TWIN FALLS • Chelsea Newberry kept her secret for nearly a week before gathering her family members and revealing her big news.
Newberry, 24, named Miss Deaf Idaho on Dec. 19, will represent the state at the Miss Deaf America competition in Louisville, Ky., in July. Nobody saw it coming.
“It was kind of our Christmas present,” said Lisa Sandau of Twin Falls, Newberry’s mother. Sandau can’t wait to see how her daughter’s two-year reign will impact a young woman who never spends much time in front of a mirror and has rarely been seen in lipstick. Certainly not high heels.
“You can’t get that girl to dress up her hair or put on makeup,” Sandau said. “She never got into the girly thing.”
Newberry, who was chosen by judges after a series of interviews, acknowledges that her new role feels a bit strange.
“I’m not the regular pageant type,” Newberry, a self-described bookworm and tomboy, said through an American Sign Language interpreter.
Indeed, the Twin Falls woman is anything but the prototypical beauty queen. Valedictorian of the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in 2005, she’d rather read fantasy fiction or write a blog post than get her nails done.
“I’m not that pure child,” said the young woman who has a pierced tongue and five tattoos — including a scene she calls “Candy Land” on her upper left arm. She has a lollipop on her shoulder, a cupcake near her elbow, and nearby are three gummy bears, an ice cream cone, scattered candy corn and other sugary treats.
Newberry — who will compete at July’s national contest in categories such as interview, evening-gown and artistic expression — welcomes the challenge.
“I’m excited to make a big change,” Newberry said. “It’s a caterpillar to a butterfly kind of thing.”
Her metamorphosis is about more than eyeliner and updos. Newberry hopes to transform from a “little d” to a “big D.”
“A‘big D’ is a person who takes pride in being deaf and is proud of the culture and involved with the deaf community,” Andrea Anderson said through email. Anderson, Miss Deaf Idaho 1995-1997, is director of Miss Deaf Utah and was a judge in December’s Idaho contest. “‘Little d’ is a term for someone who is not fully involved in the deaf community, culture and ASL. Also, ‘little d’ means they are unsure about themselves ... as a deaf person.”
Newberry places herself firmly in the “little d” camp. She said she’s never felt brave as a deaf person and has lived life largely isolated from the hearing-impaired world.
“Idon’t have a bond with the deaf community,”Newberry said. “Idon’t socialize with a lot of deaf people often. Ifeel like I almost don’t belong in that world. Yeah, I’m part of it, I’m deaf, but I’m a ‘little d,” not a ‘big D.’”
Newberry is the only deaf person in her family.
“My family — they do know some signs — but really my mom is the only one who really signs well,” she said.
It’s been frustrating at times to be unable to communicate smoothly with those around her.
“When we go to family functions, I’m her interpreter,” Sandau said. “When everyone’s hearing and you’re the only deaf one, you feel left out.”
Sandau will attend the Miss Deaf America contest to cheer for her daughter.
“Ithink I’ll just be bawling my head off,” the mom said, choking up. “It’s going to be a lifetime memory.”
Newberry can’t wait to meet fellow deaf contestants from across the country. She is eager to interact and see their different sign-language accents. For example, she said, deaf Idahoans tend to sign slower than East Coasters.
Newberry graduated from the College of Southern Idaho with an associate degree in December and will transfer in August to Washington, D.C’s, Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
It’ll be another chance for the young woman to find her tribe, Sandau said.
“Ithink that’s one of her reasons for going there: to grab hold of that culture and be a part of it,”she said.
Newberry is the first Miss Deaf Idaho since 1997.
“Miss Deaf Idaho always provides a wonderful experience that transforms ladies,” Chelsea Paulson, co-director of the program, said through email.
“That’s why I felt passionate about this,” said Paulson, who helped bring it back after a 15-year hiatus.
Newberry sees the program’s rebirth as a positive sign.
“We’ve been kind of behind as a deaf community,” she said, “so (Miss Deaf Idaho organizers) decided to get it going, and get Idaho on the map.”
Newberry, who practiced walking in high heels this month and will go shopping for an evening gown soon, still isn’t sure how she’ll do as a pageant queen.
“I’m trying to prove to myself first that I can do this and become a ‘big D,’” Newberry said,“and be proud of who I am as a deaf person, be more involved in the deaf community, and show other small d’s that they can do exactly what I’m doing.”
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