"They saw me as someone who is almost inferior," recalls Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber on being cyberbullied by an entire country!
Some may say that destiny knocked on Deshauna Barber's door and paved the way for her to be crowned Miss USA back in 2016 but as people say, success does not come easy and it was the same for Deshauna. Joining the military at the age of 17 and then graduating with a degree in business management, one would say that pageantry was poles apart from what she had been doing but it all changed when Deshauna was spotted at a Target store where she had been working.
She recalled a woman walking up to her and saying, "I think you could be the next Miss USA." At first, like every other person would, Deshauna had a hysterical laugh for the statement but she fell short of excuses as she happened to be convinced and ended up walking for various state pageants. Walking for six years straight, it was during her seventh attempt that she finally got a taste of success. However, there had been various occasions when she felt like giving up.
"Every year I felt like giving up," she told Meaww. "It was quite frustrating actually. I think mostly because you invest so much money and you invest all your time. So, naturally, you start questioning as to why you are not being successful." Seeing herself fail six times, Deshauna knew she wasn't going to give up and decided to take actions into her own hand. "After my 6th loss, I decided that I was going to get a coach. Once I got a coach she really transformed me. She is actually the coach in the company that I work for now. I am actually working for the coach who taught me everything and it is because of her that I ended up winning," she recalls.
Being the first person from the military to ever win the competition, Deshauna was quite surprised when she heard her name being announced as the next Miss USA. "I was shocked," she confessed. "Just because I didn’t know if being in the military and Miss USA was something that people would see as a good fit because I think being in the military and pageantry are on two opposite sides of the spectrum when we think about it. Especially in terms of the lifestyle. I wasn’t sure how they were going to look at it marketing wise and how they would see it, even if it is an organization but once the crown went on I realized that it is such a perfect blend as it is all about women empowerment and the organization is all about breaking stereotype and being true to yourself and who I am is someone who has served in the military and someone who has won the pageant."
"It is kinda like showing that a woman can be all things which are also very important to me. It is my way to let people know that there is no one way of being a person or a hobby or a profession. If she decides she wants to be an astronaut or even a musician, that is something you can be. Just don’t place limitations on yourself or be in a box which people usually seem to confine themselves to." While there is no doubt that Deshauna set herself apart from the ordinary and won the hearts of millions, she had to go through a lot of training to reach the point that she did.
"There was a good amount of training that went into it," she admitted. "First of all, I am very small and I am very thin. So, I actually had the opposite of fitness training. I wasn’t trying to lose weight but I was actually trying to gain weight. My fitness coach and my nutritionist worked together in order to create a diet and create a workout plan that would cause my muscles to become bigger and add some body fat to me because I am so naturally thin. So, they thought once I got onto the stage I would look too thin and then I may not win because I looked thin."
Her training consisted of eating a lot of protein, meat, and high carb diets. At the same time, a lot of bread and adding a lot of oil to whatever she ate. "They were trying to get as much weight as possible on me but over the years, in the course of my training, I only gained about six or seven pounds but for me, that’s a lot because I don’t gain weight at all. I have been in the same weight for years. That was one thing my fitness and my nutritionist concentrated on," she confessed.
Another thing that Deshauna had to work towards was the interview round. Being a person who was nervous and afraid of holding a mic in her hand, she sure did have to put in a lot of effort to get past that fear. "I had two interview coaches and I had interview coaching with both the coaches once a week for 6 months. So, I worked with both of them for about two sessions a week for 6 months to be able to prepare me if I were to make it," she said.
"Most of it was preparing me with the on-stage questions and to get my nervousness out because I am always nervous whenever the mic goes in my hand. But I am a big believer in once you put in the work, the results so through. So, by the time I made it to the stage I was very much comfortable with speaking because I had worked so hard for making sure that I was well prepared for the on-stage question portion. That was really it. Majority of my training was based on that."
Even though the interview part might have been tricky at the beginning for Deshauna, she managed to find her way around it and aced the round. There were some rounds that proved to be challenging for her, however, there was one, in particular, which happened to be an easy breeze and it happened to be the swimsuit round. " I love walking. Walking, spinning, twirling, I 100% love the opportunity to be able to just show my body off. I think that you have the most opportunity for free expression during the swimming suit round. So, that was the main portion that I was super excited for," she said.
After Miss USA, Deshauna went on to represent the country at the Miss Universe platform. She was one of the nine finalists for the pageant and believed that even though the pageant is similar in many ways, the level of competition is much higher in Miss Universe. "I would say the competition, in terms of the competitiveness of the girls, was on whole other level and they are very passionate about their country and they want to represent their countries well," she said. "I would say their mentality was different. Like, you have the whole country on your back. The pressure is very real but I would say that even though I was expecting the girls to be incredibly mean, and not nice women from what I had heard but I had the sweetest bunch."
Deshauna happened to be the lucky one who loved the people around her and to her advantage, she already knew the staff and people who were working with Miss Universe as the Miss USA pageant came under it. Being familiar with the faces was an added advantage for her in terms of confidence. However, being on such a big platform brought a lot of attention on her- both negative and positive. Deshauna recalls being cyberbullied and feeling awful about it. "I think I felt the pressure of being a woman of color and there were many moments where I felt like throwing in the towel because I have been bullied my whole life," she said. "It is different when you are getting bullied in high school and being bullied by the entire country."
Even though there were many who tried to bring her down, there were more who supported her and uplifted her spirits. "I think what kept me going is knowing that there are a lot of young women out there who were inspired by my story and I could tell myself that whenever I felt sad or upset. You know I would always tell myself that there are people who don’t like you but there are even more people who love you and love what you stand for. So, I tried to tell myself mentally how important this platform is and what you represent is different when you are trying to be a title holder because obviously, a lot of title holders in the past hadn't been a woman of color," she said.
She added: "I took a lot of pride in knowing that not only am I a woman of color but I am also a woman who has darker skin. So, knowing that I represent that was very important to me because I wanted to show that beauty comes in all shades." One of the places that she witnessed a lot of bullying was from Latin America. "Latin countries that still believe that the darker you are, the uglier you are. So, I had to face an immense amount of social media bashing from Latin American pageant fans and it is quite sad because a lot of white Latinas and black latinas, a majority of them are my skin complexion," she said, commenting on the bullying remarks.
"However, you are talking about people who find themselves unattractive so of course when they see a queen who is going against their queen, who is not the same complexion as me then they are looking at me as someone who is almost inferior in terms of attractiveness. I have the biggest amount and I cannot believe the amount of social media bullying that I have received from Latin America. It is very sad. However, I am very well received by every other continent. Especially, the Asian pageant fans really connected with me," she continued. "It was wonderful to see that even though there were a lot of people who don’t think I am attractive, there are a lot of people who really love me."
Deshauna has also been open about her life before military and pageantry. As a kid, Deshauna was sexually assaulted by one of her family members and even though it took her 18 years to come forward and talk about it, she takes pride in finding the strength to finally speak up. At the same time, Deshauna has been vocal about her support towards the MeToo and Time's Up movement. "I am all for such moments and I think it is really important for sexual assault victims to come forward and you know what, I find it very irritating and disrespectful towards these people who criticize sexual assault victims especially when they ask, ‘what took you so long’, ‘why are you just now coming forward’," she said.
She added: "It is very frustrating for me because it took me 18 years for me to come forward and tell my family what happened with the family member who sexually assaulted me. So, it is very frustrating when I hear people say ‘Oh, why did you wait 20 years or 30 years or 40 years. You know, coming from someone who waited 18 years it’s not easy to come forward with that type of information because you are still ashamed and then when you come forward, people make you feel more ashamed which is baffling to me."
"I don't’ think they understand the amount of courage it takes to say that you have been through sexual assault and it really bothers me to blame the victim stigma that people have when it comes to sexual assault. I think that people need to understand that when you are talking about this kind of assault, it is an embarrassing type feeling and you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin."
She added, "So, I appreciate movements like the Me Too and Time’s Up because I think you are actually showing that ‘hey, you are not the only one’ and I think that when you are showing that there are numerous people in the world who have gone through what you have gone through, you feel a lot more comfortable coming forward. But for someone who feels like they are the only person in the world then it is a bad experience. There is a sense of community that comes from these types of moments which is why I am always someone who is towards it and very encouraging for people who have experienced that to be part of the moment like that."
With a dream of writing her own book one day, Deshauna started her blog, 'Deshauna Speaks'. To sum up what the book will be about, Deshauna tells us that it is a self-guide on 'How to build yourself up, in a world made to tear you down'. So, how exactly does one do that? "I would answer that question by saying it is important to know who you are and to believe in that person heavily to the point that you are not looking for validation from anyone else," she explained.
She added: "To add more to it, when you are in a world surrounded by opinions it becomes very easy to fall into a place where you think you are not good enough or you start finding faults in the thing that you are doing. I always tell people as a motivational speaker that it is so incredibly important to believe in who you are and stand strong in those shoes because it is easy to be influenced by the opinions of others and that is the only way to find true happiness, that is, to be comfortable with who you are."
After winning Miss USA 2016, Deshauna is ready to be part of Miss USA 2018 which is scheduled to take place on May 21. The former Miss USA has taken on the pageant as the coach for five of the states- District Columbia, Connecticut, Ramone, Hawaii, New Mexico and Alaska and naturally, she is rooting for all of them. Even though Deshauna would love to see either one of the five winners, her favorites are District Columbia, Connecticut, and New Mexico.
Even though the competition might be nerve-wracking, Deshauna only has one advice for the current contestants and that is to have fun. "When the girls get there to that type of competition, it is very hard to just have fun because you are so focused on your dream, you crown, your body, you interview and then you realize that you are never going to be able to do this again. You really only get one chance to compete for Miss USA like this is it," she said.
"I always encourage the girls to have a good time because you are never going to relive the moment because it is once in a lifetime opportunity. So, at least if you don't’ walk away with the crown, you can walk away by saying you had a wonderful experience and you met 50 other wonderful women. I walked away with 51 friends and I can go to any of their states. We still keep in contact. I tell the girls to go there have fun, make friends and know that it is not the end even if you walk away with the crown or not," she continued.
At present, Deshauna is ready to laugh her own skincare line in the coming months but while she is at it, she has not forgotten the pageant. She is all set to host a screening of the upcoming pageant and root for all her girls who are going to be competiting.