THIS is beauty...

I have spent time with olympians, world champions, musicians, millionaires, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover models. What I have found is that each and EVERY one of them gets insecure. EVERY one of them doubts themselves at times. So, if the “world class” doubt themselves, we ALL will doubt ourselves...and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My friend, Jessielyn Palumbo was crowned Miss New Jersey USA in 2016, and one of her passions and goals during her rein was women’s empowerment. Now, as a professional photographer, she continues to make an impact worldwide. In her newest project, “This is Beauty,” a photographic series, Jessielyn shows a vulnerable yet powerful side of beauty. This raw, and honest piece features the former Miss New Jersey USA, along with some of her Miss USA sisters opening up in a never before seen “work of art.”

The following is a guest post by Jessielyn Palumbo, Miss New Jersey USA 2016...

As a woman passionate about empowering other women, and instilling self-love and self-worth into our youth, I have had enough of the criticism and the false portrayal of what we as women, should look like. And I have decided to take action.

In today’s society, many women feel the need to fit a certain mold, or to edit their pictures to unrealistic perfection. As a former titleholder, I have received criticism first-hand both in and out of pageantry. I have been criticized for not fitting into someone else’s standard of beauty (their opinion), and bullied by people who know nothing about me except what they see in a photo. The irony of it all, is that despite such criticisms, I still held my head high and did what I ventured into the pageant world to do: empower other women. I, along with a few of my Miss USA sisters, have decided to continue to rise above these critics by celebrating ourselves in the most vulnerable, yet confident way possible. In only our skin and little makeup, we are embracing our every curve and so-called “flaws” unedited. There is no ideal form of beauty and everyone is beautiful in their own unique way. WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL. #ThisISBeauty

Series name : “This IS Beauty”

JESSIELYN PALUMBO @jessiepalumbo


Meanest comment received: From anonymous cyberbullies, people have said I “look like a bird”, or I am “too angular” because my “nose and chin are too big.”

Definition of beauty: I think beauty is undefinable. It's something that each person views differently. I personally believe there's beauty in everything, and it just depends on the perspective. Every characteristic, including a so-called "flaw" is beautiful. It's what makes you unique and ultimately "you." I also believe beauty is not solely physical. Inner beauty of heart, strength, and confidence contribute to someone's overall beauty.

Insecurities: Of course, everyone has their moments of lack of confidence, but these hurtful comments didn’t help. I have never seen anything wrong with my profile or bone structure until people started to dissect my appearance. This was my motivation for the “ThisISBeauty” project, to not only empower myself again, but other women who have been ridiculed based on this subjective idea of beauty.



Meanest comment received: When I was working with Sports Illustrated, an Instagram troll said I was "as big as a whale." Although it hurt to read those words, it made me even more aware of how the world needs to see multiple ideas of beauty to eliminate the stigma that "only one size is acceptable."

Definition of beauty: I think beauty truly comes from within. It has nothing to do with your looks, what clothes you wear, or how much make-up you have on. Being beautiful is a feeling, a way of life.

Insecurities: As a woman, I do have some insecurities but I never let these get in the way of me living a happy life.

What made me do the shoot: I wanted to prove to myself and others that it's okay to embrace your beauty. Beauty is relative to the person. I love my body, curves and all, and wanted other women to have a visual example of what that can look like.

How I felt during the shoot: I was a little nervous shooting in my birthday suit, but it honestly was the most fun I've had! I felt so free and accepted for who I am. That's a feeling I will never forget.

THERESA AGONIA @theresaagonia


Meanest comment received: Cyberbullying isn't a new phenomenon, unfortunately. I remember being told on an anonymous feedback platform that I had no body and that I was too skinny during my freshman year of high school. That stuck with me for a bit.

Definition of beauty: I define beauty as living with purpose. Some of the most beautiful women in my eyes are Jessica Alba, Viola Davis, and Ellen Degeneres. While aesthetically they are different, they are driven by their passions. They are driven by making the world a better place, and that's something that comes from within but radiates for the world to see. To me, that is true beauty.

Insecurities: I have many insecurities but I do not allow those insecurities to overshadow my confidence in myself as a person.

What made me do the shoot: Family, friends and colleagues have told me that I am too skinny, and that seeing bones is not healthy. Yet, despite the criticism, I lead a healthy lifestyle, and love who I am. I did this photo shoot to remind people that 'skinny-shaming' is not okay.

I did this photoshoot because I want to live in a world that allows women to be multi-dimensional. We cannot continue to be depicted as beauty or brains. We need to be able to become CEOs while feeling confident in how we look, and not being questioned for our intelligence.

How I felt during the shoot: At the beginning of the shoot, I felt a bit uncomfortable. There's certainly comfort in being able to put on makeup, knowing there is great lighting and opportunities for editing. But, the message this sends is we are not good enough as our true selves. Once we got into a rhythm, I remembered the importance of acknowledging our imperfections. It was empowering to not feel like we needed to look a certain way to be accepted, and that being who you are is good enough and valued.

ALEX VORONTSOVA @alexvorontsova


Meanest comment received: Many people told me that I was too thick to make it far in Miss USA. I started to believe it really was my body that held me back. Now, I realize this is a ridiculous mindset, and allowing these comments from strangers to negatively affect me was the worst thing I could have done. I hope to never regress back to allowing others to tell me how I should look. I can't change my genes, and I'm not looking to anymore.

Definition of beauty: Beauty is pride in one's health and appearance. Putting effort into exercise and health makes a person feel good and shows in the way that person carries herself. Once someone starts to compare herself to others and finds jealousy in other's fortunes, I find that beauty then diminishes.

Insecurities: An insecurity of mine is my hands/feet. I really think I have chubby fingers and toes and people always randomly point it out to me.

What made me do the shoot: I wanted to let go of feeling like I needed to look absolutely thin on-camera. I have an athletic body type and that's not what every person would consider "in" at the moment. I love my body, however, there are certain angles of myself that can, at times, make me cringe. No part of my body should ever make me feel like I need to hide it from the world. Untouched and unedited, this shoot made me embrace all parts of myself.

How I felt during the shoot: I felt totally comfortable during the shoot. I was hanging out and goofing around with about 5 very close friends of mine. I trust these girls and admire them for their confidence and how we can all make light of nearly any situation.

TIFFANY TEIXEIRA @tiffany.teixeira


Meanest comment received: Overall, I think it's just constantly being "too short or thick" for some internet bully’s liking. When I'm called too short or thick on social media, that hurts, and as much as I don't want to take it personally, there are certain things that I can't help but allow to marinate in my mind. Even as the self-loving woman that I have become, I still have moments of weakness.

Insecurities: We all have insecurities and always will, but it is moments like this photo shoot that make us remember that they do not define us.

Definition of beauty: I believe that we as humans don't HAVE souls, but we ARE souls who have bodies. And these bodies are simply our "shells." Beauty to me, comes from within. It is the light that shines from within your soul. It is your happiness...your charisma. Sure, you can see something that may be aesthetically pleasing with your eyes and consider it beautiful, but true beauty, real beauty, well that is something you feel. And I firmly believe that the day we begin to see souls instead of bodies is the day that our ideals of what beauty is will change.

What made me do the shoot: To pave the way for the young women who come after me. To show them that beauty isn't being curvy or being thin, or having perfect skin. Beauty is whatever the hell you want it to be. It is the light the shines from within your soul.

How I felt during the shoot: The photo shoot was one of the most liberating moments of my life. It can be so hard to be a woman because people expect you to be perfect. You cannot be too thin because then you're "boyish" and you cannot be not too thick, because then you're "fat." You can be sexy, but not too sexy because then you must be a slut. And if you're too conservative then you're a boring prude. Oh, and you also should look like a Victoria's Secret model all while being able to drink beer and throw back pizza like the guys. Finally i said, “Screw it, I’m perfect just the way I am!”

These photos, in my eyes at least, have given me the opportunity to give the most artistic middle finger to the modern beauty standard. For the first time I really didn't care that I wasn't hiding behind Photoshop. If there is a dimple in my bum, or a wrinkle on my face, then so be it. I mean, in a perfect world I would walk around with a Valencia filter on me at all times, BUT that is not reality, and we need stop making it seem like it is. It took me 26 years to love me, and I couldn't care less about any other opinion.

NEELY FORTUNE @neelyfortune


Meanest comment received: "I'm not trying to be funny or a prick, but she looks like a straight-up dude. I'm pretty sure Vermont has the ugliest women if she is the one that reps the crown.”

Insecurities: I have always been insecure about my body shape, but when you are in the pubic eye, you open yourself to endless criticism. To put it bluntly, people can be really, really mean, especially behind the anonymity of a keyboard. It was hard for me to not let complete strangers’ comments affect me, and honestly, they still do sometimes. But what gets me through is knowing that by being strong and loving myself, I can show other women that they are not alone in feeling insecure or in being bullied. People’s opinions of you are not who you are and the only opinion that matters is your own. Love yourself, be yourself, and know that you are more powerful than you realize. Never let anyone tell you who you are.

Definition of beauty: I define beauty as pursuing your passions and being who you are regardless of the obstacles that stand in the way. There is always going to be someone telling you "You can't...You can't win a pageant, you're not pretty enough," or "You can't be a scientist, you're not smart enough," or "You can't run marathons, you're not strong enough."

To be confident enough in yourself to chase the things that you want in life, even when everyone is telling you that you can't is the sign of a truly beautiful person.

We are all beautiful in our own unique way, and if we can truly embrace that and be authentic with ourselves and the world, we would end much of our suffering, and empower others.

Thank you to Jessielyn Palumbo and her Miss USA sisters for authentically exposing their inner and outer beauty and giving hope to women (and men) everywhere. This is not only an important women’s empowerment message, but a HUMAN empowerment message.

“Hopefully this project will enlighten anyone to feel empowered in their own skin.” -Jessielyn Palumbo

Photographer: Jessielyn Palumbo @jessiepalumbo

Makeup artist: Angelica Alberti @absolutelyangelicamua

Ed Tseng (@edtseng) is a peak performance consultant, best-selling author, and TEDx speaker. His book, “Game. Set. Life. - Peak Performance for Sports and Life” has been on Amazon’s Top 10 in Sport Psychology and is featured annually at the US Open Championships. Ed was named Pro of the Year for the USTA in 2005 and lives in the Princeton, New Jersey area. For more information, visit:

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