Mum-of-five, Stephanie Schutt, got into the modelling business to inspire her inner self after dealing with abuse and past trauma that affected her both mentally and physically.
Never did the 36-year-old think she would end up on the stage at the Ms Aotearoa 2023 Beauty Pageant. Let alone as Northland’s sole competitor.
But come July 29, Schutt – a community healthcare support worker and qualified beautician – will be sharing her message of female empowerment while vying for the crown against 11 others and the opportunity to represent the country internationally in the “Ms” category at the Woman of the Universe pageant.
“It’s exciting but daunting,” Schutt said.
However, winning isn’t everything to the One Tree Point local. She wanted to show her boys, the youngest of whom is 9 and the eldest 18, that anything was possible if you put your mind to it.
“I don’t care whether I place… I’m proud to be doing it for my area and myself and my babies. I plan to go out there and just give everything I’ve got.”
Schutt said her sons had been more than supportive.
“They’re like you’ve got this, Mum.”
Every Saturday for the next six weeks participants will take part in make-up workshops and the like, plus dance rehearsals to ready themselves for the pre-pageant which leads to the grand finale for the top two finishers. The candidates will be judged on six sections – among them a fashion walk and two minute presentation on women’s rights.
Most important to Schutt is the time they dedicate to helping a chosen charity – hers being Te Puna O Te Aroha, a refuge for Māori women and their whānau affected by family violence.
“Me and some of my siblings have been through a situation where we had to use them. I’m touched by what they do,” she said.
Schutt wanted to collect donations of food, and clothes for women and children, plus undertake a secondhand sports gear drive – all destined for those at the refuge.
“They go in there with nothing,” she said. “By doing this we can give them the chance to be themselves.”
She was also looking for donations for a one-off raffle as part of a charity event in the pipeline.
Two years ago Schutt began modelling as a way to reclaim her self-esteem and exit the dark place she had found herself in.
Despite transforming her confidence, she remained dubious that her application for the pageant would make the cut.
“I was like really, a solo mum with five boys. I don’t think so.”
But a week later, she was accepted.
“It’s a new experience for me – a very much once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Schutt said.
However, she found the journey was been made easier by the life-long friendships she was forming with the other contestants who she said were “beautiful inside and out”.