In Amy Diaz's world, beauty queens aren't afraid of a little dirt. Diaz, who grew up in Providence, is a national advocate for the environment and green living — and the new Miss Earth USA.
The goal of the Miss Earth competition, which began in 2001, is to "reinvent the concept of the pageant" by having the participants focus on the environment, said Evan Skow, director and national organizer of Miss Earth USA.
Though Diaz's zeal for the environment now even extends to her e-mails — she starts every one with "‘Green'tings" — her pageant life began in a less green setting, at a mall in Swansea, Mass., where a recruitment booth caught her attention at age 13. She began competing in "natural pageants," which put less emphasis on contestants' appearance, and where she could compete with "bushy eyebrows and puffy hair," she said.
Diaz fell in love with pageantry and its "positive influence" on her life. She said competitions taught her public speaking skills, increased her confidence and instilled in her the "desire to achieve greatness."
In 2001, Diaz earned the title of Miss Rhode Island Teen USA. She then went on to win the adult version of the state competition in 2008 and placed in the top 15 in the national Miss USA competition. A year later, Diaz captured the crown in the Miss Earth USA contest.
The transition to Miss Earth competitions was a natural switch for Diaz, who is passionate about the environment. "Every pageant has a platform. Miss USA focuses on breast and ovarian cancer and Miss Earth focuses on the environment and green programs," she said.
Miss Earth's eco-friendly emphasis brings Diaz — who grew up in a Dominican family with a small carbon footprint — back to her roots. "Growing up, we were pretty green," she said.
"I didn't grow up with a washing machine or dishwasher. I used to wear cloth diapers. My mom had a big garden."
Diaz's environmentalism is more than a passing fad. "For me, it really was going back to who I was as a person and my core values instilled in me by my parents," she said.
This return extends to her hometown. Diaz works with several local environmental non-profits including Groundwork Providence, Save the Bay and Runway Earth, an eco-friendly fashion show hosted by Brown and RISD students.
"It's been really about giving back to the community, and pageants have been my vehicle to do so," Diaz said, adding that she believes people with titles have even more power to execute change. "Protecting the environment is something we all have responsibility in doing, and if I can do it with a title, that's great."
And the race for the most important title is yet to come. On Nov. 1, over 100 delegates will gather for nearly a month at Boracay Ecovillage in the Philippines to compete in the world pageant.
Throughout their time in Boracay, the contestants are under constant observation by undercover judges who score them on overall personality at the end of the month, said Skow, the national director. During this time, contestants perform shows in eco-friendly costumes, plant trees, pose for photo-shoots and attend meet-and-greets. The undercover format helps judges understand the true personality of each delegate so that Miss Earth "will be seen for who she really is," he said.
The actual competition is held on Nov. 22, and features the usual evening gown, swimsuit and interview lineup of more conventional pageants.
The contest doesn't limit its titles to Miss Earth — it also awards crowns for Miss Fire, Miss Air and Miss Water. But Diaz said she hopes to take the big one.
"I'm well educated, very personable," she said. "I care very much for the environment and the activities that affect our earth."
Regardless of the outcome, however, Diaz said that pageants and the environment will always be a part of her life.
"I love being one with nature," she said. She drives a convertible to enjoy the weather in transit, frequents the beach to "enjoy the sand and the shells" and has even tried skydiving.
Diaz said that, despite their "bad rap," pageants have been a positive experience that has given her opportunities to travel and meet interesting people. Her advice to aspiring beauty queens: "Try it. Like anything else in life. It's like if you have an itch or an urge to go skydiving — what's the worst that can happen?"