It’s not often that tattoos are judged right alongside appearance and talent in the annual Miss America competition, but this year’s Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, is openly challenging this outdated pageant stereotype with a huge and very visible tattoo on her ribcage. During the swimsuit portion of the Miss America competition on September 10, the beautiful 22-year-old blonde from Kansas became the first contestant to openly display her tattoos, revealing some much-talked-about ink on her left shoulder and right ribcage. By choosing to display her tattoos instead of covering them up, Vail, a sergeant in the Army National Guard’s medical detachment, an expert marksman and an avid bowhunter, is hoping to help women break down barriers and overcome stereotypes.
Miss Kansas’ first tattoo is located on her left shoulder and depicts the insignia of the U.S. Army Dental Corps, which symbolizes the pride she has for her military heritage. Her more prominent tattoo is inked in a Gothic font on her right ribcage, extending from just below her right armpit all the way to her hip, and features the well-known Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” The Serenity Prayer was created in the early 1900s by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and has since become a popular mantra for those who have struggled to overcome a difficult time in their lives, like Theresa Vail.
“I am writing this post just weeks away from competing for Miss America because I do not want to shock the nation when I’m seen in a swimsuit, bearing my marks. I want to explain the meanings and reasons behind them, and why I am opting to show them proudly,” the Kansas State senior wrote on her blog prior to the pageant. Vail goes on to reveal the inspiration behind her serenity tattoo, explaining that she grew up dealing with neglect and bullying, and often found herself asking God “to give me peace in knowing I cannot change certain things about myself, but also asking Him to give me the strength to change things that I had the power to.”
As for her military tattoo, she says: “Since I was a child, God placed a strong passion for service into my heart. Service to my Country, and service to people through medicine. In the middle of this symbol is the letter ‘D’ to represent my dad, whose influence was paramount in choosing this career path.” She explains that she chose to display her tattoos during the competition because her platform involves “empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered the ink…I am who I am, tattoos and all.” For the record, Miss Kansas had also hoped to display her skill as an archer in the talent portion of the competition, but was prevented from doing so by a pageant rule that prohibits “projectile objects.”