While most of her peers back home were grappling with midterms and summer-internship applications, 19-year-old Kirsten Haglund was making the rounds of Jimmy Kimmel Live and Live with Regis and Kelly.
Now that Miss Michigan’s sash reads “Miss America,” the Farmington Hills native is on what she calls a yearlong “national tour.” When Haglund completes her duties, the reigning American beauty says she plans to return to the University of Cincinnati and hopes to perform one day on Broadway. Between her beauty-queen interviews, she paused to chat by phone with Hour Detroit.
How drastically has your life changed since the win?
I am homeless. I am traveling around the country living in different hotels and doing appearances. I am a national Goodwill Ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, as well as promoting my platform. When I go places as Miss America, there is this feeling of celebrity that I never felt before. I am just Kirsten. I am just normal and to have other people see you as representing something so huge, and being someone who is a celebrity, that’s just a whole new concept to me.
Do you ever Google yourself, and find yourself taken back by the articles and press you have received?
My mom has been doing that and e-mailing me the links. Maybe right after the pageant, then after that, I stopped. You can’t get caught up in that; you have to stay grounded.
Did you have a stylist to assist you for the competition?
You work with a team of people from your state. You have a director, and I have my mom. I had a wardrobe sponsor, whom I worked with in Farmington Hills [now located in Novi], Larry Kralowski, who owns Kray Chic.
Why did you decide to sing the song “Over the Rainbow”? Does it have a special meaning?
First and foremost, it was the very first song I sang in front of people. Now as an adult, the message of it is so simple and so beautiful and the words are very lyrical. [The song] takes us back to a place that is more childlike and innocent. This song has such a pure and simple message.
Fame is difficult. We see young celebrities struggling every day. How do you plan to overcome the pressures and remain a role model?
In this job, and as Miss America, you don’t have time to do any of that [drinking and drug abuse]. You’re with a traveling companion all the time. This is a job. I am a businesswoman and spokesperson. I am a marketing executive and I am a salesperson. I am all of these things. I am never out partying. I don’t want to speak about being a role model, and speak about healthy eating and healthy habits and not be an example of that myself. That is why I got involved in this program in the first place.
Knowing the responsibility of being Miss America, what are your thoughts on Tara Conner [former Miss USA]? Do you think she should have been given a second chance?
I don’t really want to talk about her specifically. I think it was good she was given a second chance. We are all human and we all do make mistakes, and she made strides to get better. She went to rehab, and she had the support of her organization. I think if she wouldn’t have taken her recovery seriously and she didn’t take her job seriously, then they would have been right to pull her crown.
Sometimes beauty pageants are given a bad rap, JonBenét Ramsey, for example. How do you respond to those negative claims?
People don’t really understand the pageant world. That’s why the new direction that this Miss America is going this year is so good. We are trying to market back to young girls [teenagers and young women] and talk about the four points of the crown: service, style, success, and scholarship. By marketing the programs and getting people engaged so that they know we are about scholarships and service is the best way to combat that image.
How do you argue that walking on stage in a bikini and being judged isn’t demeaning to women? Do you feel it’s harmful for young girls?
[As] someone who has survived an eating disorder [anorexia], I felt pressure not to become thinner, but to be someone who was healthy, fit, and muscular. I think it’s a healthy and fit body image that we promote, not something that is stick-thin and not realistic.
With your platform issue, raising awareness about eating disorders, how do you plan to make a difference?
My platform is raising awareness of eating disorders because I have suffered from one. During my year as Miss America, I plan on working with the eating disorder coalition in Washington, D.C. I am going to be there to launch the FREED act, which is for the recovery and elimination of eating disorders. [Another good group is] the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). We are looking right now to get some sponsorship from the corporate level from some health and vitamin companies and women’s health organizations so they can come on board as sponsors, and we will be able to promote health and fitness and good body images for women across the country.
Whom do you admire, and believe is truly beautiful?
My mom. She struggled with breast cancer, and she went through a horrible ordeal and had chemotherapy and a couple of discectomies and reconstructive surgery. And that can really play havoc with a woman’s sense of outside physical beauty. It affects an organ that is obviously so clearly indicative of a woman and that forced her into an early menopause. And with early menopause comes the gain of weight and all these things that make you feel really not beautiful physically. But she has emerged as this wonderfully empowered woman and she just glows. She has become a beacon of life for women going through the same thing.