If you had to pick one, would you rather be smart or beautiful?

To put it simply, I don't want to choose. Call me selfish. Call me crazy. It doesn't matter. As a woman, I should be viewed as beautiful and smart. I shouldn't have to worry about what my work acquaintances think of me when I choose to post a photo of myself in a swimsuit. But I do. I worry about it.

Society tells women to choose. You are either pretty or smart. A mom or a career woman. Sporty or a fashionista. And don't get me started on the rumors when you start stepping outside of these narrow confines. How she must have slept with someone to get that job. Or that maybe she is related to the boss.

But why are we constantly choosing and worrying? Why is it that society thinks it's impossible to be both? Why can't we just be every damn thing we want to be? Why can't we accept that women have great jobs because they are qualified, talented, and hardworking?

As a senior political staffer who models occasionally, people have been trying to put me in a specific box for the last six years of my career. As Senior Deputy Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island I manage community engagement strategies; project manage the City's International Arts Festival that draws over 130,000 attendees over 4 days; and run high-level Mayoral initiatives around education, small businesses, strategic partnerships, and economic development. Additionally, I serve on five boards, mentor young people in urban cities, visit the gym every single week, and regularly walk in fashion shows or participate in photoshoots.

Competing at the Miss USA 2016 pageant, representing Rhode Island

While preparing to compete in the nationally televised Miss USA competition in 2016, reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains," how I had a full-time career while juggling photo shoots, why I was prioritizing my visits to the gym but was already "too skinny" and didn't need to work out.

Reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains"

Some of them didn't know they were putting me in a box. Some of them were just trying to give me a compliment. And this isn't about gender: some of them were men and some of them were women. All of them repeatedly were putting me in a box, telling me that I had to choose, telling women that we must constantly choose.

And in 2016, when I was balancing pageants and politics, I didn't choose. And today, in 2019, while still balancing pageants and politics, I still refuse to choose. I still work 50+ hour weeks. I still visit the gym with my personal trainer every single Wednesday. I still walk in fashion shows. I still participate in campaigns, such as #ThisIsBeauty, which remind people to show the vulnerable yet powerful side of beauty. I still get in front of a camera when I can. And I love it all.

Shot from the #ThisIsBeauty Campaign Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo

You know why?

I can advocate for policy changes. I can be a mentor for young people. I can testify at the State House. I can enjoy dressing up for work. And I can also walk down a runway in a bikini. They all make me feel empowered. They are all my choices.

So, refuse to get in that box, refuse to choose. Because I am tired of people trying to make me be only a small part of who I am. We are all multidimensional and it's time we embrace every side of what makes us who we are!


Theresa Agonia