By Olivia Arnold, news editor

When Hamaseh Sorooshian first applied in December to compete in Miss Massachusetts USA 2017, she was skeptical about her chances of winning the crown. She wasn’t tall enough, she told the recruiter. She had big hips and brown hair.

“Her answer to me was, ‘You are the face of America,’” said Sorooshian, a 21-year-old Iranian-American and senior psychology major at Northeastern. “And that was so inspirational to me because it really made me think, here I’m given the opportunity to tell women […] you are worthy of competing even if you do not look like what you think you’re supposed to look like.”

Since being offered a spot 10 months ago to compete in the pageant, Sorooshian’s life has been a whirlwind of practicing walking in heels in the studio of Marino Recreation Center, rehearsing 20-second answers to potential interview questions with her coach and building her “True to You” brand advocating “beauty from within.”

After battling body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression for 10 years, Sorooshian is competing on a platform of self-love and body positivity.

“My inspiration came from the fact that at this point that I’m sitting here in front of you, I can say yes that I love myself and I’m not faking it,” Sorooshian said. “I built this platform to help women empower themselves, to really love themselves and accept themselves.”

The winner of Miss Massachusetts USA 2017, which is taking place Saturday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, will advance to the Miss USA 2017 pageant for a chance to win the national title. This weekend’s competition will mark the first time Sorooshian has ever competed in a pageant.

“This is my absolutely first pageant, which I think is pretty cool because I’m going into it without any judgments because I really don’t know what to expect,” she said. “So I am just putting all my effort into what I think is best for this pageant, and I’m getting the help of my coach and some sponsors.”

Sorooshian first began training with her coach, 2006 Miss International winner Suzy Bootz, at the end of the summer. Bootz, who lives in Texas, said she FaceTimes with Sorooshian about once a week to work on how she will convey her message of self-love to the judges.

“She really does come from a heart of wanting to empower women and having that sense of contribution that really drives her,” Bootz said. “Her goal has always been consistent as we’ve been speaking to each other — that she wants to help women feel beautiful and comfortable in their own skin.”

Lisa Almeida, an owner at Bella Sera Bridal & Occasion in Danvers, Massachusetts, and Sorooshian’s self-proclaimed “pageant godmother,” said Sorooshian’s platform especially resonated with her after working in an industry where she consistently interacts with self-conscious women. Bella Sera Bridal is the official sponsor of Miss Massachusetts, as well as Miss Maine and Miss New Hampshire.

“I love her body confidence campaign. I think it’s something that is definitely on the forefront of what’s happening in America right now and it’s something that needs to be brought to light,” Almeida said. “We honestly have seen women come through who had a double mastectomy whose daughters are getting married, we’ve had grandmothers of the bride who say, ‘We need our arms covered because I’m not happy with them.’ It just doesn’t end with women.”

Sorooshian’s mission to help others doesn’t stop with empowering fellow women. She also launched a GoFundMe campaign that, in addition to covering her competition fees, has raised over a thousand dollars to help homeless children in Boston and Iranian and Afghan refugees in Sacremento, California, through two organizations she volunteers with.

On Thursday evenings, after her day as a marketing co-op at Liberty Mutual Insurance is over, Sorooshian heads to a nearby homeless shelter to volunteer with Horizons for Homeless Children. There, she spends two hours playing with children, who range in age from 10 months to 11 years old, and teaching them colors, words and motor skills.

“I’m just so in love with, first of all, the opportunity that this organization has given me, because I’ve worked with kids before and I’ve never had this experience, but also I’m just so fascinated by these kids,” Sorooshian said. “I always tell people I never believed human potential was endless until I started working with kids.”

Originally from northern California, Sorooshian volunteered in high school with the Veteran, Immigrant and Refugee Trauma Institute of Sacramento (VIRTIS) which, among many other services, provides community resources to young Iranian and Afghan refugees as they acclimate to American culture. While immigration faces much greater challenges, Sorooshian said she hopes to make an impact by helping VIRTIS afford simple things for its children — like dresses for their high school graduations.

“The condition of immigrants in America is so atrocious that I would at least like to make a little effort to change that,” she said. “And so that’s also why I’m raising money for them, just because I would like to give to my little community in Sacramento and who I know really needs it.”

Sorooshian said she hopes to exceed her $8,000 fundraising goal, $1,200 of which will go to covering pageant costs, so she can make the biggest impact possible on the two communities.

“She has such an amazing heart of service and she really has so many goals that she wants to accomplish,” Bootz said. “Pageantry is a stepping stone in her life, and I’m really excited for her.”

Before training for Miss Massachusetts, Sorooshian was skeptical about what pageants had to offer to young women. Now, she said every teen girl should enter a pageant before graduating high school.

“I feel like pageants force girls to take power over who they are and really face both the positive and negative sides of who they are,” she said. “And that’s why it’s helped me so much, just like really being in control of myself, really being proactive about my life. It’s just a great tool to learn about yourself and grow as a person.”

Photo courtesy Hamaseh Sorooshian