This Sunday's Miss America pageant will be a little different from past years.

For the first time in history, a contestant will expose her tattoos during the bikini portion of the competition.

That bold contestant is Miss Kansas, Sgt. Theresa Vail, who also happens to be the second contestant in the military to compete in Miss America.

Vail, 23, will be breaking a long-standing taboo with her two giant tattoos – the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and the Serenity Prayer running down her right side. 

"Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos? My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers," the Miss America hopeful explains to People magazine. "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?"

Much of Vail's confidence comes from being an expert M16 marksman, a skydiver, a boxer, a mechanic, fluent Chinese speaker, and a bow hunter who can skin a deer and apparently cooks a mean squirrel stew – skills not usually associated with beauty queens.

"Nobody expects a soldier to be a beauty queen," Vail tells People, "but I'm all about breaking stereotypes." 

Vail, who recently re-enlisted for six more years in the Kansas Army National guard, hopes to eventually follow in her father's footsteps and become an Army dentist.

But she also wants to use Miss America to get her message of female empowerment out to young girls.

"I was bullied when I was a kid. It got so bad that I nearly took my own life," Vail explains to the magazine. "My dad took me hunting with him and it saved my life. Ever since then, I've been an outdoors girl. My passion is empowering girls through male-dominated outdoor sports." 

She adds, "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."

Check out Vail's full interview with People here.


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