Crystal Lee

Crystal Lee

Talking Body Image with Miss California Crystal Lee

By  | May 30, 2014

It’s a cold, cold, cold San Francisco day. Like, we’ve been experiencing serious heat waves for the past few weeks, but today Karl The Fog (yes, our fog has its own Instagram) has decided that it’s time to come out to play – the same day that we have scheduled our photo shoot with Miss California 2013, Crystal Lee.

She meets us at the iconic Moraga Steps in the Inner Sunset district, where the wind is blasting through the streets, the fog is hugging the hillside and the sun is nowhere to be found. They call this the perfect day for shooting, but for Crystal and I, we are just cold. Regardless, she’s as peppy as ever and really excited to be hanging out. She has a genuine kindness about her and despite her incredible background of achievements, I feel like I’m just hanging out with the charming girl next door. 

“I went to a Pilates studio in Anaheim called Core Arts Pilates to work with a legendary instructor named Sharmila Mitra who has a background in dance and spiritual psychology. She helped me sharpen my mental game while also strengthening my core. I set a few fitness goals like doing three hundred crunches a day and holding a plank for three minutes.”

This girl is not one to be messed with, though. This 22-year old simultaneously obtained her B.A. in Human Biology and M.A. in Communication at Stanford University. She’s held over 9 pageant titles and started the road to pageantry as a 16-year old. As Miss California, she’s traveled cross country to promote her platform for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). She made it all the way to the Miss America pageant last year, proving her incredible talents as first runner up.

After all of this, there was still one question that continued to loom over my head.Why pageants? Society has really played out pageant girls to be the stereotypical gorgeous female with large breasts, skinny waists and and not so smart brains. In fact, some of the most viral YouTube videos are of incoherent answers to pageant interview questions. So why pageants? Why put on makeup and curl your hair and have other people judge you for external beauty? Why go through all of this if internal beauty is what should truly matter? Here in front of me was an amazingly talented young woman – why did she feel the need to prove it in front of an audience of judges?

Crystal surprised me with the honest truth. At the end of the day, yes, pageants seem to focus in on big hair, sparkly dresses and long eyelashes. But that’s a stereotype. That’s what it’s made it out to look like. How every single individual and competitor interprets the actual competition process differs from person to person. And you know what? Crystal’s version is what I hope and wish for every girl to follow. 

Running Crystal


Tell me about yourself. What hobbies, characteristics, upbringings and titles do you classify with?

I’m a people-loving, outdoorsy, kid at heart. I enjoy jogging, yoga, blogging, watching TV shows, traveling, reading…anything that feeds my mind and body. I love to laugh and enjoy life. I think of myself as driven and ambitious, perhaps because my mom came to this country later in life and I’ve seen how hard she’s worked to give me and my sister options. Though I’ve held over 9 pageant titles, I’m most proud of my titles as a daughter, sister, mentor, and friend.

What was the journey like from pre-Miss California to the Miss America pageant?

In four months I had to get my body, mind, and spirit in tip top shape. I read up on current events, took ballet class, and maintained a schedule filled only with activities that helped me prepare for Miss America. I went to a Pilates studio in Anaheim called Core Arts Pilates to work with a legendary instructor named Sharmila Mitra who has a background in dance and spiritual psychology. She helped me sharpen my mental game while also strengthening my core. I set a few fitness goals like doing three hundred crunches a day and holding a plank for three minutes. 

In pageants, a lot of the focus is on looks and outer beauty. Is it hard knowing that people always have their eyes on you and most likely making judgements (both good and bad)? What is that like?

I don’t find it too hard because I knew about the nature of pageant prior to joining my first competition. I’m inspired by many of the women that the Miss California Organization attracts because they aspire to use their visibility as a force for good, whether it be through championing causes we care about or sharing our stories to inspire girls in our communities. 

A big part of the experience is readying ourselves for the judging process and we use it as preparation to be the most presentable, expressive, and well-informed versions of ourselves. It’s preparation for life because we are all evaluated throughout our lives in many ways, on or off stage.

Also, not all pageants are created equal. In the Miss America program, the criteria is more than physical. There’s a talent category and a ten-minute spontaneous interview in which personality, wit, and perspective shine through. One of my favorite parts about my job is speaking with people at appearances helping them realize that the modern pageant girl is relatable, down to earth, and interested in more than beauty and fashion. 

Miss California Crystal Lee

These days, a lot of girls get down about themselves because they’re stuck comparing themselves to other people. I can imagine that in the pageant world comparisons and judgements happen regularly. What is the vibe like between girls in pageants? Are girls generally supportive or secretly envious? How does that help or hinder your performance during competitions?

From my experience, contestants are generally friendly, outgoing, and sincere women. Everyone expects the occasional moment of drama but the most successful women don’t spend their energy on that. Those women are each accomplished, well-educated, future movers-and-shakers. I always learn a lot from my fellow contestants and respect each woman for who she is and what she brings to the table. Building a friendship is something you can control and maintain long after the contest is over, whereas judges’ opinions are highly subjective and a pageant winner only has the crown for one year.

What are your thoughts about trending fitness topics these days? For example – inner thigh gaps, bikini bridges, skinny arm, etc? What about negative talk like muffin top, thunder thighs, etc? How do we start changing our vocabulary? 

Everybody’s body is incredible and amazing. It serves you. It enables you to make your dreams come true. If you take care of it, it’ll keep you alive for a long time. Good health is wealth. I try to encourage teens to never compromise health for short-term appearance, and to remember that healthy bodies come in different shapes and sizes.

You are so much more than the diameter of thighs. It can be hard to remember this where we’re inundated by images of the ideal body shape. But all popular culture is constantly in flux, and we are not going to have young bodies forever. That’s why it’s important love yourself now and to embrace your talents and passions beyond the superficial.

Miss California Crystal Lee

What would you suggest to girls who are trying to build their self esteem and create positive body image? 

Love yourself first and foremost. Focus on how you feel, because you deserve it. Prioritize yourself as a means to serve others. You should be the most important person in your life, and your life choices and attitude should reflect that. For instance, think of exercise as a way to “treat yourself”.  Nobody can take those endorphins away from you!  Exercise, a clean diet, and positive self-talk are key to healthy, happy people, and healthy, happy people are naturally beautiful.

What kind of mantras and self-talk did you practice before and during competitions?

Whether I’m on stage, in interview, or in the dressing room I constantly repeat to myself the phrase, “I am enough”. In that moment it helps me stay confident and ready for whatever lies ahead. 

What does true beauty mean to you?

Loving yourself so you can love others. Quiet self-confidence. Kindness.

Big thank you to Crystal for an amazing shoot and interview. To learn more, check out her blog here

(Republished with permission from the author and Fiterazzi)