Keri Stroebel, 31, a business development executive originally from Pretoria and now based in Cape Town, describes herself as a singer, wife, mother, wannabe microbiologist and a possible future entrepreneur.
“This is more than a beauty pageant," says Joani Johnson, CEO of Mrs. South Africa, "this is a woman empowerment program.” Keri and her fellow semi finalists are encouraged to use their influence to raise funds for charity in the run up to the top 25 finalist’s announcement at the CANSA Gala Dinner on the 29th of April 2016.
Keri's chosen charities are St Josephs Children's hospital, Dignity SA and CANSA, which she supports in between her career, and being a wife and mother.
Here, the Mrs SA hopeful gave us an insight into what it's like being a Schwarzkopf Professional Mrs South Africa Top 100 semi finalist.
How long have you been involved in the pageant industry?
1 week! This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.
What made you decide to become a Mrs SA contestant?
I had been toying with the idea for a few years, and this year I was feeling confident after losing the baby weight and decided I wanted to do something for myself. I knew that the pageant was about women empowerment so I thought now is the time I empower myself! I never in a million years expected to make the Top 100!
Is being a beauty queen as glamourous as it sounds?
Yes and no. Mrs South Africa is first and foremost a women empowerment programme, and not just a beauty pageant. So yes, we definitely get spoiled. We have amazing sponsors who help us look and feel amazing, but we also work our bums off. We are in the business of giving back to the community, not just attending fancy events.
What’s the best story you have since becoming involved in pageants?
The semi finals conference the weekend after we were selected at Emperor's Palace. I walked in, saw all the absolutely gorgeous women and thought: "Oh my word, what am I doing here?" After listening to the team behind the competition and all the mentors and reigning princesses, I truly felt like my life was going to change. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in you, and I’ve already made great friends.
What’s it like to be a Mrs SA contestant? What are your days like?
Busy! I am a mom, a wife, I have a full time job, my own personal charities and hobbies and then Mrs South Africa. I’m usually up at 5 or 6, depending on my toddler, and then I get ready and leave to take him to school at 7. I make my way to the office and use the time in my car to practice for any performances I have coming up – it’s the only time I have to sing usually.
I’m a business development executive, so I’m often out at meetings, or setting up meetings, sending out proposals, following up on them and that sort of thing. In between that, I try and send out emails to potential sponsors for Mrs South Africa and organise the events I need to attend and keep all of the charities happy. I spend a lot of time on emails, my poor phone just doesn’t last. I then leave the office at about 4:30 if my husband can’t fetch our son from school, go and collect him and do the evening things like dinner, bathtime and bedtime. Then I TRY and take an hour for a bubble bath and then I’m back on my laptop working again until about 11. This is pretty much every day. This weekend for example I have a Saturday morning event for CANSA at the V&A waterfront, and then I’m singing at a different charity event, and then on Sunday I have another CANSA event in Stellenbosch.
How do you respond to someone who is dismissive of beauty pageants?
The first thing I say to people is that in this case, Mrs South Africa is not a beauty pageant. Of course your appearance and the way you carry yourself counts, but this competition believes in celebrating every single woman’s unique beauty and personality. We are all different shapes, sizes and colours. Some of us are moms, some of us aren’t, some of us own businesses, some of us are stay at home moms – and every single one of those things is awesome. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a woman’s beauty, both externally and internally.
What lessons do you think one could learn from participating in beauty shows?
I can say that the one thing I have learnt is that participating in this is like a sisterhood. I haven’t known these ladies for very long but I can say with confidence that they have my back. It has also taught me to have confidence in who I am, that I don’t have to fit into anyone’s mould – because who I am is enough. I never believed that until Mrs South Africa believed in me.
What do you say to people who say that pageants are bad for women’s rights and self-esteem?
I think those people should consider why it is that they feel that way. Surely it is a woman’s right to choose how she wants to live her life and spend her time? If a pageant is promoting empowerment, and celebrating you for who you are without trying to change you – then that can’t possibly be a bad thing. I’m a big supporter in women supporting each other and allowing each other to make the choices that make them happy. If it gives you confidence to participate in pageants, then go for it.
Why do married women and single women compete in different pageants? Why does your marital status exclude you from competing in other pageants?
I don’t think it’s about being excluded so much, it’s more about different demographics. Miss SA caters to a slightly younger demographic, the girls are often aspriring models and while of course there is a huge focus on both pageants to help their communities, Mrs SA is specifically not a beauty pageant, we are wives, mothers and career women – we are in the business of inspiring that group of women to get out of their comfort zones and to know that even though we have other roles, we can still be superwomen and accomplish amazing things.
What is the relationship between contestants like?
Initially, we were all a bit nervous – but I think once everyone realised what this was going to be about, and that we are women, not girls – everyone just joined hands in support of one another. We want each other to succeed! The Cape Town ladies have a whatsapp group where we chat throughout the day and build each other up and share our successes and failures. Not every day is a good day, but the ladies genuinely care about each other. There is absolutely NO cattiness.