Miss Alaska builds a grander stage

Hashtags and workouts for former Miss Alaska. She’s becoming her own TV host, brand

Alyssa London’s tour of traveling and speaking at different events hasn’t ended since she started her reign as Miss Alaska 2017. The first Tlingit woman to hold that title.

London remembers the hours of practicing to run for Miss USA 2017 where she made the top 10. She had to learn the “pageant stance” which is standing with her shoulders back to radiate confidence -- and so she could look taller. Ten hours were spent with a runway coach in New York.

She snacked on Tanka Bars as part of her fitness and nutrition regime. (Did I mention she had tons of snacks, plus a jar of protein, in her hotel room?). Her boyfriend, Chris Bryant, a former Division I basketball player, served as her trainer. (They started dating in July 2016.) Her Instagram workout posts inspired community members to workout. The hashtag #AlaskanNativeAbs followed her through her physical transformation.

Over the years pageant critics wrote that these “beauty competitions” reinforce the wrong idea for beauty. It’s superficial and encourages little girls to conform themselves to fit society’s version of what is beautiful. And, this past June, the chairwoman for Miss America announced they are doing away with the swimsuit portion of the competition. They want to be more inclusive to women of “all shape and sizes.”

London disagreed on Instagram.

“Personally the swimsuit competition pushed me to learn that I am in control of what my body looks like and at the end of the day how much I choose to workout or what I choose to eat and fuel my body with is my choice, and the appearance of my body is the outcome of those choices. In no way does my body’s appearance define my self-worth and I am beautiful whether I am a size 6 or size 0, which are the sizes I have personally fluctuated between throughout my twenties.

“Also growing up in the 1990s, the prevalent image of physical beauty were extremely skinny girls with perfectly hourglass hips and waist. I have an athletic physique, that just how I am made, and getting to feel like that was beautiful as well by strutting in a bikini at Miss USA, really felt amazing and satisfied the teenager inside of me that wanted to in some level look like those Victoria Secret Models or other images of physical “perfection” that the media exposes us to.

“Also, pageants gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about health and fitness, and I felt very confident, beautiful and empowered getting to strut my -hard earned- toned physique in front of millions of viewers. Those who judge this as an opportunity for others to objectify us, misunderstand how many of us feel when we get to even be in this position and how much work we put in to getting there. It becomes a goal, a fitness goal, that we got to strive to achieve and just like any other goal it was not easy and it made me mentally (and physically) stronger in the process.

“So I’m glad at least the #missusaorganization is keeping this aspect of the competition that I personally found valuable in my life. But— as with anything to each their own. #opinion”

During our conversation, London did touch on the fitness and nutrition. “The superficial training,” if you will. Critics would probably say it’s pointless and a waste of time. But she talked about how she heavily focused on the interviews.

During the Miss USA competition, contestants go through two 10-minute interviews with selected members of the Miss USA committee. These interviews are worth 60 percent of the total score.

London remembers practicing for two hours once or twice a week with a coach. Part of her training was staying updated on the current events. It was worth it since she made the top 10.

Now the 29-year-old uses her public speaking skills to advance her own business ventures.

She spent her birthday speaking to 25,000 attendees of the Association of United States Army tradeshow as a representative of the Tlingit and Haida Business Corporation this week.

As an ambassador, she hopes to help in building relationships so the corporation can bring in more federal contracts that would directly benefit the community. The corporation, which bought a contracting company in 2016, would bring in funds that would provide services for the Tlingit and Haida communities. Those services include roads and scholarship programs.

London explained this is different from the regional corporations in Alaska where shareholders receive the dividends. She is a shareholder herself and recognizes how that business strategy and the current one will help her community.

Part of building business relationships is learning about one another’s culture, said the Anchorage resident as this mindset built a bridge between her education, passion, and professional endeavors.

The Stanford graduate started her business, Culture Story, by creating and gifting cedar bentwood boxes in 2014 as a way for people to learn about and remember a little piece of Alaska.

Now her brand is expanding to sharing Indigenous cultures through video in a style that combines Vice and “Parts Unknown,” said London who looked up to Anthony Bourdain. She and the creative director, her Tsimshian boyfriend, produced an episode on the 100th year of the Crow Fair. Their next video takes them to the Western Navajo Nation Fair in Tuba City, Arizona.

London always thought you’d have to move to Los Angeles to become a TV host but realized she could create her opportunity without needing to look like the “Hollywood Indian.” (By the way, a talent agent told her she didn’t look like the “Hollywood Indian.”)

“I decided to build on the speaking that I was asked to do as Miss Alaska so now I am doing that through my own brand,” she said. “Those agents are not informed about Native identity and if I’m going to do the work I am going to this myself.”

Her brand allows her to control the narrative unlike Hollywood, which includes letting people know that more Natives are mixed now and don’t always have copper skin and black hair.

London’s friend Amy Sparck said when she speaks with youth about identity it resonates with them. London often asks Alaskan Native youth about their tribe and they proudly raise their hands saying they’re Inuit or Yupik. Something their classmates wouldn’t know. Then those Native kids see they don’t have a specific physical appearance.

“I really believe that our people and our youth are capable of more than they think they are,” London said. “They’re limitless in their ability to achieve so I know if I can tell my story and be a positive influence in some way like plant a seed or idea in their head that they could go to a Stanford or Dartmouth or University of Arizona or be a ‘Miss’ or work for their tribal corporation or Microsoft.”

“It’s all possible for them,” she said. Especially the women.

She hopes more women can fill the leadership roles in Alaska one day because Indian Country could always use more “Beyonce independent women.”

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coast newscast on election day partnering with FNX / First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 6 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Eastern.

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