Seeking to break the mold of what society deems beauty-queen material, one contestant of Miss Southern California cities and Miss Long Beach pageant will take to the stage Sunday with a less traditional style.
Sporting a Mohawk, tattoos and piercings, Jenelle Hutcherson, 25, is switching out the long-heralded ball gown for a tuxedo. The Long Beach hair artist will also be the first lesbian to openly rock the runway in the pageant’s 61-year history.
“I’m thoroughly excited,” Hutcherson said. “This has been an amazing experience.”
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It was a chance conversation with a client at The Den Salon in downtown Long Beach that led Hutcherson to enter the pageant.
“What’s going on in the life of Justin Rudd?” she asked.
Rudd, who happened to be the director of the pageant, discussed it with her and suggested she enter.
Looking at the pageant from a business angle – a chance to offer her hairstyling services – Hutcherson simply said, “I’m not the type to wear a gown and heels, look at me.”
Rudd told Hutcherson her individuality would be embraced in the pageant world.
That left her, she said, “with absolutely no reason to not be a part of the pageant.”
Garnering media attention for her effort, the Long Beach resident is using the platform to promote individual beauty and raise awareness of the surge in bullying, some of which has been directed toward the gay community.
“To me, in my mind, I could have been anyone of those kids,” she said of recent bullying victims.
And in the past, it was Hutcherson.
"I want to give them hope and show them that there is a variety of beauty," she said.
Born and raised in Bakersfield, Hutcherson was 10-years-old when her father died of AIDS. She said she and her mother were judged by peers and neighbors.
When she came out as a lesbian in high school, she also faced scrutiny.
Hutcherson now mentors gay youth at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center of Long Beach and said she can relate to their bullying.
“It’s for the youth,” Hutcherson said of her pageant run. “If I can reach the kids or open up one adult’s mind, it will be totally worth it.”
Hutcherson will take part in Donald Trump’s Miss California USA pageant in January in an effort to keep her message of individuality going.
She said most contestants have a year to prepare and gather financial sponsorships and donations for Miss California, but she has only been given a few weeks.
Hutcherson is accepting donations through her Facebook fan page, and sharing her experience with the public through daily updates and video blogs.