October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The misconception that beauty pageants only value skin-deep beauty is about to change. Omaha native Mary Knickrehm has personally taken on the challenge to show the rest of the world there is more beneath the surface to both the contests and the contestants.

The 15-year-old Central High School sophomore recently won the title of Miss Nebraska Jr. National Teenager, not because of her looks, but because of her moral standards. The reason she got into pageantry may be surprising.

“I really did not have high self-esteem, and one of my friends suggested I do one in order to boost my confidence. I wasn’t sure because I had really bad stage fright,” Knickrehm admits. “I did my first one and absolutely loved it. I had a cause and thought, if I won a pageant, it would be a way to get my message across. I thought more girls would be willing to listen to me if I had the title.”

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Her message is clear—The objectification of women in the media and the way some women present themselves needs to change. To spread her beliefs, she started her own fashion blog to address issues of modesty. She uses it as a platform to urge women not to degrade themselves for attention.

“Television networks like MTV and VH-1 show celebrities that have their chests out and are wearing things that are just not appropriate and then they receive all this high praise for it. That has a negative impact. It’s not right,” she says.

Knickrehm does not stop there. In addition to her blog, she does mission work for a group called Serving God’s Kids. Last summer, she traveled to Mexico to volunteer at Casa de Elizabeth, an orphanage in the city of Imuris, Sonora. It was a life-changing experience. It made such an impact that she is attempting to raise $10,000 by July 22, 2013 (when she gives up her reign) to give to the orphanage.

Granted, she is an extraordinary example of a teenager, but with her lead, more can follow. She is otherwise a “normal girl,” she says. She joined cheer team to avoid P.E. class, loves riding horses, and always needs a nap after school before she dives into her homework. She has her eye on attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and then graduate school at NYU. “I never want to be ordinary,” she concludes. Knickrehm is off to an incredible start.