Delaware's first Mrs. America finalist says program is empowering
A couple years ago, a friend of Aisha Lord Ryan saw an advertisement for a Mrs. Delaware pageant. She decided to recommend Ryan as the Middletown representative.
After not competing in pageants since she was a preteen, Ryan decided to put her application in on the last day, not knowing how much her life would be affected by the program.
In August 2019, Ryan was the first Mrs. Delaware to be a top 15 finalist for Mrs. America. Near the end of the year, she went on to compete in Mrs. World, representing her familial heritage country of Trinidad and Tobago. Through these competitions, she has been able to find a sense of individuality and passion.
Originally setting up her physical therapy practice in the Washington, D.C. area, Ryan runs All Therapy in Middletown where she uses the mission statement “Movement Equals Freedom” to increase a person’s mobility so they can feel like themselves.
“A woman was weakened by the injury and very ashamed to go out in public with her friends because she was slow,” she said. “Through physical therapy, she was able to become the person she was on the inside on the outside.”
Ryan used the same message as her Mrs. America platform.
From 5Ks to children literacy programs to dance therapy seminars, she has been able to use her career to do community service in the Middletown area that makes her passion a priority.
Ryan said once someone gets married and has kids, it no longer becomes about yourself, but Mrs. America forced her to focus on herself as an individual.
“It's great to get back to yourself. It's really empowering,” she said.
Mrs. America is a beauty competition established to honor married women in the U.S. with contestants representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia after winning their respective states.
Ryan said it was created on the idea that a woman’s life doesn’t stop when she gets married.
“Why is it that when you put on this ring or take on this role [as a wife], there aren't any more opportunities to put your best self forward,” she said.
Unlike Miss America, Mrs. America contestants are asked to create a costume that best represents their state. Ryan decided to use her roots as a University of Delaware grad to inspire a costume decorated in blue and gold with feathers.
The contest has helped her and other people feel more motivated to take more time out themselves.
“As women, even if you're not married or don’t have kids, we tend to put ourselves on the backburner to everything else in our lives,” Ryan said.
Ryan and her husband Nick have three children and she said her children’s support has been the best part of the experience.
“This past year has forced me to be my best self and my kids love that. That in itself has topped everything,” she said.
Despite the superficial connotations that come along with the pageantry world, she said the women are doing it because they are excited about impactful issues and it is empowering.
“I love seeing women in the prime of their careers, married and just doing wonderful things,” she said. “It's not something a lot people are aware of in pageantry because many don’t have the best association with it … [These women] are doing it because they are passionate about a platform, passionate about a cause.”
Ryan said Mrs. World was a different experience in terms of what each woman’s platform was about.
“It was different learning about their cultures, environments and how they contribute to the different issues their county faces,” she said. “They have heavier topics and now I have more empathy for different countries.”
Knowing how much Mrs. America helped her, Ryan now inspires other women to do it who she feels have lost their sense of self.
“I try to recruit or encourage women who have lost that sparkle to try and do the competition."