The northern San Joaquin County city of Lodi has a lot to be proud of— award-winning winegrapes, beautiful nature preserves, a thriving downtown scene — and it now can add the distinction of being the hometown of the 2018 Miss California title holder, Mackenzie Freed.
Freed, who was crowned Miss California in July, looks like a stereotypical “beauty queen.” With her slender form, long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, it’s easy to picture her walking the pageant runway in an elegant gown and crown. But it only takes a few minutes of talking with Freed to find out that her beauty isn’t just skin-deep.
“Everybody thinks that girls who compete are airheads, they don’t have a lot going on upstairs. But I graduated with a 3.99 GPA from a four-year university with a degree in philosophy and communications studies. So, one girl at a time we are destigmatizing pageantry and I think that’s a reason to give the organization a lot more credit,” she said.
Freed was the last Miss California winner to compete in a swimsuit competition, and was among the first group of contestants in the new Miss America 2.0.
Starting in 2018, Miss America candidates were no longer judged on outward appearance. The choice of wardrobe was opened up and throughout the competition candidates had opportunities to advocate for their social initiatives.
Freed’s personal initiative is gender equality in the workplace.
“I encourage young girls and women to break through the barriers in their paths to achieving their goals. I give women practical tips to excel in the workplace while boosting their self-confidence. I am currently partnered with two organizations that focus on professional development for women. Building Brave is a non-profit that fosters a community of women that come together and encourage each other to step outside of their comfort zones in the workplace. Dress for Success is a worldwide organization that provides professional tools for women to prepare them for the workplace, including wardrobe, financial planning, resume writing and more,” she said.
Freed wasn’t keen on entering the pageant world at first, she said. Her mom “nagged” her until she finally gave it a try, she said, and they went to Elizabeth’s Bridal in downtown Lodi to buy her first pageant dress. From being crowned Miss San Joaquin County to winning the Miss California title and competing in the Miss America contest, Freed said the town of Lodi has been supporting her all along the way.
“The town has really rallied along with me on this journey to Miss America and beyond. They’ve been extremely supportive and I feel very blessed to be part of such a strong community that has really built me. I am who I am today because of Lodi,” she said.
Being involved in pageants has been rewarding for Freed, both financially and in experiences.
“As Miss California, I was awarded over $23,000 in scholarships, bringing my total over five years of involvement in the organization to $35,000. And as such, I am officially no longer in debt for my undergraduate degree as of July 2018 and that is the most liberating feeling,” Freed said.
Freed said one of the best things about being in the pageants was the relationships she formed along the way.
“When the organization talks about #TheSisterhoodisReal they are not kidding. These are the women you are going to form lifelong friendships with. These are the women who are going to be in my wedding. These are the women who are going to be alongside me for the rest of my life journey, far beyond my experiences as Miss California and for that I am extremely grateful,” she said.
Freed expanded her new “sisterhood” when she traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey in September to compete for the Miss America crown. While she didn’t earn the coveted national title, Freed said the experience was life-changing.
“It’s really impossible to get together with 50 of the most incredible women that the country has to offer and not feel empowered and uplifted,” said Freed.
Over the next several months, Freed will continue her work as Miss California: advocating for the organization’s charity, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and making public appearances to support the Miss California scholarship program.
When her one-year term as Miss California is over, Freed will take up a new challenge — law school.
“My ultimate goal is to become an attorney in the state of California…The skills that I’ve learned competing over the last five years — being able to interview, being able to write a resume, being able to form an opinion and support it, which is literally exactly what I’m going to be doing as an attorney — I couldn’t think of better preparation,” said Freed.