By Maria Maxham
TV contestant and Oak Park resident Jessica Milagros brought her exuberant personality to Lantern Haus on Sunday, Nov. 3, for a meet and greet. She was joined by her friend Ariel Beverly, the current Miss Illinois, as well as fans, friends and family.
Lantern Haus owner Aubrey Jacknow, described as a Big Brother "uber fan," saw Milagros and her husband walking past the bar during their grand reopening and invited them in. They accepted, and the rest is history. When Milagros decided to do a local meet and greet — her hometown is Oak Park — her first thought was to do it at Lantern Haus.
She is no stranger to the camera. A model, she collaborated as a brand ambassador for J.C. Penney as well as working with major retail brands including Kohl's, Target and Ashley Stewart. Her goal is to bring more body diversity to the modeling world. In fact, her career in modeling began when she placed second out of 2,000 entries in a plus-size modeling competition in 2011.
Becoming a model, she said, was her "dream come true."
"I want to inspire that woman out there who sees fashion only as an option for other people. I want to represent women of size," said Milagros.
That was also one of the reasons she decided to audition for Big Brother.
"I'd been watching for 10 seasons," said Milagros. "I didn't see myself represented on the show. There had only been two previous plus-size contestants. I wanted to show everyone that bigger women can compete."
And it was a competition. "It was always a game," said Milagros. "I could never be sure when people were being genuine and when they were playing."
Her strategy? "I was as honest and straightforward as I could be. I stayed guarded from potentially getting hurt, but I wanted to represent my community and everything I stand for. That was more important than the money I could win."
One of the hardest aspects of the competition, she said, was being out of touch with everyone and practically everything for 170 days. "There was no phone. No internet. The only book we had was the Bible."
And even though Milagros didn't win the competition, she says she is proud of playing the game with integrity and being true to herself.
Her personality and message of body positivity has gained her a lot of fans — and friends. Ariel Beverly, the current Miss Illinois, who will be competing in the Miss America pageant in December, showed up at Lantern Haus to support Milagros.
Beverly said she met Milagros through Instagram, drawn to her positive messages about body diversity.
"She's the kind of person whose personality and positivity draw you to her," said Beverly, who mentioned that one of her favorite things about the changes to the Miss America Pageant over the past few years is the shift from looks to charisma and intelligence.
"There is no longer a swimsuit competition," she said, "and more focus is put on the social impact initiative of each woman competing." Beverly advocates for art education and has been working to raise money to donate to schools for art supplies.
"The narrative of pageants has been changing," she added. "I look forward to seeing more and more women of all body types competing."