Mekayla Diehl may not have won the title of Miss USA 2014, but the Internet hasn’t stopped buzzing about the 25-year-old Indiana beauty since Sunday’s competition. As soon as she strutted her fit physique in the swimsuit portion, social media lit up with praise for her “normal body,” thanking her for not being “crazy skinny.”
Diehl visited the Shape office to chat about how it feels to have so many people talking about her appearance and how she plans to spread the word about body confidence.
Shape: What was your initial reaction to the Twitter buzz about your body?
Mekayla Diehl (MD): One hundred percent surprise. I never thought that my swimsuit body would be the one that everyone is talking about. I’m not a supermodel—I’m the girl from Indiana who works at a dress shop. It’s so inspiring to me that other girls are inspired by me. It just warms my heart.
Shape: How did you feel reading people's comments?
MD: All the responses I got were so positive. It was kind of a sigh of relief since I didn’t make it to the top 10 because of my swimsuit body. Then to see all these reactions thanking me—it was bizarre, because I didn’t do anything. I walked onstage in a swimsuit with my head high for 30 seconds. I just was happy to be in my own skin. The thank yous are appreciated but not necessary.
Shape: Have you always been this confident during the swimsuit portion?
MD: It has always been my favorite part of the competition, because the moment I realized that swimsuit is won from the neck up—your facial expression and carrying yourself in a confident way—I knew that I didn’t have to be the skinniest anymore. I love my body the way it is. I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to look like a supermodel because I’m not magically going to grow four inches, but I can make sure that my body is the healthiest that it can be.
Shape: What’s your usual exercise routine?
MD: Getting ready for Miss USA, I had fitness ADD. I don’t like doing the same thing everyday. So some days I did a bootcamp-style workout with a trainer—flip tires, bang hammers, ropes, kickboxing. I never knew what to expect, which made it exciting to go. With another trainer, I did high-intensity interval training once a week to get that burst of hard-core cardio. And I did a lot of Pilates on the reformer machine. On some days, with so many things on my plate, I could only fit in 10 minutes, so I’ll just do jumping jacks and an abs workout. I make it my goal to do something everyday.
Shape: Have you been active your whole life?
MD: I’ve been an athlete my entire life. From second grade until I graduated college, I played volleyball and ran track. But after school, I didn’t know how to be just overall fit and healthy. I found FullOnFit.com, which was wonderful for me when I was preparing for Miss Indiana. They created a custom workout program, and it didn’t cost thousands of dollars.
Shape: Do you see yourself as a role model for young girls?
MD: I’ve always admired mentoring. My past was rough—being sexually abused, my mom abandoning me, and my dad going to prison—which helps me connect with kids. The people who mentored me were very important in my life, and through pageantry I realized all the opportunities where I could be a mentor to kids as well.
Shape: What message do you want to tell young women who may feel insecure in their bodies?
MD: Be yourself. You just have to own who you are. [Tweet this quote!] And find something that makes you feel good about yourself and feel beautiful. Some girls love to run, some girls love to dance, and some girls love to read—do whatever it is that makes you happy.
Shape: What are your post-pageant plans?
MD: [Miss USA] Nia [Sanchez] and I joked that we are giving ourselves one week to eat everything we couldn’t eat for about six months prior to the pageant—Mexican, Chinese, fries—then go back to clean eating. I’m excited to relax a little bit, but I’m more excited to continue what I’m doing right now—talking about body image and health. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing. I’d like to talk to girls, shake their hands, and have a one-on-one interaction. When I walk in the room, at first they're like, "Oh it’s just another pageant girl." But then I can show them I’ve been in their shoes before, and the look at me so differently. It’s not a crown and sash and high heels anymore—it’s Mekayla, who earned and went after her dream.