Tattoos, archery skills and a career in the military – doesn’t sound like your typical beauty pageant contestant. And yet there Sgt. Theresa Vail is, or at least she will be, in the Miss America pageant, representing Kansas and challenging stereotypes in what might be the most stereotyped competition in the world. The preliminaries began on Tuesday, September 10 in Atlantic City, when Sgt. Vail became the second servicewoman ever to compete in the pageant, and the very first to have her tattoos - the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and the Serenity Prayer running down her right side – out on display.

Miss America 2014 Contestants
On first glance, Sgt Vail looks just like your average Miss America contestant. Until you look closer, that is.

Sgt. Vail explained her motivation for participating in Miss America in her video introduction (which you can watch below). In it, she says: “The two jobs might be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re also very similar.”

“I think the job of Miss America requires the same qualities as being a good soldier. Being a hard worker, having personal sacrifice and being a selfless servant. These jobs are one and the same. Miss America has no family to call her own for her year of service. She doesn’t have a hometown, she doesn’t have a bed to sleep in every night. She’s giving a year of her life, for her country.”

Mallory Hagan, Empire State Building
Vail is competing to succede the current MIss America, Mallory Hagan.

That’s certainly a bold statement to make and one most men and women in uniform wouldn’t necessarily agree with. Still, Miss Kansas’ mission statement is certainly a worthy one, as the unusual contestant aims to inspire and empower women to go after their goals, even if they don’t fit the traditional mould.

"Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos?" Vail asks in her People feature. "My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all."

And just in case you weren’t impressed enough already, some of Sgt. Vail’s credentials include being an expert M16 marksman, a bow hunter, a skydiver, a boxer and a mechanic or, as she refers to her first job in the military, a “grease monkey.” She’s certainly come a long way since those days.