Jade Harris loves what she sees in the mirror everyday and she wants to make sure that other teens feel the same way.

That’s one of the reasons the 16-year-old Swissvale resident decided to enter the Plus Teen USA beauty pageant.

SIZE IS JUST A NUMBER—From left: Marshay’la Brown, Jade’s sister; Jade Harris; and Jade’s best friend, Imani Motley. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

Harris and her mother, Tiffany Jenkins, learned of the pageant while watching the Style Network this summer.

“I liked the spirit of the pageant because it offers self-esteem and I thought it would help me with my public speaking skills,” Harris said.

According to the site http://www.plusteenusa.com, Plus Teen USA, a non-profit organization, was founded by plus size model, modeling instructor and former pageant titleholder, Dr. Jacqueline Lawrence.

“With so much emphasis in today’s society on outward appearance and on being thin, oftentimes heavier individuals—especially young ladies—find it difficult to accept themselves because they are not considered “acceptable,” and thus are oftentimes challenged with issues related to low self-esteem,” said Lawrence in a statement on the website.

“More and more plus size teens, having poor self-images, are turning to negative influences such as eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, gangs, promiscuity and various compromised life styles to “fit in, which oftentimes result in depression and hopelessness, causing them to get heavier, more depressed and more hopeless.

The mission of Plus Teen USA is to give them a sense of pride so they will not compare themselves to others, but will become the best they can be,” added Lawrence, who serves as the pageant’s national director.

Plus Teen USA created its first National Pageant and Conference in 2009. That pageant was first shown on Style Network‘s “Ruby” show on March 14. It became a nonprofit organization a month before its television debut and started touting healthy living by implementing a fitness component, which all contestants are mandated to participate in. Due to the current economic crisis in America, Plus Teen USA moved its pageant to the Internet for the 2011 pageant season.

Although a winner won’t be crowned until October 2011, Harris is constantly getting out and educating people about the pageant and her platform of mentoring at-risk youth.

“This is my first pageant. I’m not a person who wants to be in the spotlight. I am trying to have fun and learn from this experience and I want to promote my platform. Mentoring is something that is close to my heart,” said Harris, who mentors at the Goodwill on the South Side every Monday when she doesn’t have volleyball practice, miming or choir practice at First Baptist Church in West Mifflin or spending time with friends and family. Harris has been mentoring girls ages 9-12 since September.

“There’s a lot of pressure with doing all of this, but everything I do I give my all to. I don’t focus on what I look like. You have to love yourself and work towards becoming the person you want to be,” Harris said.

Jenkins is proud of her daughter.

“Jade is diligent with all that she does and she excels in everything she puts her hands to. I am just a proud mom. She carries herself well and she’s very humble,” Jenkins said.

Both mom and daughter believe that Harris’ winning personality and dedication will make her a sure-fire winner of the Plus Teen USA pageant. “I hope that I win this pageant, because I want to make my cause of mentoring at-risk youth more known. If I don’t win this pageant, I hope that my being in it can build up and encourage youth to become the best they can be,” Harris said.

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