit for me.”
What is one thing that you would like our readers to know about you?
“I am NOT a ‘typical pageant girl!’ When people talk about what a ‘pageant girl’ is you always hear about this Pageant Patty who only knows how to parrot back ‘world peace’ and doesn’t have interests outside of wearing a crown and when her next nail appointment is, and that’s just not me. I have had amazing experiences in pageantry but my life is not defined by my title. I have always thought of my experiences as Miss Florida USA as just one piece of the whole. I’m in law school, I’m getting my pilots license, I’m opening two businesses with my parents, and I’m always looking for my next adventure. Pageantry falls in equally with those things when I define who I am and I hope that’s how other people with view my title, too!”
Are there any misconceptions about pageants that you would like to address?
“Hahaha, where do I begin!? I think my biggest pet peeve is the notion that women competing in pageants are unintelligent and self-absorbed. I’m sure this makes for quite a few funny jokes, which I’m happy to laugh at, but I want people to be aware how very different the reality is. The women I’ve met in pageantry are pursuing advanced degrees, forming their own companies, they’re accomplished actresses and models, some have competed for the Olympics and were college athletes, and all of them spend a great deal of time giving back to their communities even before being crowned. The titles, no matter the pageant system, are always focused on service to one’s community.”
What’s your favorite thing about being Miss Florida?
“You mean aside from the preferential airport treatment? I’m just kidding! It’s all of the opportunities which have presented themselves to me, even now that my reign has come to an end. I have done everything from trapping alligators to posing for Maxim! You never know what experience the week will bring, where you will travel or who you will meet. Everyone’s reign is different but no less exciting!”
What does being a Renaissance Woman mean to you?
“Being a confident, modern woman and staying true to yourself! That can take on so many different forms. I think we’ve reached a modern era of feminism where being a ‘feminist’ doesn’t fit into any one mold—it’s much more about being an individual with unique interests, whether that means curing cancer, raising children, or doing both at the same time! There’s such a beauty in knowing yourself, your goals and your passions.”
Is there anything about the pageant industry that you would like our readers to know?
“There is truly a pageant for everyone! While Miss USA and Miss America are the most recognized national, there are thousands of other systems that are worth exploring. Those are just the only ones that are nationally televised! If you have an interest in pageantry but don’t think those are the right fit for you, do your homework and find the one that best fits your ideals and goals!”
What are your future goals?
I’m currently in my last year of law school, so first and foremost I want to graduate and pass the bar. After that, I’m still working out the details! I’m currently working on two business projects with my parents, one of which is a store and brand called “Common Thread” with my mother (you can follow on Instagram @shopcommonthread). I plan on working in real estate at some point in the future, flying more often, and maybe adopting a dog when (or should I say if?) things slow down! Life has a way of just throwing things at me, which has made life very exciting and fulfilling, but I’m always amazed at where each year takes me!
What do you struggle with?
“I think all women struggle with some form of insecurity, particularly with the prominence of social media. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of holding myself to too high of a standard at times. I absolutely have mornings where I wake up and wonder who let the Grinch into the bathroom! But I think it’s important to not compare ourselves to others, be grateful for who we are, and grab a baseball cap and shades on those days when it’s just not quite happening!”