Monday, November 02, 2009

A Courageous Beauty: Mrs. International-Armaiti Fitzgerald

Angie: This beautiful lady has so much to share that this interview cannot possibly encapsulate it all. I met her by competing at the Mrs. International pageant this last summer. I think the judges did a fantastic job choosing her for this job. Presenting my new friend, Armaiti :-)

Angie: Tell us a little about Mrs. International:

Arma: As for myself, I am a Persian born American – and very proud of it. I came to the United States about 10 years ago. About eight years ago I met the love of my life, Dr. Lee Fitzgerald. He has the most loving heart and the kindest smile.

We are planning to have children but in the mean time we have lots of the four-legged varieties. Lulu is our snow white, American Eskimo princess. Simon is our fur ball, chubby older Maine Coon Cat and Abri, is the younger of the three and most naughty one. His name means “Cloudy” in the Persian language. I named him that because we adopted him as a kitten on a cloudy day and his long soft fur is grayish color.

I have three brothers, Shervin, Zhoopin and Zhiges. Yes, I am the only girl. My mother passed away about 14 years ago from undiagnosed heart problems. She was Miss Iran in the 1960’s. She also was a world-renowned fine art artist. My Dad is my inspiration in life. He waited for all four of us to get on with our lives before he even considered remarrying. He is the most positive person with a wonderful sense of humor.

Angie: What is the International pageant system like?

Arma: Regarding the Mrs. International title and pageant; it showcases a celebration and recognition of the accomplishments of married women today with appreciation for diversity. We have contestants representing many countries and states, world - wide. The Mrs. International pageant is unique from other pageants because it is platform based, meaning that the contestant is more than just another pretty face. There is meaning to her life and she makes an impact to better her community.

Angie: How did you learn about the Mrs. International pageant?

Arma: A friend of mine introduced me to the International pageant. She kept telling me to enter pageants and I kept ignoring it until one day while I was working on a strategic plan for my Fight Oral Cancer Foundation, I ran across her email with two links to two different pageant systems and I looked into it. As if I found a reason and purpose for this journey, I thought I could raise awareness to fight oral cancer by utilizing the power of the crown as Mrs. International.

Angie: So your platform is...

Arma: My platform is to fight Oral Cancer. We lose one person to oral cancer every hour of every day and my mission is to save lives. So I started the Fight Oral Cancer foundation to promote awareness of oral cancer internationally – the warning signs, risk factors and how to get checked for this cancer that can appear without warning.

Angie: How do you build your platform and promote your work?

Arma: I started my foundation after losing a very dear friend to oral cancer. As I mentioned, I entered the pageant because of my foundation so it was only natural to keep my cause as my platform despite suggestions to do otherwise. I was told that my cause is not really a pageant friendly cause because it was not a recognized cause. All the more reason to pursue what is important; believe in what brought you to this place. After all, it was the reason I entered the pageant.

The Fight Oral Cancer Foundation has over 1000 members internationally and our number is growing every day. I research and post new information about oral cancer on the website, sponsor speakers at different events, work with other cancer foundations, hold free oral cancer screenings, attend different events as the foundation’s spokes person to raise awareness by educating the public, raise money for research and gather stories on oral cancer patients to share and enlighten the public about this deadly disease. I also work closely with many of the oral cancer detection machines and their scientists.

Angie: How did you come up with the idea to found the Oral Cancer Foundation rather than join an existing cancer cause?

Arma: I was already an active member of the American Heart Association after losing my own mother to heart disease before I started my foundation. Losing my friend, Susan, to oral cancer made me realize there is a need for raising awareness about oral cancer knowing it kills one person every hour of everyday in the U.S. alone. I was amazed how little has been done about this deadly disease and it is one of the few cancers still on the rise.

With my design and advertising background, my mind started wondering about a way to creatively resolve this problem. This is what brought about the Fight Oral Cancer Foundation. I first started with a simple informational website.

I often, think about what a wonderful job Nancy Brinker has done with Susan G. Komen foundation. My goal is to do what she has done, but for Oral Cancer.

Angie: The creation of an organization like this seems overwhelming. How did you actually start to create the Oral Cancer Foundation?

Arma: I started with a simple website first. I would research and gather information about oral cancer and post it on the website for others to see. Then I decided to move it a step further and start a non-profit organization. After that I decided to not only raise awareness but also raise money for research. My vision for my foundation is a work in progress and it never ends.

Angie:You were already so busy with your own business and now the Oral Cancer Foundation, why did you decide to compete?

Arma: After I established my foundation it was time to find ways to get the word out. I could not afford to hire a celebrity as a spokes person, so based on a friend’s recommendation I decided to enter the pageant. I thought I could reach out to a wider audience using the power of the crown.

Angie: I love how pageants give women a voice. Was this your first pageant?

Arma: 2009 International pageant was my first and only experience in pageantry. First I represented the city of Plano at the Texas International, I was the first Runner Up in Texas. An opportunity represented itself allowing me to continue in finals and I took it.

Another pageant system also contacted me, but I felt it would work the best for my foundation to compete in the International pageant. I guess the rest is history.

Angie: Was/is competition scary?

Arma: No, I would never call it scary. Of course there is always a sense of uncertainty involved with any competition but I knew that I was there for a reason. I knew that even if I was not to win the pageant, something good was supposed to come out of my experience. Therefore, I decided to be myself and enjoy the ride.

Angie: What personal fear did you have to overcome?

Arma: My fear was to just make it through the week of the competition. The first day I arrived I fell and injured my right knee. I had to get couple of shots to control the infection. I still have a nice scar to remind me of that day. The last day of the competition I woke up running fever from cold. Soon I realized that I also had food poisoning. I missed parts of our rehearsal making trips to the bathroom. I was afraid that I might not make it. I remember telling my husband, ”I would be proud of myself only if I make it through the night.”

Angie: I totally understand the fall! I fell on stage during the competition. It can really shake a person up. But like you, there was a commitment to do our best. I'm so glad you recovered! I'm also very impressed at your will to succeed even in the face of food poisoning! The goal was so much more important than the details :-)

What about your first competition, were you super confident?

Arma: I was comfortable. I decided long before the competition that there was a reason I was there. It was a journey I was meant to make. I felt blessed to be around a group of accomplished women, spreading the message of my foundation, and raising awareness about Oral Cancer.

Angie: What did you have to learn to compete?

Arma: Learning is a never-ending task, I am still learning! There are the small things that we all have to know about how pageants work. Your responses to questions are timed so you have to be aware. I learned more about mastering dance moves in a very short time for the stage performance.

I never lost site of constantly focusing on my mission because that is why I was there. It is easy to get distracted with the self-glamorous fa├žade around you. We all need to remember that true beauty is from within.

Angie: Tell us about what you have been able to do as Mrs. International:

Arma: I have used the power of the crown whenever it is appropriate to connect to people. So far, three months into my reign, I have traveled 20,000 miles for multiple events promoting Go Red For Women, and of course, the Fight Oral Cancer Foundation. I have made many wonderful friends internationally and have connected to many hearts. I talk about Oral Cancer any chance that I get whether it is during autograph signing or on the stage. I am really looking forward to the next nine months to try to make the greatest difference for my pageant sisters and the causes I support.

Angie: What do you still want to achieve?

Arma: I have learned to never set limits on my life and achievement is a never-ending journey. When the world knows how we can fight Oral Cancer together and keep it from increasing, it will be my life’s greatest professional achievement thus far.

Angie: There's an idea in society that pageants are just skin deep. How would you answer that?

Arma: I can tell you that I have, and still am, fighting that idea. I believe society still chooses to judge the beauty of a woman only skin deep. The strength of the Mrs. International pageant is to look beyond the skin and see what the woman is all about; outward beauty is only the superficial. Mrs. International celebrates the beauty within. Outward beauty fades with time, true inner beauty is timeless.

Angie: The media has given Americans the idea that pageant girls/women are not intelligent and accomplished. What kind of an education do you have?

Arma: I graduated as Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Texas in Communication design with minor in marketing. I was chosen the most outstanding student in Communication Design. I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Golden Key, and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Societies. Prior to the Mrs. International title I was an Associate Professor at Collin County. I will be pursuing my master’s degree after I finish my year as Mrs. International.

Angie: Do you have other creative talents you pursue?

Arma: I started my Fine Art exhibitions at the age of 14 and I was teaching painting by the time I was only 16 years old. I have had over 30 exhibitions internationally and have won many awards. I also do photography, fashion, and jewelry design as well.

Angie: Why is it important for a person to look their best?

Arma: I try to look my best because it makes me feel better about myself. I learned from my parents to always look well put together even if alone at home.

Angie: What do you hope to achieve with the Mrs. International honor long term?

Arma: I hope to make a difference in our world, touching as many hearts as I can with my story. I hope to utilize my title and make a difference in other women’s lives. I am a living proof that “Every thing is possible in life.”

Angie: Would you share about your fashion favorites or flair?

Arma: Classic style of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

Angie: Something we have in common :-) I love the classic styles of those beautiful women. What are your plans after your title ends?

Arma: To continue the mission of my foundation to fight Oral Cancer by reaching out to as many people as possible.

Angie: What compliment do you receive most often?

Arma: Wow, it is hard to talk about this one. What I cherish the most is that I hear I am a warm and sincere person. I guess people like my sense of fashion too.

Angie: What are you most confident about?

Arma: My connection with God and my creative mind. My loving and supportive husband Lee gives me all the confidence in our life together.

Angie: How did you earn that sense of confidence?

Arma: I have gone through a lot in my life from losing my mother in a young age to leaving as an immigrant in a new country. Every obstacle in my life has made me closer to God and strengthened my connection to him. My creative mind is a blessing that is irreplaceable. I know nothing is impossible in life.

My Love of my life has showed me the beauty and joy of life as a couple.

Angie: If you could tell other women what the honor of winning the crown means, what would it be?

Arma: As Mrs. International, the crown does not define you. It is only a tool. It is not about winning and owning a crown but how to utilize the influence that comes with it when it is appropriate. It is our brain and voice that makes our message to be heard.

Angie: Thank you for inspiring us today, Arma. I've enjoyed meeting and getting to know you and believe others will too.
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