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Kylie Johnson is both a beauty queen and a green living advocate.

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In competition, she plays a piece she arranged herself.

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Johnson is currently in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is researching urban composting practices funded by the U.S. Forest Service.

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Graduate student balances beauty and sustainability


Kylie Johnson does feats of balancing that would make a Cirque du Soleil acrobat jealous.

The Ohio University graduate student is working toward a master's degree in environmental studies; is a graduate assistant in the Office of Sustainability; maintains her skills as a classically trained violinist; lives green as an Ecohouse resident, and on top of it all, she is a multiple pageant-winning beauty queen.

It is this balance that landed her this year’s Ya-Ya Sisters Style Award, awarded to Johnson last month at the 2011 Miss Ohio pageant. This award is given to the candidate who best embodies poise and style on and off the pageant stage.

This was Johnson’s last pageant due to her upcoming 24th birthday, the national cut-off for participating in the Miss America Scholarship Organization.

Johnson first took interest in the organization five years ago.

"I never considered competing until my best friend talked me into it," she said, "My family actually thought I was joking at first when I told them because I have always been a 'tomboy' who never wore high heels or makeup. I had to be taught how to do all of those things."

Although living a hectic and seemingly contradictory life, Johnson strives to maintain a balance with her numerous passions.

Johnson’s talent, violin performance, helps her stand out from the other contestants at the pageants, and allows her to meld two of her passions.  Her performance shows the judges the many sides hiding behind her perfectly coiffed hair.

Johnson said, "It’s a piece that I helped arrange that starts out classical in the beginning, but then I surprise the audience when the tempo picks up and I let my hair down and start playing fiddle-style."

In addition to talent, a platform is also required for involvement in the Miss America Scholarship Organization. Johnson seamlessly carries over her other passion for sustainability to her platform, based on the advancement of local green practices.

Although Johnson was able to find a niche that expressed her many interests during her five years of competition, she was initially worried about what people would think when she joined the organization.

"Pageants tend to have a negative stereotype, and I used to worry that people would think I am superficial because I compete. But my friends, family and professors all see the value in the Miss America system and have cheered me on during my journey," said Johnson.

Her involvement with the pageant has given her the opportunity to spread her sustainability message much further than she could on her own.

"Go Green! Think Globally, Act Locally" was her most recent platform, encouraging communities to tackle the greater issues of the environment with local green initiatives.

"My platform aims to educate students, residents and businesses about the importance of conserving resources and sharing the benefits of going green," said Johnson. "I also visit schools frequently to talk about the environment, because appreciation starts at a young age, as it did for me growing up on a farm.”

Johnson does not just espouse sustainability and a green lifestyle; she lives it daily as a resident of the Ecohouse.

Although perceptions are quickly changing through greater acceptance of green principles, many people see active supporters as hemp-wearing hippies and not crown-capped pageant winners.  

"It is interesting that I can be stereotyped from both angles; one as a 'pageant girl' and the other as a 'tree hugging hippie,'" said Johnson. "I believe that my involvement with the Miss America organization as an environmentalist has allowed me to break down those stereotypes from both angles. Because, the chances are slim that you would be successful in a pageant if the judges brand you as a hippie, and you can't be taken seriously as an environmental activist if you are seen as a beauty queen that is afraid to get her hands dirty."

Johnson does not let these battling stereotypes hinder her work as she balances her musical expertise, activist drive, and beauty-queen poise to continue to work towards green initiatives.

Johnson is currently in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is researching urban composting practices funded by the U.S. Forest Service.