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Breaking Barriers: Kataluna Enriquez's Journey to Miss USA

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Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez

Kataluna Enriquez's path to Miss USA is a testament to resilience, determination, and the power of self-expression. Her journey began not in the spotlight, but in the shadows of self-doubt and a media landscape that offered no reflections of her identity. "I struggled with being confident and valuing myself at a very young age,” she recalls. “There was no one like me represented in the media that I could relate to.”

Her early experiences in the modeling world were fraught with challenges, leading her to momentarily step away from the industry. However, an advertisement for a trans pageant in Los Angeles reignited her passion. "I thought I’d just tried it out; what is there to lose,” she says. “Modeling and pageantry are similar in some ways, so I went ahead and competed.” Although she didn't place, she discovered her potential and leveled up her training.

Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez

Preparing for the Spotlight

Preparation for a pageant is a rigorous process that goes far beyond hair and makeup. "Competing for a pageant is glamorous, but that is not the case at all," Kataluna notes. Her routine includes experimenting with looks, maintaining a strict diet, journaling, studying global hot topics, and working with interview coaches. This meticulous preparation ensures she is ready to shine on stage.

Kataluna has spent a decade refining her personal pageant style, balancing her aesthetic with the demands of the stage. "I've been competing for about a decade now and know what works best for me on the final night," she says. Her makeup choices are deliberate, designed to reflect her personality and enhance her stage presence. "I am very competitive with an explosive and daring stage energy, so I tend to lean on a smoky eye to complement my personality."

Overcoming Challenges

As the first openly transgender woman to compete in Miss USA, Kataluna faced significant hurdles. From being treated differently by pageant organizations to receiving online bullying and even death threats, her journey was far from easy. “In a different state, I was purposely treated differently by the organization by giving everyone a roommate except me,” she recalls “The humiliating part was being in a room filled with all 150+ contestants where they announce who you will be rooming with, being the last person in the room, and getting told that I do not have a roommate and the rule of ‘being with your roommate at all times’ did not matter for me.” Despite these challenges, Kataluna remained focused on her purpose: to represent her community and pave the way for future generations.

Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez

Kataluna's presence at Miss USA has had a profound impact on both the pageant world and the LGBTQ+ community. "The standards have been changed! I can definitely say that I gave a fresh and new approach to how to compete and present yourself," she says. Her unapologetic visibility has inspired many and helped foster a more inclusive environment in beauty pageants.

Representing the LGBTQ+ Community

Throughout her reign, Kataluna has been a proud and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. "I represented pride every time I wore my sash and brought the entire community with me during my reign," she states. Her handmade rainbow gowns from her own brand, @KatalunaKouture, were a vibrant symbol of this commitment.

Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez

Looking to the future, Katula is planning the 2025 Miss International Queen-USA™pageant, which begins on December 8th in Las Vegas. “Me and the entire team are working extremely hard to create an impactful event as this would be the first time in history to have a national pageant for the Miss International Queen pageant. I invite every trans woman to apply at MIQUSA.com.”

As the reigning Miss International Queen USA, Kataluna is preparing for the Miss International Queen pageant in Pattaya, Thailand (the world's largest transgender pageant) this fall. “I am extremely excited to take my dreams and my community the distance, along with the Miss International Queen USA team,” she says. “I am hoping to make history again as the first Asian American woman to win the Miss International Queen title.” This event also represents Kataluna’s last competition, and she is determined to leave a lasting legacy. "I am packaging everything that I learned within a decade to have my best performance while also honoring my community," she says.

Courtesy of Kataluna Enriquez

A Message of Authenticity and Diversity

For Kataluna, true authenticity and diversity begin within. Her message is clear: "True authenticity and diversity is when you acknowledge and have peace with the very fact that we are all flawed human beings, that we are all going through one thing or another. Don’t run away from fear, shame, or not knowing."

Kataluna Enriquez's story is one of triumph over adversity, a journey of self-discovery and a powerful example of what it means to break barriers and inspire change. As she continues to advocate for inclusivity and representation, her legacy will undoubtedly influence generations to come, both within the pageant world and beyond.

Inspired by Kataluna’s story and want help expressing your own unique beauty? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an IPSY member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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About the author
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Maddie Aberman
Maddie is the senior manager of editorial at IPSY. She’s been covering beauty and wellness for more than nine years. Her work has appeared in Allure, Cosmopolitan, Popsugar, Women's Health, Good Housekeeping, and Seventeen, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated May 28, 2024 12:00 AM