God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.

That idea is taken from the famous “Serenity Prayer“, and it also is the motto that the current Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, has adopted as her own personal inspiration to guide her in life.

During the preliminary events to the Miss America Pageant, Vail has gained much publicity this past week, some of it good, some of it not so much, for the thing that separates her from any other contestant in the pageant’s history.

Vail has a tattoo.

We’re not just talking any old tattoo either. Not a little image on the shoulder or calf. We’re talking a full-blown phrase tattooed all the way down the right side of her torso. The tattoo reads with the text of that serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

She actually has two tattoos, though it is this largest which gains the most attention. She also has tattooed on her left shoulder the insignia of the unit she serves in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, along with the letter ‘D’, for her Dad. You see, not only is Vail a beauty pageant contestant, she is also a member of the Army National Guard.

At age 17, Vail joined the Guard in her home state of Kansas. Turning 23 years old in just over two weeks, she is now the section leader with her Kansas Army National Guard Medical Detachment. She is a Distinguished Honor Graduate of both the Army School of Health Sciences and the Army School of Ordnance. This is a woman who can help her country in both the dental chair and a foxhole.

In her education, Vail is now a senior at Kansas State University, with a dual major in Chemistry and Chinese – she actually speaks Chinese fluently, something picked up in her military travels. An avid outdoors woman, she is an expert archer who has run an all-girls archery clinic, and is an expert marksman with the M16 rifle in the Army.

She is CEO and founder of her own ‘Miss Outdoor’ brand and website, and spokesperson for the hunting company ‘Suburban Woodsman’. Her talent for the pageant? Singing opera style.

As you can see, Theresa Vail is far more than any beauty pageant stereotype. Her platform issue for Miss America is “Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers.” She grew up being bullied as a small child, made fun of due to some childhood dental issues.

Her father, an Army dentist, fixed her teeth at age 10, and she says the results changed her self-image and her entire life. It gave her immense confidence, and has inspired her most important life choices, including her following him into service to her country and the dental profession.

There are many people who have a problem with beauty pageants. Those individuals in general feel that pageants are exploitative of women, or that they emphasize physical beauty too much. The critics say that these pageants and the physical appearance of the women who participate in them lead young girls to feel inferior when they can’t match up to such standards, or hurt themselves trying to reach them. There are also ultra-moralists who simply think that things like a bikini element are immodest, even immoral.

In Vail’s case, there have been critics who, while supportive of the pageant experience, feel her tattoos are nothing to be celebrated. Their comments have been along the lines of the tattoos taking away from some natural beauty that they believe should be the basis of the contestant’s appeal.

One critic to come has been Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe Organization which runs the Miss USA pageant: “I don’t understand what’s going on with tattoos. I would certainly not want it. I would not want somebody that I’m close to to have it.

Trump is entitled to his opinion, as are the critics of beauty pageants in general, and bikini competitions in particular. As for me, I feel that there is nothing immodest or immoral about pageants or physical beauty contests. As a man, that type of opinion can be open to it’s own smirking criticism. I don’t care. I think that a beautiful woman with a beautiful body should not be viewed at all negatively, but instead as an inspiration to health.

No, not everyone will reach some perceived ideal, but there should always be examples for all of us to try and emulate to become our own personal best.

As for the tattoos, and in fact pageants as well, to me it is all about the “what” and the “where” and the “why”, and nothing at all to do with the tattoo itself. A positive message or image in an attractive location that does not take away from the rest of a person’s look? I see that as only positive. And if it makes that individual feel better about themselves, all the better, all the more inspirational. Miss Kansas’ tattoo meets the criteria in all of those ways.

Theresa Vail is a fine example for any young woman to look up to: God-loving, attractive, intelligent, educated, self-reliant. She serves her country, and is setting up her life to serve her fellow man in the medical profession.

Critics of her should frankly be ashamed of themselves. This is exactly the kind of young person that we all should be praying for more of in today’s society. No, there is nothing wrong with Theresa, and there is nothing wrong with pageants or tattoos.

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