Beauty pageants help sexual assault victim find healing

By Kenzie Mueller

Sara Axness is styling a client’s hair before the pageant show on Saturday, April 22. Axness launched Genuine Beauty, a business venture she says allows her to mentor young women by doing their hair and makeup for pageants. © 2017 Kenzie Mueller

A typical Monday for Sara Axness begins with a morning meeting to discuss the week’s events, followed by a brainstorming session to think of new leads, and, if there is time, a lunch break before dashing off to a client meeting.

As the afternoon rolls around, a second, if not third cup of coffee is essential as photos need editing, and documents need updating. And, of course, more meetings are still on the calendar.

After a full workday, Axness heads home to continue working and apply for a grant that could change everything.

“If I want to accomplish my goals, I need to do things bigger, better and faster while focusing my energy on what is important each day to help me reach my destination,” Axness said.

A 25-year-old entrepreneur who used pageants to heal after being sexually assaulted in college, Axness has started her own company called Genuine Beauty to inspire women to believe in themselves even in the darkest of times.

Axness attended the University of Minnesota on a diving scholarship, but soon fell into a dark place in her life after being sexually assaulted at a party.

For a week, Axness missed classes and skipped practices. She lost her scholarship and depression followed.

“After being assaulted, everything spiraled downhill so quickly from there, it was heartbreaking to lose everything I had worked for,” Axness said.

Axness turned to beauty pageants to mend and become herself again. She felt like a victim, but would not let her circumstances dictate her life any longer. Axness said she finally realized she had control over the situation and the man who assaulted her only had as much power as she gave him.

“When I was in the victim stages, I thought the world had it out for me,” Axness said. “I thought I don’t have any control over the situation, I don’t have any control over my life, I’m not worth anything.”

Axness said the process of pageantry taught her how to gain self-confidence while remaining true to herself. She said her proudest moment in life was taking back her life and going from being a victim of sexual assault to a survivor of sexual assault.

“Every day from now on is in my control and it’s under my power,” Axness said.

Her journey with pageants is not over, but Axness says she is taking a break to focus on her career.

She mentors young women competing in pageants by giving advice and preparing them for shows. Axness said she doesn’t work with women she doesn’t believe in. Her goal, she says, is to encourage them to believe in themselves.

“If I can help someone see they have power, regardless what they have been through, that’s what I want to do,” Axness said.

Natalie Streich, a first-time competitor in pageants, met Axness during a volunteer event in Eau Claire.

“Sara is a very intelligent and bright person,” Streich said. “She knows her way around when it comes to pageantry. I learned how to be confident within myself and portray that to the judges.”

Axness said her pageant life has given her the drive and confidence she now radiates within her daily life. This drive helped her finish college and led her down a successful career path.

After college, Axness worked as a business development director at Chilson Automotive Family of Dealerships, but realized this was not the right fit for her. She took a leap of faith and quit to work retail at Ulta Beauty while she refocused her purpose in life.

Axness now works for Cota Creative, a digital advertising agency, as an assistant to the owner, Dustin Cota, who approached her during her time at Ulta Beauty.

“Having Sara around has been awesome, I have a lot of respect for her and she is very driven,” Cota said. “I’ve always valued additional perspectives, because that’s how you grow and move towards the bigger things.”

Axness and Cota have a great business relationship and work well helping each other to achieve their goals.

“It’s all a new experience for both of us. Building a business is a learning process,” Cota said. “I’ve never had an assistant before and when I started doing all of this, it was just me doing things my way. Now I’m learning not only how and what to delegate, but how to communicate the expectations that go along with that.”

Along with working at Cota Creative, Axness’ main focus is getting Genuine Beauty up and running.

Axness says a goal of Genuine Beauty is to encourage women empowerment. She said there is a lack of support for women entrepreneurs and says her company can be that support system.

“I want this company to be a movement that empowers other women to do what I did,” Axness said. “To go after whatever it is you want to go after, no matter how scared you are.”

The company will include multiple elements, Axness said. Her understanding of business and the need to develop multiple revenue outlets will help her be successful. Her future plans include a makeup line, a brush set line, a blog, a book and other elements.

Along with the launch of her own company, Axness envisions herself moving to New York and focusing on her company in a place where there are more resources and opportunities to network. Along with a big move, she hopes to go back to school and gain either an MBA or law degree.

Axness is a big dreamer but knows dreams only come true through hard work.

“We live our lives like, ‘I’m scared so I probably shouldn’t do it.’ That is your brains automatic reaction, to keep you away from things that are a risk,” Axness said. “But you have to push through that because everything on the other side is beautiful.”

Goals for Axness are not just a simple thought, but something she writes down every morning in a current perspective. She said it helps her get in the right mindset and focus her days’ energy on the things she wants to accomplish.

A quote that Axness lives by is, “What is meant for me will not pass me, and what passes me was not meant for me.”

Axness said these words helps her realize that everything she has gone through in life has happened for a reason. The hard times, she says, have only made her stronger and prepared her for life in the future.


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