Ashley Brown has been selected to participate in Miss Universe Canada 2011.

Ashley Brown has been selected to participate in Miss Universe Canada 2011.

Beauty pageants aren’t just a pretty girl sport

At first glance, Ashley Brown might be judged as just another pretty face.

At first glance, Ashley Brown might be judged as just another pretty face.

The 21-year-old does in fact seem flawless. Her skin is perfect, her eyes are perfect, her smile is perfect, even her confidence is perfect. She knows she’s beautiful, but she also knows she has substance too.

“We all do,” she said.

Brown is competing in this year’s Miss Universe Canada competition. She was one of 16 B.C. contestants selected, one of 63 overall.

In the eight years of the Miss Universe Canada pageant, no B.C. girl has ever won the crown.

Brown hopes to change that.

And yet, while Brown has always taken pride in presenting herself nicely, and has a love for dresses and high-heeled shoes, she never watched or participated in beauty pageants, never fantasized about strutting down the catwalk, never imagined she’d be standing in front of a panel of judges wearing nothing but a bikini.

“I’m really nervous about that,” she said.

“But I am what I am. I’m okay with how I look. I love myself no matter what.”

And the humanitarian undertones of the competition have helped quell the nerves.

Miss Universe Canada is a launching pad for Miss Universe, the famed Donald Trump production. The winner of Miss Universe gets the opportunity to spend a year working with Trump and being an ambassador for the United Nations.

“That’s the biggest thing for me,” said Brown, who’s in her second year of a political science degree at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“I’m very interested in humanitarian issues; that’s what attracted me to the pageant in the first place.”

Her history proves it.

Behind Brown’s beautiful long-lashed eyes, is a young woman who strives to help those less fortunate.

At 18, fresh out of high school, Brown went on a six-month mission with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to Australia and Vanuatu, a small island nation west of Fiji. There, she spent her days with the village people and started a youth sports program for impoverished children. She lived in shacks with thatched roofs; had no running hot water; and ate nothing but bread and rice for two straight months.

Last year, she was in England, again with YWAM, participating in the school of reconciliation and justice where she worked with representatives from around the world on how to achieve conflict mediation in war-torn countries.

And after graduation, she wants to work for a non-government agency, like Red Cross or Care International, that specializes in aiding women and children.

Not exactly the kind of person some would believe to be interested in beauty pageants. But pageants aren’t what a lot of people make them out to be, said Brown, who balked at the negativities associated with pageants.

“I think the people making those comments are the people who have never been around a pageant before and they’ve bought into the misconceptions about what a pageant is about,” she said. “You can only make judgements if you’ve been around pageants, but if you haven’t you don’t really know.”

In the last few months, Brown’s been getting a good picture of what they’re all about.

She’s been repeatedly interviewed by the regional and national directors; was put through etiquette classes; worked with a “flamboyant” professional runway coach to master her walk; was given guidelines on parts of her body that “should” be toned; has watched what she eats and spent hours working out.

“They promote healthy, toned, firm bodies, that’s a fact,” said Brown. “But they don’t promote ultra-thin, they never told me to go on a diet.”

And while the preparations have sometimes been America’s Next Top Model-esque, they’ve never had the cattiness of the show.

“I was really nervous that I’d be among all these model-types, but they weren’t like that, they were all normal girls,” Brown said.

“They’re gorgeous, but they’re also ambitious, intelligent, welcoming, and warm.”

Participating in the competition will cost Brown approximately $2,000 for travel expenses, pageant attire, hotel, etc. She hopes to attract local businesses as sponsors.

Anyone interested can contact her by email at ash.nicole.brown@gmail.com or by phone at 604-819-7821.

The Miss Universe Canada pageant is in June.

kbartel@theprogress.com