“In the blink of an eye you become this instant celebrity. I couldn’t help but think, ‘I’m just an everyday girl. I’m nobody special.’”
In June of 2009, Ashley Shaffer was crowned Miss New Jersey. At just 23-years-old, she embarked on a year-long journey of a lifetime, even competing at the national level in the 2010 Miss America Pageant.
Now the 24-year-old is focused on grades instead of glamour. This September, the beauty queen turned business student put her crown on the shelf to pursue a different kind of title: an MBA from Rutgers Business School.
Having been born and raised in New Jersey, I always knew that I wanted to be Miss New Jersey and that I wanted to compete in the Miss America pageant. Growing up in Monmouth County, the Miss America pageant took place right in my backyard in Atlantic City. I grew up watching it with my mother and it had been a tradition shared by the both of us.
During my junior high school years I really wanted to get into acting and modeling, and I knew pageantry was a good way to reach those goals. When I became old enough, in the fall of 2005, I began competing for Miss New Jersey. You have to win a local title first, so I started out in some of the smaller, more localized pageants. At the time, I won a total of four local titles: Miss Monmouth County, Miss Burlington County, Miss Liberty, and Miss Columbus Day.
As I strived for the Miss New Jersey crown, I initially felt like it was the only thing I wanted to do in my life. But as you compete and grow and learn about yourself, you come to realize that it may not happen. Every year in the state pageant there were new girls and they were all amazing and they were all beautiful. So I reached a point where I was content with winning or not winning.
It took four years of competing, but I was crowned Miss New Jersey in June of 2009. When I actually won, I was truly flabbergasted.
My year as Miss New Jersey was the journey of a lifetime. While I was competing for the crown, my platform was to help fight America’s obesity epidemic. When I got to the stage of Miss New Jersey, I had an opportunity to raise this awareness to even greater heights.
I championed for “Battling America’s Obesity Epidemic” through partnerships with the American Heart Association and the Children’s Miracle Network. I spoke to more than 2,000 students across the state of New Jersey and lobbied for the passage of a new law into New Jersey legislature, requiring restaurants to put calorie counts on their menus. I also developed a cook book and a children’s healthy-eating coloring book titled “The Adventures of Harry the Healthy Horse.” This was great tool for children to interactively learn about the importance of having a healthy diet.
Living a positive and healthy lifestyle is important to me because I personally dealt with health and weight issues throughout my entire life. I leveraged the pageants and the Miss New Jersey stage to tell my story of how I lost weight the healthy way, encouraging young girls to live healthy and not resort to eating disorders.
Besides promoting this very important cause, my year as Miss New Jersey was filled with appearances, speaking engagements, and being an overall role model for young girls throughout the state. In the blink of an eye you become a celebrity, yet all I could think my entire year was that I was just an everyday girl.
My most memorable moment as Miss New Jersey would have to be competing in the Miss America pageant. Being able to compete on a stage against 53 contestants (including representatives from Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico), considered to be the best in the country is quite a euphoric experience. I remember standing backstage the final night of the pageant. We were live on television and I thought to myself, “Tonight, I could be Miss America and begin the year of a lifetime.” This was followed by a rush of energy and excitement that is truly incredible.