Meeting with Elle Smith, you are instantly hit with luminous beauty radiating from the inside-out. As Miss USA 2021, you expect the exterior good looks, the grace with which she carries herself and speaks, how she rocks the sleeveless taupe-colored sundress she is wearing. It was the conversation with Elle that really pulled me in. Despite her young age of 23 years, she exudes confidence and wisdom that is often not achieved until one’s later years.
Photography by Filbert Kung @filbert_kung
Creative directing by Derek Warburton @derekwarburton / http://derekwarburton.com/
Style Asst by Robin Leiva Videography by Miguel Felix
Hair & Makeup by Joel Sebastian @joelstylst
Art directing by Alexander Silkin @alexander.silkin
Article written by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of “Get out of the Red Zone” / https://www.elizabethlombardo.com/
Special thank you to Nancy Schuster and Crystle Stewart from the Miss USA Organization https://missusa.com/
Elle radiates calm and passion at the same time. As a psychologist who works with highly successful people to enhance their peak performance, I was struck by her sense of balance when that is what often falters in many who are achieving their dreams. When asked, “How has your fame impacted you? ” she responded, “I am the same person, with or without the crown. Now I just have better clothes.”
But, of course, much has changed for Elle since she was crowned Miss USA on November 29, 2021.
As she shared, “six months ago, I was working as a reporter barely surviving, barely paying my rent, prepping for Miss USA.” Now she lives in Los Angeles, has a busy schedule that starts each day at 5:30, packed with speaking engagements, interviews and other Miss USA responsibilities. And she is excitedly awaiting her first role in a major movie. With the title comes a part in a Tyler Perry production.
While her external circumstances have certainly changed, she disclosed that things are still the same internally, “personality-wise and how I treat people. (Being Miss USA) hasn’t changed me; I just think I’m evolving. I’m in a different form of Elle.”
Elle’s path to pageantry has not been a long one. Despite becoming interested in competing in pageants during high school when a classmate was crowned Miss Ohio Teen USA 2013, the cost of competing was prohibitive. It was not until 2021, when she was working as a news correspondent in Louisville, that she entered (and won!) her first competition, gaining the title Miss Kentucky USA. Later that year, she was crowned Miss USA.
How was she so successful, despite not spending years and years in training, like many other contestants? With the help of expert coaches, she worked hard to get her body and mind ready.
I was curious about what I would imagine is the most challenging part of the on-stage performance, the personal interviews. How did she prepare for that without responding “world peace”? In addition to much practice, her job as a television correspondent was beneficial. “I worked as a reporter, doing live shots constantly. The nervousness anxiety that I would feel before going live and everything just goes out of your brain… (that experience) taught me to deal with that feeling of being uncomfortable in the unknown. So, every single day at work, I would get used to that.” And it certainly paid off.
Stepping into the limelight, spending time on the red carpet, being in the public eye, has its glamour. However, it also comes with social media posts and comments, many from strangers around the world.
“Social media is a highlight reel and people never truly know what is behind the scenes. I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with this transition regarding becoming Miss USA because I am just a regular person. At the end of day, I’m always Elle. “As Elle shared.
How does she deal with any negative comments that might pop up in her feed? “This crown does not define me. I am enough without this crown. The person on the internet who’s commenting on negative things, their opinion is quite frankly relevant. So, you have to be confident in yourself and surround yourself with people who will remind you of your worth when you’re feeling down.” Sounds like sage advice for anyone spending time online- or even off.
She also has advice for those providing the comments. She urges them to “realize that we are human, and we are also mostly very young and trying to navigate this space, so to be kind behind the keyboard.”
Being in the public eye is not an easy thing for many people. And this led us to discussing the tragic death by suicide of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst.
“Cheslie was such an idol of mine. She was a powerhouse of a woman. I related to her as a black woman winning Miss USA and because of her career after pageantry as a correspondent. As a beautiful black woman who embraces her natural hair… She was such a light. Her death was a shock. There were no signs that she was struggling, and I think that’s the part that has made me ask a ton of questions afterward and has impacted all the world, especially the pageant scene since.”Elle shared.
Fortunately, not everyone is in that dire of a state when it comes to their mental well-being. And yet we all deal with distress (the negative aspects of stress). The Red Zone happens when we are at a distress level of 7/10 or higher when 0 means “No distress at all” and 10 means “The most distressed you have ever been.” We all get into the Red Zone sometimes. The key is to recognize it and take steps to lower your distress.
So, how does Elle deal with stress in her life? She takes a step back from the non-stop work.
“I realize that my body tenses up, I don’t feel like normal me, I am quick to anger (so she is human!), all of these different things, and I realize I need to take a step back.” What helps her? “Spending time with a good friend, exercising, taking time for yourself, reading a book (‘I’m a fiction girl!”) are all great ways to stay out of the Red Zone.”
Elle added, “Affirmations are incredibly important.” One of her favorites comes from the 2011 movie The Help: “You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important.” Elle disclosed, “that’s one of the Post-it notes that I’ve had in my bathroom for a while. It is important to remind myself I am enough with or without these different things, and I have people who would love me and support me regardless.” Important advice for us all.
MrWarburton Magazine also spoke to Crystle Young, the new president of the Miss USA pageant for this exclusive comment:
“As the new President of the Miss USA Organization, my goal was always to implement; mental health resources for social media etiquette, cultural appropriation, positive mental health, leadership skills, positive mental health promotion and body positivity through the Crystle Stewart Foundation. With the untimely passing of Cheslie, who was a pillar in many communities, I fast-tracked all these initiatives for every contestant and the winners,” said Crystle Stewart. “In addition, through the Miss Academy, another company under the Miss Brand, Inc, these resources will be open to the general public. I currently have a location in Houston, Texas and will be opening in Los Angeles in April 2022.”
“Through tragedy, positive change can happen. I am thrilled that Crystle and the entire Miss USA Organization are prioritizing mental wellbeing for their members. Our mental wellbeing can impact every facet of our lives, including our emotional health, physical health, relationship and work. The Crystle Stewart Foundation will help so many people do just that.”Dr Elizabeth Lombardo says.
What is Elle looking forward to? For one, a career on camera. “I’m hoping to navigate the acting world. I’m getting media training, acting coaches, all of those different things.” What type of role is she looking for? “I want to portray a character with depth in something that will leave the audience thinking a certain way about a topic or posing a question about society.”
What’s more, since her crowning, Elle has reserved Sundays for her own time. Some readers may wonder how she can do this. I know I sure did. “How do I establish boundaries and maintain them without feeling guilty? As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking up. Sure, I’m still young, but I’m learning skills. Being in this position, you’ve got to learn to speak up for yourself. I am starting to find my voice a little bit more, and I think that’s helping as well.” That is strong guidance for us all.
In addition, Elle is a woman with a mission to support others. She is active in promoting several charities, including the USA organization partners with Smile Train, Best Buddies. Furthermore, she is partnering with the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Her grandmother, who passed away from cervical cancer, was, as Elle described, “my favorite person in the whole entire world. Grandmas are the best, and she was that person for me.”
Ms. Smith also wants to help women in general. “Women, you better occupy space, be powerhouses, do not be afraid to use your voices. I have five beautiful aunts who all have different careers, five different ways in which they’ve navigated life, some are married, some are not, some are divorced, and I’ve learned so much for them, and what I’ve realized is there’s not one way to do things and to define your own femininity. Your femininity is your choice not mine to define for you. And don’t let age define you.” A great message for all women!
While my interview with Elle was relatively short, her words have a lasting impact on me, and I hope you as well. Let us all remember that we are more than a title, to be kind to others (including ourselves), and to follow our hearts as we navigate through life.
Devastatingly, many people suffer with their distress in silence. If you or someone you know is considering ending your life, please get help immediately. Call or text 988 to speak with a trained mental health professional.
Article Written by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
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