INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis woman is preparing for the Mrs. Indiana America pageant in South Bend on May 7. Jessica Hibbitt is a behaviorist, working with young people to identify and screen for behavioral and mental health challenges during their visits with their primary care physician at Witham Hospital.
Previously, Hibbitt worked in special education and knows firsthand, a conversation can lead to healing.
"People feel shame like something's wrong with them, and they want to isolate themselves. But that's the importance of being able to have people talk about it and share that you don't need to feel shameful, and you don't need to isolate yourself," Hibbitt said. "It's OK. Everybody goes through something."
Hibbitt is no exception. She grew up in North Vernon, Indiana, and was just 3 years old, when she lost her dad.
"It was a car accident. So it was very traumatic for our family," Hibbitt said. "I kind of closed myself off in high school, and I didn't have a conversation with others when I was feeling alone."
Hibbitt is now 32 and remembers her childhood dream of winning a pageant. Her first try was a success.
"When I was young, I competed in...and I won Little Miss Jennings County," Hibbitt said.
She loved the frilly dress and the sash. But as she got older, her attention turned to sports. She played basketball, and went to college. When she was 26, she competed to become Miss Indiana in the Miss USA pageant in 2015. The experience was positive, but she didn't get the crown.
She just celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary and realized her new title — wife — offered a new opportunity.
"Sometimes you have those things within you, and you don't even realize it until something sparks that," Hibbitt said. "You know, you're never too old to set a goal and try something new."
Hibbitt applied to become Mrs. Marion County.
"I just wanted to do it myself," Hibbitt said. "I'm like, 'I'm married now, I can go for that.'"
She won that competition and now is one of nearly a dozen women representing Indiana counties at a statewide competition next month.
"Whoever gets crowned for Mrs. Indiana America will then go on to Las Vegas and compete for Mrs. America," Hibbitt said.
In the meantime, the competitors gather for weekend workshops and share platforms.
"You have to really work on yourself. And it makes you dig deep and realize who you are and just being your true, authentic self" Hibbitt said.
Part of Hibbitt's efforts include speaking to youth at her church about creating boundaries, self-care, and bettering mental health.
"I want to be able to reach as many people as I can," Hibbitt said. "What makes me a 'Best You' is that no matter the career I've chosen, it's always been to help and serve other people. And I just want to get out, and show love...and eliminate the stigma of mental health."
The Mrs. Indiana pageant does not require contestants to compete in a talent or swimsuit competition. But the statewide winner will be tasked with developing a costume that represents their home state at the national competition in Las Vegas, Aug. 12-20.
"If you want to grow and find out things about yourself, compete in a pageant," Hibbitt said. "It's a win-win either way. Even if you don't win the title, you come out a better person."