Bath native Mikell Reed Carroll was crowned International Ms. USA on Sunday. Carroll lives in Croatia with her husband and two children where she works at the U.S. embassy. (Photo courtesy of Mikell Reed Carroll)

BATH – What started as a means of paying for college became an empowering hobby for Bath native Mikell Reed Carroll and led her to the International Ms. USA crown on Sunday. 

Carroll, who came from an impoverished background, first competed in pageants to win scholarships for college. She estimated she has competed in a dozen pageants, winning five or six.  

Carroll lives in Zagreb, Croatia, where she and her husband work at the U.S. embassy. A graduate of Saint Joseph’s College and the University of Maine School of Law, Carroll also has worked for the State Department at the U.S. Consulate General in Vietnam. The couple has two children.

At 41-years-old, Carroll said she decided to compete again simply because she enjoys the pageants. 

“I get involved in community service, it helps me stay in shape, and motivates me to be the best me I can be,” said Carroll. “I feel pageants are extremely empowering.” 

The International Ms. pageant features several competition sections, including an interview, evening gown and “resort wear,” in which competitors can wear anything from a two-piece swimsuit to a long dress.

The Miss America pageant did away with the swimwear section of the competition last year during the height of the #MeToo movement, when women across the world started speaking more publicly out about their experiences with sexual harassment and violence. Miss America Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson said the organizations eliminated the swimsuit portion of the competition in an effort to focus on contestants’ intelligence and talents, as reported by The New York Times. 

“Giving people the choice [to wear a swimsuit] is a good compromise,” said Carroll. “I personally like the swimwear competition. It’s a way to show how hard I’ve worked.” 

Carroll said competitors are judged on the confidence they exude rather than how much skin they show. 

Carroll, having competed in pageants exclusively for married women, said she likes the fact that the International Ms. pageant allows competitors of all relationship statuses, including those in same-sex relationships.

While the International Ms. pageant doesn’t discriminate based on relationship status, it only allows “natural born females” to compete, according to their website. This means transgender women are barred from competing.

“In my opinion, if someone wants to compete in a pageant, they should be allowed to compete,” said Carroll. “I consider myself a feminist, and to me, being a feminist means having the choice to do whatever you want to do.”

In 2012 the Miss Universe pageant lifted its ban on transgender contestants and last year Miss Spain Angela Ponce became the first transgender competitor. While she didn’t win, she said her appearance in the competition is a step toward inclusiveness and respect, as reported by the Boston Globe.

Carroll said she plans to donate her winnings to a nonprofit in Belgrade, Serbia called Refugee Aid Serbia. The nonprofit holds educational and recreational workshops in Serbia. 

She said she hopes to teach her children humility, selflessness, and compassion for others through her work with pageants.

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