miss kansas theresa vail Miss America 2014: Miss Kansas Theresa Vail on tattoos, bikinis and being an Army Sergeant

One Miss America contestant hopes to break a long-standing taboo when she walks down the runway in her swimsuit. Miss Kansas, Sgt. Theresa Vail, will be the first Miss America contestant to expose her tattoos during the pageant (see a close-up photo of her ink here).

Vail has the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and the Serenity Prayer on the right side of her ribs, both of which will be visible when she dons her bikini. “Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos? My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers,” Vail tells People. “What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can’t do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all.”

Not only will she be overcoming stereotypes by flaunting her ink, she is also the second contestant in the military to compete (Miss Utah 2007 was a combat medic in the Army National Guard). “Nobody expects a soldier to be a beauty queen,” Vail says, “but I’m all about breaking stereotypes.”

When she entered her very first beauty pageant nine months ago after her commanding officer recommended it, she planned to demonstrate archery for her talent, but two days before the competition, she was told “projectile objects” were forbidden. Instead of dropping out, she worked hard to perfect a new talent. “I’d never sung opera in my life,” Vail says. “I had an appreciation for it and I sang soprano in choir back in high school, but I hadn’t sung since then and certainly never opera.”

That didn’t stop Vail: she found a video on YouTube and mastered a song in less than two days, taking home the silver tray in the Miss Kansas talent competition.

Vail hopes to inspire confidence in others through the pageant. “I was bullied when I was a kid. It got so bad that I nearly took my own life … My dad took me hunting with him and it saved my life,” Vail says. “Ever since then, I’ve been an outdoors girl. My passion is empowering girls through male-dominated outdoor sports. I want to help them develop confidence, to let them know that they have what it takes to accomplish anything they want to accomplish. I know many young girls look at beauty candidates and think, ‘What a perfect life they have.’ But I want them to know that I haven’t led a perfect life and that beauty comes from the inside.”

Posted by:Sydney Bucksbaum