Bethany Trahan didn’t set out on the journey of a typical beauty pageant entrant. In fact, it seemed that the decks were firmly stacked against her. However, once she set her sights on the Miss Louisiana USA pageant crown, there was no stopping the Lake Charles native, as she proved to all her doubters – including herself – that she was a worthy winner.

Diagnosed with anxiety and depression after falling victim to social media cyber bullies, Bethany Trahan finally asked for help when she was 16 years old. She was prescribed antidepressants and took all the advice doctors gave her, before realising that she didn’t want to be reliant on tablets and taking the decision to change her life for the better.

A visit to Baton Rouge led her to the Miss USA pageant. Watching the confident young women on stage, Bethany realised that their confidence and poise was exactly what she needed to beat her depression and take her down the path to a better life. She texted her parents, telling them “I’ll be Miss Louisiana USA one day. Watch me, I know I can do this”.

The first step of the journey took Bethany to a local dress store, where the owner, who later went on to be her dress sponsor, gave her the email address of 2014’s Miss Louisiana USA, Brittany Guidry, one of the girls she’d seen on stage in Baton Rouge. The girls made contact and Bethany soon found herself heading to New Orleans to be with her friend and training with Brittany’s team. Not only did Bethany learn the skills she needed to be a pageant winner, she learned that it was perfectly fine to have flaws and imperfections and started to accept herself as she was. She could speak up and tell her story to show other people that mental health issues don’t mean abandoning hope. With this new found confidence, she entered the Miss USA system and was awarded first runner up in Miss Louisiana USA.

It didn’t matter to Bethany that she didn’t take the crown that year, because she was a winner in so many other ways. It was an astonishing achievement to win the first runner-up spot against so many seasoned pageant competitors, when all she’d set out to do was challenge herself to step out of her comfort zone. One year later, Bethany returned to Miss Louisiana USA more determined and confident than ever, and took the crown in October 2016.

Bethany Trahan

Making a difference

With the role of Miss Louisiana USA, Bethany has continued her quest for learning about herself and her world. Incorporating her love of travel, Bethany has made a point of seeing as much of Louisiana and the United States as she can, meeting people and hearing their stories. She feels a responsibility towards the next generation of young women, many of whom contact her via Twitter and Facebook, asking her for advice. Many just want to thank her for inspiring them, while others want to ask her advice on how they can overcome their problems. To help them, Bethany thinks back to what she’d tell her younger self – keep pushing forward and stay positive, because things will work out. Five years ago, she would never have thought she would be where she is today, but with belief in herself, she has achieved more than she could ever have dreamed.

Dispelling the popular stereotype, Bethany is keen to prove that pageant entrants aren’t all self-serving young women who want to win the crown at whatever cost. She describes her fellow contestants as a sisterhood, cheering each other on, and eternally humble. After all, she points out, if you’re not true to yourself, and your singular focus is to win, you can’t possibly be open minded enough to win.

Don’t dismiss Bethany as a ditzy beauty pageant entrant either. She’s got big plans for her future. Currently a senior at McNeese State University, she studies public relations and has plans to work in tourism or hospitality in future. Of course, every girl deserves to dream, and Bethany’s dream job would be a PR job for one of her favourite dress designers, Mac Duggal or Sherri Hill, whose gowns she adores. The daughter of a man who runs five businesses, she’s also considering going on to study cosmetology and open her own spa in her hometown of Lake Charles.

Family, future and fun

Family support is important to Bethany, with declaring them her biggest fans. Her sister joined her on stage when she was crowned Miss Louisiana USA and for the first time, she saw her father moved to tears. The impact of that memory still brings tears to her eyes and she describes it as a dream come true. Despite her enthusiasm for travel, she still loves to return home to the family’s veritable farmyard, where they keep donkeys, goats, chickens and ducks.

Regardless of where her life takes her, Bethany is incredibly grateful for the opportunities awarded to her. Her own experiences with the torment of mental health problems mean that she wants to continue to campaign for better awareness of mental health problems affecting young people both now and in the future. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 20% of teenagers in the USA suffer from mental health issues, but very few are able to overcome the stigma which is associated with their suffering. If Bethany, as a pageant winner, can stand tall and talk about her anxiety and depression, she hopes that others will stand with her and find it easier to open up. While she doesn’t consider herself miraculously healed, she makes an effort to keep positive, even on the darkest of days, surrounding herself with positive people and inspirational quotes. As a public figure, she aims to be a light for other depression sufferers, leading them towards a more hopeful place and away from the struggle of working out who they are.

Charity work

Away from the pageant arena, Bethany has taken a semester out of college to involve herself in charitable work. As part of her sorority, she supports the Make A Wish Foundation, and a local charity called Toys For Tots, which delivers gifts to needy children at Christmas. The Miss USA group is actively involved in USO, working with military families, and Bethany has fond memories of meeting the families of active servicemen and women. With her junior counterpart, Miss Louisiana Teen USA, she had a blast taking part in the Buddy Walk, for kids with Downs Syndrome, and the highly emotive special needs pageant, which just proved to her that there are no limitations on anyone unless they choose to accept them.

Now 21, Bethany travels the country, visiting schools and speaking to students of all ages about how there’s no such thing as “Perfect”. With thousands of followers on social media, she sees it as her responsibility to take the time to provide confidence and reassurance, because as she points out, despite all the luxuries that have been awarded to her since she stepped out of the darkness, “That’s the most rewarding part of my job”.

Kreol wishes Bethany the best of luck in this year’s Miss USA contest.