15-year-old Mississauga girl crowned Miss Teenage Canada 2020

 

A 15-year-old Mississauga girl will remember 2020 as more than just the year she lived through a global pandemic. 

Despite the COVID-19 crisis and associated upheaval caused by a months-long lockdown, Joanne Shao, a Grade 11 student at John Fraser Secondary School, was recently crowned Miss Teenage Canada 2020

Shao told insauga.com that she was shocked to win the competition. 

"I was kind of in shock because I didn't think I'd make it past provincials, I didn't think I was a pageant girl," Shao says, adding that Miss Teenage Canada was her very first pageant. 

"Moving onto nationals was crazy." 

Miss Teenage Canada 2019 winner Emma Jeapes (left) and Shao (right)

The Miss Teenage Canada 2020 pageant, which tells contestants to "be their own kind of beautiful," says it's a place where girls from across Canada can show off their "creativity, energy, passion and drive, get noticed for their achievements and dazzle the world from the inside out." 

Typically, over 70 finalists compete for the crown in Toronto every summer, but this year was a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The competition was supposed to happen the first week of July at Centennial College, but Michelle Weswaldi, the executive director of the pageant, pushed it to the last week of August and moved it to Barrie where there are less COVID cases. We just all became a social circle," Shao says, adding that organizers created a physically-distanced experience for audience members. 

This year, the pared-down event welcomed just 29 girls to the final competition. 

As for what prompted Shao to try out for the competition, she says her mother encouraged her to get involved after seeing a post on social media.

Shao and her pageant sisters

"My mom saw [the competition] on Facebook and said it would be good for my resume. I applied before provincials and I got an evening gown and heels and we went," she says, adding that the provincial portion of the competition—during which she was crowned Miss Teenage Mississauga—was held in February. 

Shao said she had to overcome a few challenges on her journey to the crown, especially in regards to fundraising and public speaking. 

"All of the girls have to fundraise for the Children's Wish Foundation and I have a hard time just calling people, but I had to do it so I reached out to a yoga place and people I know and I raised about $350," she said, adding that she had to cancel a fundraising event she planned due to COVID. 

Although COVID disrupted this year's competition, organizers did their best to provide Shao and the other competitors with a week's worth of activities and events. 

During the week of Aug. 24, Shao got to enjoy some quiet bonding time with the other contestants, a photoshoot and video shoot, tree-top trekking, lake tubing and a preliminary night—which included a speech and swimsuit portion—with an audience. 

"Thursday was prelims night! Modern College came back to do hair and makeup once again, and then it was showtime," Shao wrote in a blog on the competition's website. 

"We had a 30-second speech about our platform, a swimsuit walk, and then talent. I personally did not perform a talent, but all the talents performed were amazing."

Shao said her platform focused on how social media can negatively affect younger girls, as they always see photoshopped and edited images posted by influencers and celebrities.

Shao also said that one of the highlights was the arrival of last year's pageant winner, Emma Jeapes. 

"I was hardcore fangirling [and] I almost tripped," Shao wrote in a blog post. 

"She is the sweetest, most down to earth person, and I'm so grateful that she is there to guide me through this journey because without her I would be so lost." 

On pageant night, Shao and the 28 other girls participated in a choreographed opening dance number before doing walks in their evening gowns. 

After that, the top 14 girls did swimsuit walks and dances before the judges narrowed it down to just eight finalists. After another evening gown portion, the top five contestants were asked a question.

"In past videos [of the competition], the judges asked the girls about their role models and who inspires them, etc. This year, most questions were pandemic related, but I was asked if pageants are outdated and why," Shao says.  

"I just said they're not because they look like a beauty pageant from the outside, but when you're really inside, you get to experience self-love and gain a lot of confidence and friends. It's a really good experience." 

Shao said she was shocked when she ultimately won the competition.

"I never expected to win. I personally didn't want to make it to the top 5 because I'm not a great speaker," she says, laughing. 

Ultimately, Shao said she got a lot out of the experience and shifted her perspective on pageants in general. 

"I thought pageants were like the movies where the girls are super catty and rude, but these girls, I think I've made life-long friends. I think everyone should do at least one pageant just for the experience. I didn't even think I would make it top 12, but here we are," she says. 

"It still feels like a dream. I have a sash and crown, but it still doesn't feel real. I think my family and friends were surprised and proud. I'm super proud of myself." 

Shao said that over the next year, she expects to attend events (when possible due to COVID restrictions) and do some fundraising. 

"I know that I have to go to provincials next year to host and help out the younger girls, so I'm excited about that." 

As for what the future holds for Shao, she says that one of her life-long dreams is to make it to New York Fashion Week. She also wants to be an osteopathic physician in the future. 

As for whether or not she'll compete in more pageants, she says it's entirely possible. 

"Now that I've won, I think [I might do another], but maybe not in the next few years. Maybe when I'm older I'll go for Miss World or Miss Universe," she says.

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