Photo courtesy Genie Bunton
Melody Pierce didn’t grow up doing pageants. In fact, she didn’t compete in her first one until she was 20 years old. Yet her passion and perseverance led her to compete – and ultimately claim the Miss Phoenix crown in 2019 through the Miss America Organization.
Pierce, now 25, initially decided to pursue pageantry because she wanted to contribute to her community in meaningful ways. “I didn’t start out knowing what to do and it took a lot of practice, just utilizing a lot of different resources, never being afraid to ask questions and having the mentorship of other women in the organization,” she says.
Because it is a scholarship organization, being a part of Miss America was also a way for her to further her education and achieve her career goals. Pierce is also a successful public relations professional and business owner.
“I was actually able to graduate from Arizona State University debt-free because of this program. Knowing that there are scholarship opportunities to obtain a master’s degree or continue your education or pay off your student loans is so important to promote to our young girls,” Pierce says. “It’s not every day that you can pursue higher education if you don’t have the resources and doing something as exciting as entering a competition like this can really put you one step ahead when it comes to achieving that goal.”
Pierce hopes to be a role model to young girls, specifically those with body image issues. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder when she was 10 years old. Now, she’s an advocate of ED recovery and body acceptance through her business, STEPS, which stands for Support, Talk, Educate, Prepare and Strengthen.
“That was a really scary thing to go through at such a young age,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of mentors or people in the community to look up to or resources to go to, so I actually didn’t end up getting help until I was about 16 years old.”
One of her biggest missions as a titleholder is to be the mentor that she needed when she was younger. “It really drives me to keep going because I know that there are young kids in our community and even adults who need that reminder that they matter and that they are so worthy of love and accomplishments and success regardless of what they might be going through,” she says.
At first, Pierce wasn’t sure if she could candidly discuss her eating disorder. “It was such a hard subject for me. It was something that I personally went through,” she recalls. “I wasn’t advocating for my dad or my mom or my grandma. I was advocating for myself and for the child that I once was… but at the end of the day, I’m so thankful that I did because I’ve been able to develop a curriculum and start a business and speak to hundreds of thousands of community members about my story and about mental health.”
Now, Pierce feels comfortable talking about eating disorders, mental illness and recovery – she wants to let young people know they are not alone. “I didn’t see a future beyond the struggle that I was dealing with at that time. I didn’t think that I was going to grow up and have this full-time job and competition career and business,” she says. “I came out on the other side and am now able to speak to that strength.”
She says her secret to success and juggling her career and competitions – including the most recent Miss Arizona pageant on Saturday, June 19, in which Pierce placed first runner-up – is “a good planner and good people around you to remind you when to slow down and when to speed up,” she says. She will continue to serve as Miss Phoenix for the remainder of 2021.
“I just feel really prepared and poised thanks to all of the community members who stood by my side,” she adds. “It takes a village and I couldn’t be more grateful for mine.”