When Teresa Theiss was about a year and a half old, an accident involving a percolator full of hot coffee left her with scars that she’d live with for the rest of her life.
And growing up, the scars certainly didn’t help her fit in; they isolated her and made her feel “less than” the other girls.
“I had to really work hard to overcome a complex,” she told North Canton Patch during an interview inside last month. “That started about in junior high school, when you started having to change for gym class. I would feel the other girls staring and hear the whispers: ‘I wonder what happened to her.’ Things like that. So it led me to start changing in bathroom stalls for gym because I didn’t want people talking about me.”
Theiss, 40, a resident of North Canton, has been shaped by her experiences as a burn victim and has set out to prove that a person’s appearance isn’t their most valuable quality. As Ms. Ohio U.S. United, Theiss will compete in her second-ever pageant in Atlanta, GA, in hopes of winning a national title in July 2012.
“Eventually I learned through my first husband, the scars are just outside and that’s not what makes up who I am. It’s what’s on the inside that makes the person. That’s where true beauty lies.”
Theiss, who’s studying applied communications at , said she can relate well with other burn survivors — she can learn from them and them from her.
“I’m not an extremely religious person, but there is something that happens inside when you’re a burn victim that connects you with other burn survivors, because that’s a pretty traumatic experience. And even though we all share the same experience of being a burn survivor, our circumstances were different.”
Theiss said she also hopes bringing awareness to burn survivors also will help others from becoming judgmental toward them.
“(They) need to realize you can’t judge a book by the cover.”
The other part of Theiss' platform, supported by the upcoming pageant, is breast cancer awareness and finding a cure. Theiss’ fiance’s mother shared with her her experiences battling breast cancer and, after being diagnosed, went through treatment and *had a breast removed. That's what makes breast cancer a personal connection for her.
Theiss is looking to learn more about breast cancer through volunteer opportunities, possibly with area hospitals, and to attend more community events in which she can talk about her platforms with members of the North Canton community.
About the actual pageant, Theiss said what people see on TV shows and movies is "just the tip of the iceberg." The pageants are much more involved than people might think, and there's more friendship building than making enemies.
"It's awesome just to have new friends and new colleagues in the pageant world that if you have questions, you can ask them and they'll help you. It's not all catty like on Toddlers and Tiaras."
Theiss has high hopes for the national pageant and said she's learned many lessons from her first pageant in Akron.
"My first pageant I did everything wrong, so I learned what not to do," Theiss said, laughing. "I chose the wrong evening gown, the wrong swimsuit —— the wrong everything — the wrong shoes, the wrong necklace. So that was a learning experience."
She said she was nervous during her interviews, but she's since had job interviews and interviews for school and has learned to relax and be herself.
The Lake High School graduate, who attended for cooperative office education, said she plans to graduate from Kent State in about two years and possibly start a business (perhaps a boutique) in the area. She'll also keep up with the pageant scene as well.
*Editor's note: The original version of this story reported Theiss' fiance's mother had breast augmentation surgery.