Inspired by the Special Olympics and her own experiences in pageants, Jordan Somer founded Miss Amazing in 2007 as a local pageant for girls and young women with disabilities in her home state of Nebraska. In the decade since, she's fielded application calls in her college dorm room, received awards and grants from the likes of Teen Nickelodeon and Pepsi, and grew the program into a nationwide, non-profit organization with events in over 30 states.
Somer has no plans of stopping Miss Amazing's expansion, but among her lofty goals for growth remains the simple, core purpose of the pageant. "This is a platform where girls and women with disabilities can define themselves on their own terms," she tells Refinery29.
"Women with disabilities are excluded from conversations about their own lives because they’re female and because they have a disability," Somer says. "They have this double discrimination that they have to deal with." It's not a coincidence, then, that most of the events within Miss Amazing are communication-based.
From the onstage introductions to the one-on-one interview portion of the pageant, participants are challenged to speak for themselves. Somer explains this helps them understand the importance of conversational skills ahead of joining the workforce.
Then, of course, there is an evening-wear segment and an optional talent showcase. "Our goal is to take certain elements of pageantry and to check others at the door," Somer says, adding that, although it's a pageant, you don't need to be a girly-girl to participate. "We try not to reinforce certain stereotypes of what it means to be a woman or to be feminine."
Photographer Michelle Groskopf attended this year's National Miss Amazing pageant to shoot and interview the participants. "It really puts life in perspective," she tells Refinery29. "There are young women there battling health issues with grace and positivity. You can’t leave without having all of your assumptions about disability completely turned around."