Redefining Beauty: Meet the New Miss ARC

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What is considered beautiful comes down to perspective, conventional or otherwise.

This Sunday’s Miss ARC Pageant in Fort Lauderdale marks a defining moment for the community at large. Twenty girls with disabilities, ages 5 to 18, will compete to become the face of this inaugural pageant.

Presented by ARC Broward, a non-profit group that serves families and children living with autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy, sought to organize this event after a staffer watched a recent HBO documentary on The Miss You Can Do It Pageant, featuring contestants with cerebral palsy.

“It was very emotionally charged, and we watched it as a staff we cried,” said ARC president Dennis Haas. “So we thought why not bring this idea to Broward.”

To get stage ready, the girls will work with a professional coach to learn makeup tricks, hairstyling, and wardrobe tips. And prior to the big day, the participants will be treated to a relaxing day at Casbah Spa.

“This is about the inner beauty of these individuals,” Haas said. “What’s been amazing so far is seeing how all the girls are bonding through this experience. Some of the girls have autism, some are in wheelchairs, and some speak with the aid of an iPad device. So seeing them getting together, and making new friends, and asking each other what their lives are like inspires us. “

Society is not always an accepting and warm friend. What ARC Broward, established in 1956, focuses on is developing what each individual can do, as opposed to what they cannot do.

“It’s exciting for many of them to be in front of an audience, to dress up in pretty clothes and feel good and valued about who they are as a person,” he said.

To produce the event with a higher caliber, the organizers have enlisted a panel of judges with entertainment industry cred. They include Miss Iowa USA, Abbey Curran, Miss Florida 2014 Brittany Oldehoff, Miss Carnaval Miami 2013 Melissa Ramirez, and on.

Serving as a judge is Cristy Caserta, attorney and previous contestant on ABC’s The Bachelor. She said that “In today’s society with a majority of the focus on sex appeal it is so important to teach our youth, and to remind ourselves, that true beauty not only comes in so many different shapes and sizes, but mostly from within. I have a feeling these girls are going to teach us a thing or two about what it really means to be beautiful.”

Hass agrees that the audience will learn from the girls.

“No matter who you are and how challenged you might feel in life, anyone who spends a couple hours with these girls with disabilities will change their perspective and pause. They will make you think about your own life and you might realize how great it is,” he said.

The winner from this weekend will serve as the face for next year’s Miss ARC showdown.

Miss ARC Broward Pageant occurs 2 p.m. November 17, at Parker Playhouse, 707 N.E. Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale.

To purchase tickets, $15 per person, online, visit Visit or call 954-746-9400.

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