In a world filled with superficial physical beauty, Raven Delk strives to redefine the meaning of true beauty and what it means to be a pageant girl.
Delk, a Pleasanton resident going into her junior year at Amador Valley High School, was named National American Miss Junior Teen on Nov. 20 at the National American Miss Pageant. She had won the California Junior Teen crown last summer.
This pageant focuses on inner beauty, as opposed to the typical beauty contest that bases winning on bikini figures and other physical traits.
"I am definitely not a perfect person," Delk, 16, admitted, "but accepting your flaws is a huge part of being a confident person. After the pageant, the judges said that they picked me because not only did I do a great job, but I was natural with it and not too 'pageant-y.'"
Delk's main goal throughout her reign as Miss California Junior Teen and then National American Miss Junior Teen has been to instill the confidence that she has to other girls her age.
"I think the biggest way that I have made an impact is with my platform, which is raising self-esteem in girls," Delk said. "I've loved talking to girls all around the country about my platform and doing public speaking."
She described a "zero-makeup, inner beauty" day where she and the other state queens wore no makeup and encouraged the contestants to do the same.
"We wanted to show them that nobody is perfect, and that pageantry isn't all about having perfect hair and makeup and looking amazing all the time," she said.
As National American Miss Junior Teen, Delk has traveled more than 23,000 miles this year, attending other state pageants and being featured in photo shoots. A highlight was receiving a Certificate of Recognition from the California Legislature and State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan.
The pageant also emphasizes giving back.
"Having this title has really given me the extra push to help out in the community and do more charity work," Delk said.
She accomplished this by hosting a toy and card drive for the Ronald McDonald House and volunteering at many organizations, including Kids Against Hunger, the Special Olympics and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
As active as she is with her pageant duties, Delk has an even busier life at home. Last year, she was the sophomore class vice president, co-captain for the junior varsity cheerleading team, involved in the leadership and choir classes, and worked part-time at the English Rose Tea Room downtown. She took three honors classes and finished the year with only one B plus and the rest A's.
"Time management has definitely been a lesson that I've had to learn this year," she said. "Sometimes I have to make sacrifices -- like not being able to cheer at the big Amador vs. Foothill game because I was in Texas -- but it has really shown me what my priorities are and how to balance them."
After winning National American Miss Junior Teen, Delk said that her life has generally remained the same: The most important things to her are still her education, church and family.
People haven't been treating her differently either.
"I think it's because I don't act any differently than I did before," she explained. "I don't act like I'm some big deal, so people don't treat me like it."
Delk will give up her California Junior Teen crown at the end of July, and her National crown in November. She says she has complete faith that the next state queen will do the title justice, just as Delk hopes she has.
"It's been such an honor representing the state of California and the city of Pleasanton," she said.
Delk believes the whole experience has been humbling because of everything she has gained from it.
"I knew that I wanted to make an impact on the lives of others, but I didn't know how much of an effect the experience would have on me," she said. "Not only do I feel like a more independent and responsible teenager, but I have also learned the importance of community service and how much joy volunteering brings me."
Delk has had to learn how to keep her priorities straight and to not develop "a big head" about winning the California and National titles. Whenever she feels stressed about being too busy or not being able to do her best, she goes back to her roots and remembers why it was she won: because she is not perfect.
"Every time I go onstage, my mom says that she is crossing her fingers, praying that I won't trip because she knows I can be a total klutz," Delk said with a laugh. "One time, I made it all the way to third period with my boots on the wrong foot!"
Delk loves Disney Channel and has every song from "High School Musical" memorized; the judges laughed for 30 seconds when Delk told them this during an interview.
"Honestly," she said, "I think that's why I won."
In Delk's eyes, she didn't win because she was the tallest, skinniest or most beautiful, but because she remained true to her values and to herself.
"I just wanted to be myself and not do the typical 'world peace' speech, because that's not what pageants are about. Pageants are about empowering girls to be who they are -- and to have confidence in that."