Rorie Christenson, 6, didn't have to think twice last fall when asked if she wanted to be in a beauty pageant.
"Right away, she said 'yes,'" said her mother, Jennifer Christenson of Grand Forks.
This was a first for her daughter, Christenson said. "She was a shy girl. That's completely shifted."
In a preliminary event here in December, held in connection with the Miss Earth organization, Rorie won in her division in the Heart of the North pageant.
Miss Earth, an annual international environmental-themed beauty pageant, is one of the "Big Four" international pageants. Others are Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss International.
In January, the Christensons discovered there was a Mrs. division for married women ages 21 to 59 in the Miss Earth pageant system, and her daughter urged her to enter.
"At first I said 'no, no way,'" said Christenson, who had never entered a pageant.
"But a friend encouraged me, and my daughter said, 'Mom, you always tell me to be brave,'" she said. "How can I not take my own advice? She recruited me."
On March 31 at the pageant in Fargo, Christenson, 38, was crowned the 2019 Mrs. North Dakota Earth USA and, on March 30, Rorie was crowned 2019 Little Miss North Dakota Earth USA.
The mother-daughter duo will head to Washington D.C. in August for the national competition.
Rorie, who won in the division for 5- to 9-year-olds, is most excited about "who's going to win (the pageant title), and how I'm going to help the environment."
Christenson's husband, Kyle, and 2-year-old son, Corban, will join as the whole family visits the nation's capital for the first time.
In fact, Kyle and Corban are part of the reason Jennifer and Rorie won their divisions, Christenson said.
"It was a family affair. Kyle would ask me questions and practiced (interview skills) with me at home."
Even Corban got in on the action, she said. "He'd stand up and say, 'I'm Corban. I'm from North Dakota.'"
Another family member, Christenson's niece, Brooklynn Dronen, 12, East Grand Forks, was also involved in the pageant on the Minnesota side. She recently won the 2019 Junior Miss Minnesota Earth USA.
'No big hair'
Christenson may have had some concerns about the stereotypical beauty pageants for children, but this pageant is nothing like the ultra-competitive "Toddlers and Tiaras" television show, she said.
"This system is called a 'natural pageant.' There's no big hair, no makeup. The message is 'they are beautiful as they are.'"
Christenson said she also likes that the pageant is open to women up to age 59. "Beauty can be found at any age."
Contestants present an outfit on stage and are interviewed on a range of topics, such as politics and social awareness, Christenson said.
They're judged on stage presence, confidence, communication skills, community involvement and social media platform.
The Christensons have made reducing or eliminating the use of plastic straws the pinnacle of their environmental activism.
They committed to this cause after seeing a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose.
"We have both taken a pledge against plastic straws," Christenson said. "We want to reduce plastic consumption."
The family uses reusable rubber and glass straws they carry with them, she said. If they happen to be somewhere that offers plastic straws, "we make sure they are recycled."
The Christensons are also more focused on cleaning up their own neighborhood and intend to plant a tree in their yard this year in recognition of Arbor Day.
"I've always been an advocate for the environment-like shutting off lights and using less water when brushing your teeth," but more must be done, Christenson said.
"We do need to work toward helping the environment."
As for confidence and personal growth, both mother and daughter have benefitted from involvement in the Miss Earth pageant, they say.
Before she got involved, Rorie was not inclined to speak up or step into the limelight, Christenson said.
"If she was meeting someone new, she'd stand behind me. That has all changed for the better."
Rorie has plans to read a book on the importance of caring for the environment to her classmates and other kindergarteners in her school.
She also wants to create a video to spread the awareness of what can be done to curb or prevent environmental threats.
Christenson, who is employed as a paralegal in a local law firm, said her own self-confidence "has improved immensely."
Her "day-in day-out" life has been infused with new purpose, she said. "It has made me a better mom."