A few weeks before the semester concluded, most UK students were focused on finishing up projects and making plans for winter break. But one student had a very different task at hand - competing in the Miss Teen USA pageant held the weekend of Nov. 7, 2020. 

Jinnie Tomes, a UK sophomore, competed in the 38th annual pageant, which was originally slated for spring.

Tomes, a sophomore, is majoring in psychology. She is also a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Tomes was born in Louisville, Kentucky but moved to Fishers, Indiana when she was six years old; along with her parents and siblings, Tomes lived in Fishers until moving to Lexington for college. 

She first entered the pageant industry at nine years old;  her mother’s co-worker's daughter, who recommended that she give it a shot and coached her in her first competition.

Tomes said pageants have shaped most of her life and given her unique skills.

“It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing because I started so young and it just become a huge part of who I am, but over the years I’ve heard lot of people speak on my confidence as something that stands out about me, which I think I owe a lot of that to pageantry," Tomes said.

She began competing for Miss Indiana Teen her senior year of high school. She says she “was pretty nervous because Miss Teen USA is a really big pageant.”

Her first time competing she placed first runner up and was hesitant to come back because she knew she would be in college at that point.

Her mother spent awhile convincing her to go back and give it one last shot, since it was the last year that she would be eligible to compete in the teen division, which she won.

“The experience was once in a lifetime,” Tomes said.

The process of competing in a pageant is mentally and physically strenuous. Tomes said her trainer is a big part of her physical preparation.

“She switched my meal plan every month and it consisted of about 6 meals a day, which was actually very difficult for me at first, and working out 5 days a week,” Tomes said, but the mental preparation takes more time.

“I know that if my mental and emotional health is not intact then everything else falls apart. So, over the past year I made sure I gave myself enough time to rest, physically but also socially," Tomes said. "I didn’t pressure myself to do anything that I knew I couldn’t give my 100%. This was really hard because I wanted to do everything with my title, sorority, school, and social life, but I quickly realized that there was no way to do that without burning out, so I had to prioritize my mental health.'

The preparation for a competition doesn’t stop until stepping on stage. Prior to competing, Tomes plays music because it helps her get out of her head and calm down. She tends to listen to a lot of female artists because it enhances her mood of women empowerment; some of her favorites are "Fergalicious", "Formation" and "You Should See Me in a Crown".

Through her time in the pageant industry, Tomes has been exposed to inspirational women who are now her role models. She said she looks up to previous winners like Miss USA Olivia Jordan, Miss America Savvy Shields and Miss USA Deshauna Barber.

“I just feel like these women made an extreme effort to stay as true to themselves as best they could during their year which means more to me than any title ever will. But all of previous Miss Universe’s, Miss USA’s, and Miss America’s are women to be inspired by,” Tomes said.

Being in the competitive industry has encouraged Tomes to become the best version of herself for other young women looking to enter the pageant world.

“I would say just do it! Sign up for whichever system appeals to you because you’ll never know how you’ll like something until you try it!,” Tomes recommended. “I remember being backstage at Miss IN Teen USA and the girl next to me telling me that she wasn’t sure if pageantry was for her because she felt like she just didn’t fit. Well, that same girl ended up being my first runner up, and now we’re really good friends and I look forward to seeing her at the next Miss Teen USA pageant!”

Now that the Miss Teen USA season has finished, Tomes plans to focus on college and getting her degree. She wants to figure out how to use her education skills and the skills that she has learned through pageantry to “do good in this world.” After college, she hopes to compete for Miss USA.