By Lara Rosenbaum
September 16, 2014

Carolyn Desert, crowned Miss Haiti earlier this month, has a truly inspiring story. Last year, the writer, model, and aspiring actress opened a restaurant in Haiti when she was just 24 years-old. Now she's a cropped-coifed beauty queen whose M.O. is to empower women: to seize your goals, understand the nature of real beauty, and follow your dreams-no matter where you live, or what your background is. We caught up with the trailblazer, and got the scoop on her pageant win, how she stays fit, and what's up next.

Shape: When did you decide to compete in beauty pageants?

Carolyn Desert (CD): This was actually my first pageant! I've never been the girl to dream of being in a pageant. But this year, I decided I want to sell a new image, one about internal beauty and achieving goals. Physical beauty doesn't last like internal beauty. So many sources tell women how to look and dress; there aren't a lot of women who embrace their natural hair and curves. Here in Haiti, when a girl is 12-it's almost scheduled-we get the perm, and relax the hair. Girls can't picture themselves another way. I wanted to help women to start loving themselves the way they come-and to understand the difference. It hasn't been a week since I've won-and girls in the street have come up to me saying how next year they want to participate in the pageant, and be like me. Already, this pageant has made a difference.

Shape: What prompted you to take the plunge and open a restaurant?

CD: I'm an innovative person and have always set my own goals. I studied hospitality management at Florida International University. Entrepreneurship has always been a passion of mine along with acting and modeling, so I told myself, ‘By the time I'm 25, I'm going to open a restaurant.' So I did. I was blessed because my grandma sold her house, and gave me and my sister money to buy a house of our own. Instead, I used the money to start my career. I did it from scratch, and I'm proud of where I came from, and how I started.

Shape: How do you hope to inspire women-in your country and around the world?

CD: I want to inspire girls to have dreams, reach their goals, and appreciate their value. We are very powerful as women. We carry the world; we're the mothers. My goal is to solidify and bring strength to the female community in Haiti and around the world. If we're not strong, we won't be able to strengthen the generations to come.

Shape: OK, we have to ask: You do have a beautiful physique! What do you do to stay in shape?

CD: I actually started exercising a lot more just before the pageant. I worked out twice a day at the gym and put miles on the treadmill, or outside. I also ate healthy-three meals a day, no simple carbs, snacks like fruit and nuts, and I lost 20 pounds. I needed to lose weight. Generally speaking, I'm not much of a gym person and prefer to do outdoor things. But I've been boxing these days, and doing yoga. I've also done the Insanity Workout-I try to do different things to keep it interesting!

Shape: What's next on your agenda?

CD: I have the Miss World competition in London, and I've already taken my new ambassador role very seriously. It's interesting to see the progress! Yesterday, I went to a school and asked girls, ‘What is beauty?' And then I shared with them, how this (my business, goals, dreams-and decision to embrace my natural beauty) is part of it. So hopefully I'll go back in a month, and they'll remember. I want to work with children more, and open more restaurants-one on another island, one on the northern side of Haiti, and I also want to open a food truck! I also want to continue acting, modeling, and writing. I want to write in Creole, and have the girls learn from it. I really want to inspire women to create-and be bold.