While Nia Sanchez ultimately took home the crown at this year’s Miss USA pageant in Baton Rouge, it goes without saying that there was more than just one star of the show. From Miss Florida’s shimmering silver evening gown to Miss Rhode Island’s 80s-style haircut, there were numerous standouts in this year’s pageant.
But it was Mekayla Diehl, 25-year-old Miss Indiana, who grabbed possibly the most attention. Her curvier-than-some bikini bod made the Twitterverse burst into a spontaneous round of applause on Sunday night during the 2014 pageant.
"Miss Indiana shows you don't have to be super skinny to be beautiful," tweeted @Hi_ItsKenna. “Dear #MissIndiana thank you for looking like an average woman,” tweeted @stephwatson_91.
At 5 feet, 8 inches tall and wearing a size 4, Diehl isn’t technically the size of an average American woman – but there’s no doubt that she represents a different image than the other 50 contestants do. While Diehl’s body mass index is lesser than the average woman’s, it is much closer to the term “normal” than the typical beauty pageant contestant’s.
While other contestants are most likely on strict diets and fitness plans, Diehl’s preparation for the competition was a lot more relaxed. “I like to fill my plate with vegetables and protein,” she says. “I like a good steak.” She adds that she also fits in time to exercise, but not crazily.
“I worked hard on my body without obsessing over being too skinny and I couldn’t be more proud,” Diehl tweeted in response to the flurry of tweets in praise of her body.
Diehl made it to the top 20 but was ousted after the swimsuit competition, when the group was whittled down to the top 10. There is no doubt, however, that by the time she was cut, she had won over a large part of the audience.
While her body image is certainly inspiring in itself, Miss Indiana had other things going for her in the competition as well. Diehl was the first registered Native American to represent Indiana in the pageant and had chosen child abuse support as her advocacy project.
Though Diehl didn’t take home the crown on Sunday, she sure did celebrate. She says she hit the town with friends and family, consuming beignets, fried gator, crawfish and wine “to our hearts’ content.”