Women We Love: Brittany Mason, Model & Director of Miss Universe Ireland

I knew a few things about Brittany Mason before I interviewed her.

I knew she represented the United States at Teen Model of the World and came second, and that she came seventh in the Miss USA pageant, getting particular attention from Donald Trump who owned it at the time.

I knew she had relocated to Ireland, taken over Miss Universe Ireland (MUI) as National Director and restored the competition to a place of prestige in a very short space of time.

A quick Google informed me she’s been linked with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio (‘we hung out one time,’ Brittany insists) and from following her on Instagram I knew she has an incredibly cute and fluffy Pomeranian, named Alfie.

Brittany Mason Image via @brittanymasonofficial on Instagram
Image via @brittanymasonofficial on Instagram

What I didn’t know for sure is just how resilient, competent, and committed to inspiring change she is.

From her anti-bullying work and I Am Possible campaign, born out of her own extreme experiences, to her ambition to MUI into a leading female empowerment programme and to show people how pageant are not superficial, but instead can transform lives, just like they did hers.

We chatted to Brittany about her vision for MUI, how her own trauma has led her to devote her life to helping others recover from abuse and bullying, and how the biggest compliment she ever received was from Naomi Campbell.

How did you get into modelling and the world of pageants?

I used to flip through Victoria’s Secret magazines and old Newport News catalogues as far back as I can remember. The models all looked so happy and that’s when I knew that I wanted to be the girl in the magazines.

It was a naive way to think of course, that their lives were perfect. I was no older than 12 at the time.

When I was 14 I entered a model search and was chosen by a few agencies out of NYC and Tokyo. But because my family did not support it I did not sign with my first agency until I was 16.

I was not sure what I would do here, but I knew I still wanted to stay in fashion and I knew I wanted to do something that would empower women.

After threatening to run away, I finally got their approval to sign with the agency and move to New York.

As far as pageant, something come in the mail and entered after I returned from NYC. It was the charity side, the apartment in NYC, and the job that attracted me. I do not really remember ever watching them before that!

What brought you to Ireland?

Love! My partner started a business here. He leases commercial aircraft and Ireland is the place to be!

We had talked about moving in together for a while but this decision to move to Ireland all happened in a week!

It was a little scary because it was the very first time in my life that I moved somewhere for a man and not for my own career.

I was not sure what I would do here, but I knew I still wanted to stay in fashion and I knew I wanted to do something that would empower women.

The universe has it’s way of working everything out, it was meant to be.

How did the opportunity to get involved with Miss Universe Ireland (MUI) arise?

When I moved here Ireland did not have a representative at Miss Universe.

I didn’t understand why and I felt there had to be young women across this country who felt like I once did, looking an opportunity but not really know how to get there.

Since I was a former titleholder for the Miss Universe Organization I reached out to them and the rest is history.

What’s the biggest challenge organising MUI?

Honestly? Support in generaL. I had so many people slam the door in my face or ignore me entirely.

It seemed as though everyone in Ireland had lost all hope in it, which really broke my heart because so much of this is about celebrating a country’s culture and pride.

Everyone around the globe loves Ireland. This country has given the world so much, there are so many wonderful things about this nation, including the women in it and this should all be celebrated.

I want to see this succeed for the country. Ireland must be represented internationally.

What did you learn from last year’s event?

Overall I am so happy with how last year went, with only 2 ½ months to produce a full-scale show with no funding, no team, no business structure or anything at all (we didn’t even have a website or logo) to come from that to a fully sold out show at the Round Room and a Top 16 Miss Universe finalist…it was incredible!

I do not think 2017 could have gone any better! I would say though we really needed more hands on deck, more support and people helping with the production itself.

I was determined to change people’s minds about Miss Universe Ireland. I wanted to show the country how this can transform lives.

I can’t physically be at all places at once and since we were just starting to build a team I was trying to do it all.

As the Director if anything goes wrong I take responsibility for it. So I had to make sure every detail was being done and done right.

Whether that meant I got two hours of sleep or even getting sick and getting a steroid shot in my bum! I felt immense pressure for the first year, it needed to be a huge success.

So many people specifically the women participating depended on it. I was determined to change people’s minds about Miss Universe Ireland.

I wanted to show the country how this can transform lives and all the while celebrating Irish culture and being a woman.

How will MUI 2018 be different?

I am really building upon the foundation we built and the success we saw last year. We are bringing it to the next level this year because we have so much more support.

We are thrilled to have Eleven Australia as our Title Sponsor, among others including Flormar as our makeup partner, Dundrum Cosmetic Clinic for Skincare, Zero One Hair Salon and Great Lengths for hair care, Liliana Montoya from Miami for Swimwear, among many more!

This years’ event should not be missed! We are planning on broadcasting on Facebook LIVE so people can watch from home if they can’t make it to the show.

We will of course honour the accomplishments of our incredible representative Cailin Aine Ni Toibin and we will be donating funds raised over the evening to Cailin’s chosen charity Pieta House.

Philanthropy is a very important part of what we do and we have decided that each year the final show will be dedicated to former Queen’s chosen charity initiative.

What for you was the biggest benefit of winning a your various titles?

Honestly, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, but pageants saved my life. It gave me a family and a support system.

It plucked me from my little hometown of 368 people and gave me opportunities around the world.

It taught me confidence and discipline, as well as the skills to create a roadmap towards my goals.

What would you say to people who think competitions like MUI are superficial?

I would invite them to watch our competition. I would ask them to get to know the ladies themselves by tuning in to our LIVE Chats every week in July so they can ask the women questions themselves.

Previously people have not been able to see past the physical because there is only so much time during the final show.

What these women go through before the final show is intense – anything is fair game in our interviews. We discussed Repeal the 8th last year as well as many other heated topics.

It’s not easy to put yourself out there like this and open yourself up for criticism. These women are courageous just for entering, but you will find that each of them are strong, smart, and accomplished in their own ways.

It’s important to me to create a sense of community for women through MUI. We need more female empowerment programs for women especially given the worlds current climate.

What jobs/campaigns are you most proud of?

Aside from Miss Universe Ireland of course, I would say campaigning on tour with President Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008, my work with I Am Possible (#IAMP), and my modelling career as a whole.

And what would be your dream modelling gig?

Walking the runway for Victoria’s Secret has always been my number one goal. I worked so very hard for this and several years ago came so close to shooting with Russell James at the end of a VS catalogue shoot.

Unfortunately, he was caught in bad weather and couldn’t depart from the Maldives. The shoot was cancelled. My chance at getting in front of Ed Razek just never came around again.

Honestly, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, but pageants saved my life. It gave me a family and a support system.

Since I never got a pair of wings from Victoria’s Secret this year I just decided for us to build our own wings for our National Costume for Miss Universe!

The National Costume was Designed by Eamonn McGill, Elite Dance Studio, and myself.

How has social media changed the modelling industry since you started?

Oh my goodness so much! First of all we didn’t have social media back then. When Instagram started it was an ongoing joke in the industry. “Who’s your agency? Instagram?”

I remember laughing about this with Coco Rocha years ago, which is funny now because she made it so big on social media.

There are pros and cons. The industry is extremely saturated now but it’s incredible that now you can launch your career through Instagram.

You don’t have to really make your rounds to different markets to work your way up in the ladder in the industry.

Now you can just become an overnight success by going viral. It allows people so much more control over their own careers which is what the industry really always lacked with only having agencies. Now you can leverage both.

Has the industry become more accepting of different body shapes and sizes?

I am a huge supporter of diversity and I am so happy to finally see healthier bodies in advertisements.

When I started it was 2003 and it was still the “waif” or “heroin chic” days. The stories I could share about the industry’s obsession with being bone thin is repulsive.

It was horrible working in an environment like that. I would average 9 miles a day on the treadmill and I lived off of sugar free jello and tuna fish.

I am already naturally very thin. They still consistently told me I was not skinny enough in my hips, I was turned away from multiple designers like Versace and Calvin Klein, and I was fired from Zac Posen.

That’s the side that was not so glamourous. I feel the fashion industry has a moral obligation to the public to promote healthy bodies.

The stories I could share about the industry’s obsession with being bone thin is repulsive. It was horrible working in an environment like that.

This is why I am so dedicated to my work with The Model Alliance even when it was just a thought of Sara Ziff’s.

What changes would you like to see in the future?

I still feel there needs to be more financial transparency, more protection for sexual harassment, basic labor rights like proper changing rooms and breaks.

It was only in 2013, and because of the work The Model Alliance has done, that the USA passed a law to protect child models.

Something else I would like to see end is the constant pressure on age. I felt like I had a mid-life crisis at 19 because I wasn’t where I thought I should be in the industry and everyone was telling me my career would be over in a couple of years.

I feel incredibly lucky that I continued to still work a lot well past the age of 25. However this is unusual.

I just wish the industry would stop caring about age so much. If a woman is 35 but she looks 25 what’s the problem? And I’m sorry but 14 year olds should not be modeling wedding dresses!

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There was a rumor going around that after Marissa Miller modeled for Victoria’s Secret, Ed Razek said he would never allow a new model 25 or older to join VS.

This mentality is what needs to change in the industry.

Please note that all of my comments are in reference to markets outside of Ireland, none of what I have experienced in Ireland.

As you get older how has the volume and style of work changed?

I haven’t been modeling as much, I am really dedicated to developing Miss Universe Ireland.

I will take work depending on the job but I really love being creative. I have modeled for 15 years and I still enjoy it, but what can I say, it’s fun being the boss!

You’ve done a lot of anti-bullying work, why did you get involved with this issue?

This was directly inspired by my own experiences. Because I didn’t have much stability in my life outside of school, school was my way “out”. Unfortunately, high school quickly became unsafe.

I received zero assistance when I sought help from school officials or law enforcement, even with evidence and witnesses.

It was relentless for 2 years, death threats, property damage, stalking, and then I was sexually assaulted, severely beaten, and locked in a room against my will for several hours by two classmates and one of their fathers. I was just a kid.

The father was a very wealthy and a prominent heart surgeon in my tiny community and the other kids father was a police chief.

No lawyer in any surrounding county would take my case on a contingency basis and my family could not afford a defence.

Since I was underage the state of Indiana appointed a lawyer. Evidence had been tampered with and I fought the case for 2 years. I never saw justice, they had no punishment, not even community service.

The system where I am from was corrupt and it had failed me. After a failed suicide attempt I had an epiphany that this was part of my purpose.

I promised myself that I would dedicate my life to helping other people who have experienced trauma in the way that I have.

I have only been able to fully talk about the extent of this specific incident, recently.

This happened about 14 years ago so anyone saying that a victim of sexual assault only has a certain amount of time to talk about it to be believed is very wrong.

Some survivors never speak about it. Experiences like this do have life long repercussions. The most important thing is learning how to manage the aftermath.

I promised myself that I would dedicate my life to helping other people who have experienced trauma in the way that I have.

There is hope, you are not alone. You are better and stronger than to let something like this steal your happiness for the rest of your life.

You can heal from something like this. I have learnt to harness my pain and turn it into what I call “my driving force”.

When the time is right my ultimate goal is to develop I Am Possible as the official platform for Miss Universe Ireland.

You’ve met many famous people over the years, who made the biggest impression on you?

The first one that comes to mind right now is Naomi Campbell.

She gave me one of the best compliments of all time. She said I “walked like a stallion” and then she went on to say models don’t walk like they used to in her day, the supermodel era.

What was your experience of working with Donald Trump like?

While I am not a fan of Trump’s policy’s and I have been very vocal about my distaste of the current administration, Donald Trump was always professional around me from the first time I met him at 18 years old to when I was competing for Miss USA.

What about living in Ireland do you most like?

I absolutely love how easy it is to get around this cit.I walk everywhere!

That was something that I really missed when I left NYC and moved to LA, I was so happy to find that here.

I particularly love my neighborhood. The restaurants, the local events, and there are always local artist every Sunday in our nearby park. Sundays in Dublin are probably my favourite!

What women, in Ireland and abroad, do you most admire?

I have met a lot female business owners here in Ireland and I have to say it’s really inspiring to see and I admire any woman who has the tenacity to start her own business.

Meeting Lisa Nolan and Jules Fallon from 1st Option’s has also been refreshing, they have worked incredibly hard this year to help us secure partnerships for MUI.

As far as abroad, I really admire Malala Yousafzai, Oprah, and of course Beyonce!

If you weren’t a model what would you be?

There is so much I am interested in and I just want to do it all! I wanted to be a marine biologist at one point, a journalist, an artist…so many things I’m interested in!

What are your top three beauty essentials?

I am a firm believer in moisturising. I love using Zo Health’s Growth Factor Night cream, Bio Oil, and I swear by micro needling! I even have one that I use at home!

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Omg definitely a night owl! I feel I am most creative and I have my best ideas at night. I still get up early everyday though.

What’s your morning routine?

Coffee first! Then breakfast with my little pup Alfie, then I try to do some meditation and stretching.

What are you favourite ways to keep fit?

I absolutely love yoga, boxing, and hiking! I do really miss my daily routine of Runyon Canyon when I lived in LA.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Dublin?

SOLE, 777, any of Dylan Mcgrath;s restaurants, Sophie’s, honestly there are so many amazing restaurants here!

Do you have a favourite quote?

My favourite quote is by Audrey Hepburn – “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”

I had spent several years over my career speaking at schools about bullying and trauma but it wasn’t until 10 years later that I was invited to speak at my old high school.

It was scary to go back to my hometown and walk those halls again. But I felt a sense of healing while speaking to them.

I shared this quote as part of my speech as I always do, and all the kids in the auditorium started chanting “I’m possible! I’m possible! I’m possible!” all on their own…it was truly a surreal moment and that was how I Am Possible was born.

What plans and projects do you have in the pipeline?

World domination! I’m kidding, my current focus is really continuing the development of Miss Universe Ireland.

Hopefully launching I Am Possible as part of the brand, and you will just have to wait and see for the rest!

For information Brittany Mason visit www.brittanymason.com. You can also follow Brittany on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For more information on Miss Universe Ireland check out missuniverseireland.eu and check out on I Am Possible visit iampossible.us

Article by Erica Bracken, Editor at IndulgeMe.ie. You can follow Erica on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.