We all have times when it seems like nothing's going our way—when it seems like everything we want is out of reach. Ever have those days when you'd rather stay in bed buried under your covers rather than face the world?
Me, too. Believe me—I've been there.
If you had asked me when I was a kid if I ever thought I'd be a beauty queen, I would have said, “No Way!” In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd enter—and then win!—a beauty pageant. Of course, like most little girls, I watched them on TV, but they seemed more like game shows to me—something to watch, but not actually do.
But I did do it. In 2003 I won the title of Miss USA. And even though I wasn't the most traditionally beautiful contestant, I think what made me stand out—and ultimately win—was my confidence. What made me change my mind about pageants? I realized that it was a great way to bring me closer to my goal of working in the entertainment industry. I always believed a girl like me could win one of those pageants. When I say “a girl like me,” I don't mean I thought I was unattractive. I never felt I was inferior to the other girls in any way. But I knew I was very different from the typical beauty pageant girl. In those days, most girls who won pageants were ultrafeminine Caucasian girlie girls with straight hair, who came from rich families and were really into makeup and clothes.
I am so not any of those things. I'm more of a jock than a girlie girl. My hair is supercurly. I ran track and played volleyball. My family was far from wealthy. And I'm Latina. On top of that, I had no idea how to pick out the right jewelry, put on makeup, or style my hair for a pageant. My usual morning routine involved tying my hair back into a ponytail and throwing on a pair of sweatpants before running out the door for school (hoping to make it to first period on time)!
Winning Miss USA confirmed what I had come to believe long before that point in my life: even though society may value a certain standard of beauty (like those blond-haired, blue-eyed, superthin model types you see on TV and in magazines), that doesn't mean it's the only standard of beauty. Being beautiful and discovering true beauty comes from the inside out. It's about you discovering what's beautiful about you, knowing the right tools to enhance your beauty, and then emanating it.
But soon I realized that becoming a model and winning Miss USA took a whole lot more than what I mentioned during the hour-long speeches I was giving. I began to think about what I really wanted to say to these kids and considered how I could go about saying it. I realized the message I had to impart was about how I became a beautiful and successful woman through the power of positive thinking. I looked back over my life and discovered that I had created a prescriptive plan for myself that consisted of four specific parts: cultivating my spirituality, creating healthy relationships, taking charge of my image, and turning my dreams into reality. In fact, at first I didn't even realize I'd been following a set of guidelines, but now I recognize that I've been following them practically my whole life.
I think these guidelines came about through a combination of my mother's strong principles, which she instilled daily in my sisters and me, and my own internal desire to succeed. Looking back over my life, I began to analyze events in my life and characteristics of my personality. I had always done my best to be a good person and treat people with the respect we all deserve. That resulted in a deep caring for others and a true love for myself. I've always had great support from my family and always returned that love. I enjoyed fashion and tried to look my absolute best, even if I was wearing sweatpants! I've also been writing my goals down and posting them on my wall since I was fourteen years old. But like I said, it wasn't until I became Miss USA that I was able to look within myself and recognize that all those years something extraordinary had been guiding me. That's when I decided to write this book and tell my story, which is one of hope, inspiration, and truth.
I decided to call these guidelines “keys” because that's how I see them—as keys that can unlock your true strength and lead you on a path of self-discovery, empowerment, success, beauty, and ultimately, confidence. These keys are what helped me go from being a girl from Methuen, Massachusetts, to becoming Miss USA, an actor, a radio host, an MTV VJ, a spokesperson for Neutrogena, and now a published author. They are my rules to live by and I want to share them with you. I hope they will inspire you to stay true to yourself and find success in what ever it is you choose to pursue.
The Four Keys
to Unleashing Your Ultimate Beauty #1 Identify and Effectively Develop Your Spirituality
It's imperative to have a strong sense of self. My first step in the journey toward confidence and true beauty was getting to know who I was and what I was made of. I call this “spirituality.” Without a strong sense of spirituality, I wouldn't have been able to achieve my goals.
I first realized the true importance of spirituality when I was in high school and became a member of our school's Peer Leadership Group. The group had a pretty impressive role in our community—we encouraged local elementary school kids to stay in school, stay off drugs, and be responsible people. As a peer leader, my job was to be an inspirational role model. By performing funny plays about being loyal, loving, dedicated, respectful, and hardworking, our goal was to instill positive character traits in our young audience, who would hopefully, in turn, inspire those around them to make positive improvements in themselves and their community.
I always felt so good about myself on those days when we performed for the kids. On those evenings in particular, while brushing my teeth before bed, I'd catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I truly loved the person I saw staring back at me. I thought, “Here's the face of a person who cares for others, someone who's a leader, someone who isn't perfect, but is happy and confident.” I felt like the most beautiful girl in the world.
What I learned from being part of that program is that having a strong spiritual center gave me more confidence than just about anything. I wasn't looking at my hair or my skin or my cheekbones when I was looking at myself in the mirror—I was looking at ME. The real me, the inner me—the giving, loving, radiant me.
#2 Embrace and Nurture Your Relationships
Everyone needs to develop a support system. Family and community were (and still are!) really important to me. My dad might not have been around, but I was able to create my own cadre of reliable people I could call on.
Talk about a support system—I had twelve aunts and uncles and about fifty cousins on my mom's side—all the family one could ever need or want! Some of them lived close by, within walking distance, so my cousins were my best friends. If someone was ever in need, family was there to give what they could to help out. That's how it always was.
Still, it was my immediate family—my mom and sisters—that I was closest to. Mami always made us feel like we came first—that everything she did was done with us in mind. I think part of the reason I want to succeed in life is because, in a way, it's like paying my mom back for all her sacrifice and hard work. I couldn't have gotten to where I am today without her, and I think she wouldn't have been able to withstand my father leaving her if it hadn't been for us and the need to make sure we were fed, clothed, and loved.
#3 Take Control of Your Health and Body Image
Your body image is a reflection of your self-control and self-love. Winning Miss USA taught me that beauty comes from the inside out. Sure, I learned a lot of tricks along the way for looking good (which I'll share with you here!), but the most important thing I learned is that if I'm beautiful internally, I'm beautiful externally, as well. There's so much more to looking good than wearing the right lip gloss (although M·A·C's Viva Glam is my fave!).
Looking good starts with having a healthy attitude toward nutrition and exercise. When I decided to give modeling a shot, I wanted to appear as physically fit and healthy as I could. I wanted to achieve that from the inside out, so I started by altering my diet. I added more fresh fruits and vegetables to my diet, drank more water and natural juices, and then I began to include strength training in my workout routine. Within just a few weeks, I felt like a new person. I had more energy, a more positive outlook, and on top of that, because I felt so great, I really looked good, too.
That's when I realized that it was me who had the power to change not only my internal self, but also my physical appearance. I learned that I am the one who can make the biggest difference in the image I present to the world. Once I felt healthy on the inside I began to concentrate on my outward appearance. I learned how to wear makeup, do my hair, and choose the right outfit for my body. Altogether these things made a big difference both in how I looked and how I felt about myself. I had all the proof I needed that I was on the right track when, a year later, I signed with a modeling agency.
#4 Believe in Your Dreams and Make Them a Reality
Having long-and short-term goals keeps you positive, focused, and strong. My dreams and aspirations kept me moving forward, rather than letting me become discouraged by the pov...