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Below the Surface with Maura Deegan
The pageant queen discusses her definition of beauty and how she’s practicing self-care after undergoing surgery.
Below the Surface is an ongoing series featuring friends of Motif, who are on their path to greatness doing things they love. We sat down with our friend, Maura Deegan—a full time operations specialist and part-time beauty pageant enthusiast. Maura spent her childhood growing up globally in an expat family. After undergoing a major cervical surgery in 2021, she began reframing her life, her body and her relationship with beauty. She was born in D.C. and currently lives with her three dogs, Sagen, Tipsy, and Coleslaw.
How did you enter the beauty pageant world?
I was only 13 years old. My mom saw a flier and encouraged me to enter Miss Maryland Teen USA. She had a lot of fears about me going off to an all-girls school, being a tomboy, and being slightly awkward. She thought that a pageant would help me get out of my shell.
I had to do interview and walking prep. I had to really get outside of my box. And I’m glad I did. I met a lot of amazing girls who were also in their teen years but had the maturity and composure of girls in her 20’s. They were really confident in themselves and who they were as people. I did not have that until I had spent a few years in the pageant world. Then I just got hooked on that feeling.
Because of my involvement in pageants, I had this women empowerment gang around me ALL the time. With or without makeup, in or outside the pageant realm, whether it was competition time or not, I had sisters I could call and look to for advice.
How did pageants affect your views of beauty?
Contrary to what views people hold about pageants, it was through these pageants that I met some of the most amazing women who were truly beautiful on the inside and the outside, and who were also really intelligent. I would say that the D.C. pageant world might be really unique, because you meet rocket scientists, neurosurgeons, and people who work for the government and want to be president one day.
I really held myself to that standard — I don't just want to just be pretty, I want to have a legacy.
It was just such an interesting world to grow up in. I understand a lot of people do have this idea of pageants, being ditzy, anti-feminist, or a really bad place to be, especially for younger girls. And in my experience, it was quite the opposite.
What does beauty mean to you? How has your childhood influenced that?
I'm a melting pot of a human. My father is mostly Caucasian but a mix of Swedish, Irish, French, British, and German. My mother is Irish, Nigerian, Cherokee, and East Asian. I have never absorbed just one culture, one ethnicity, or one view, I kind of get to imbibe all of them.
Growing up as an expat kid, I was exposed to so many different cultures. We traveled to and lived in so many different countries. I never had a single, fixed idea of what beauty was, because every country had their own view and I quickly understood that everyone looks different and that all of these people are beautiful—what matters is the way you look at them.
When I think of my idea of beauty, the first thing that comes to my mind are the smile marks you get from smiling so much, the stretch marks from having a baby, or the freckles you get from living your life. Beauty has a lot more to do with the experiences that you have, how they show up on your body, and how they reflect on yourself and your personality. That's why it's so important to take care but also appreciate your body and your skin, both internally and externally.
I'm also a little obsessive about skin care because I would like to take care of my body and my skin so I can have all of these life experiences for as long as possible.
Can you talk about a time when it was difficult to feel beautiful and how you emerged from that phase and experience?
Last year I had to undergo a pretty major cervical surgery. So along with the uncertainty of future fertility and stuff, I gained 20 lbs and had to be off my feet for a long time which is hard for me because I like being an active person. I had to go through months and months of treatment afterwards. Following which, I lost a lot of hair and I got really bad acne which I haven't had since I was a teenager. I just had to be patient, when I did not want to be patient at all.
My doctors were like “But you're healthy now, you get to work out and experience life again,” however I was in a place where I was telling myself, “I don’t like this, I want to work out at the level I was before, I want to have perfect skin, I want to have perfect hair. ”
I lost a LOT of my hair and I was thinking, do I get a wig? Or do I just cut it all off? I was falling back into an old habit of looking to superficial beauty. I found myself in my mid-20s, when I had hit a peak of self-confidence, to all of a sudden experiencing major insecurities and realizing - okay, I feel very uncomfortable in my own skin. I was balancing feeling annoyed that I wasn’t fully comfortable with my body, and grateful for being okay.
I think what helped me most was acceptance. It is what it is, you can't change what you can't change. I have to accept what I am right now and in a few months, I will find a new normal. Then being grateful for the things that I had and the things I could do, and every single day when I could do more of them, I became really grateful for that.
What do patterns mean to you in your life?
I love patterns. I love routines. So for me, patterns are a really good thing AND a really bad thing because I can get really into them.
Skincare and self care has been really really big for me lately in the past year or two. After surgery, I was really trying to rebuild my health from the inside out. I started taking vitamins every day, I started doing my skincare regimen, I started going for walks once I got my energy back. I found these patterns super helpful. I also had to break patterns that I learned post surgery, like wanting to nap all the time, not really “quit” but not having the motivation to do things.
Whenever I want to start a pattern, I'll literally put it in my calendar for 21 days. I'm like, you can try it for 21 days, if you don't like it, then you don't have to do it. So I'll just force myself to do it for 21 days. And by the time that you've done it for 21 days, most of the time you're like okay, well, now I'm just doing it. So I may as well keep at it.
Starting a self care journal, therapy, and meditation were also really big positive patterns for me.
Doing little things for myself like getting a facial, a massage (when I was allowed to), and walking my dog Sagen, so I could be outside. Those activities were really important for me to stay grounded and to keep my mental sanity. Everyday, I would write these lists - what am I grateful for right now? What are the happy things in this present moment? What am I allowed and able to do? And that helped quite a bit. I realized that, yes, some things had changed, but not as much as it felt sometimes. So I just made it a pattern, a habit to think of positive things that I could take from the situation.
What does the practice of self-care mean to you?
I love the consistency of it, that you can do something every single day to take care of yourself. It's small. It’s easy. I also knew the results would be good for me. So for me, waking up every single morning, washing my face, putting on my serums and sunscreen. That's something that I can do every single day. That's something that I have control over. For someone who had lost a lot of control, that's very comforting.
What are your expectations of the beauty industry and what matters to you when you’re trying a new brand?
I have bad expectations of the beauty industry. I expect, especially in America, brands to lie to you, brands that don’t deliver results, brands that have really bad ingredients in them and brands that lead people astray.
Yes, a certain cream or serum can be expensive. But if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. So it can be “clean” or fancy, but if it doesn't work for you, it doesn’t work. So I think it’s really important to find something that works, that fits you, and that can “actually” help your skin.
I look at ingredients when I’m trying new brands and products. I may not know all of them but I will Google them if I don’t. I also look to see if the product is tested on animals because that’s a no-no. For my sanity, I also look that the company has some kind of return or refund policy because I know my sensitive skin may not like some of the things I try. I also really love when brands have good values, whether it’s a female majority-run company or if they strongly back a charity or champion for a cause. It’s not enough now-a-days to just be cool or on trend to me, I really want brands that are going to make a difference in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, I love aesthetically pleasing brands, but that’s just the starting point.
Tell us about your experience with The Abundance Cleanser
My skin always seems a bit tricky because it’s quite oily, but easily feels dried out or starts to flake. Now, my skin feels really soft and my pores look and feel clean!
I’ve really enjoyed the Abundance Cleanser especially after realizing that I can use it as a quick mask and since then it has become a routine of indulgence. Even though it is just a face wash, and although I use it every single night, it is so relaxing. I enjoy it so much because I really do think of skin care as me-time.