It was a great start to the year for Somers High School junior Santina Chiazzese. After having attended a modeling camp in New York City, she decided to explore the world of beauty pageants. First in January, she entered the 2020 Miss Teen New York USA competition and in February, the East Coast USA Pageant, where she won in her age division for overall runway skills and the photo contest.

Santina, who has lived in Somers her entire life, found a sense of camaraderie and joy in being a contestant and participating in the pageants.

“When the crowning comes, you are so happy for everybody else that even if you didn’t win, it’s like their success makes you happy because you are so close with everybody,” she said. 

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The group of young women are judged in areas that include an interview, swimsuit/activewear and evening gown. Each of them take the stage to convey their personality and build their confidence and those who win eventually adopt a particular cause to champion. When asked what platform she would choose if given the opportunity, Chiazzese said it would be “100 percent about bullying” due to her own personal experiences, “because it is not an easy thing to go through and I want to teach children and anyone, that no matter what, you can do what you put your mind to—even if people tell you otherwise.”

To prepare for her first pageant, she was offered tips by a professional coach, though for the second time, she decided to enter the contest without formal preparation, realizing that winning was not her main goal—rather, it was the thrill of being part of the event.

“I didn’t care if I won. I was just happy to be on the stage. It was more of a fun experience than a competitive one for me—you make so many new friends, and in Somers, it can be hard to make friends if you are not in a group, so it was so much better for me,” she said. 

The experience has been just what Santina needed, according to her mother, Lenelle Chiazzese. 

“It boosted her confidence and to see her so happy and excited was so rewarding,” she said. “As a mother, there is nothing better than to experience your child achieve her goal and receive a title. I’m very proud of Santina. She is beautiful inside and out.”

Future plans include competing in Nationals for the East Coast USA Pageant, which was scheduled for July but will likely be postponed. After graduating from high school, the fashion-minded student would like to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan to study merchandising. 

Teachers and classmates in Somers have encouraged and supported her endeavors, Santina said, even though some may have a mistaken idea regarding beauty pageants in general. 

“It’s not just about just a pretty face or being skinny; it is not like that at all,” she said. “It’s more like about your personality and how you are going to affect people in the world.”

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