Hooters is more than wings and beer. It gives women opportunities for empowerment and reaching further than what many expect of a server at the restaurant.
At 20 years old, Laiken Baumgartner is the youngest winner of the Miss Hooters International Pageant. She reigns as the 2018 winner. Aside from this, she also landed the cover page spot on the 2019 Hooters calendar.
Baumgartner is a junior in apparel design at Auburn University. She is currently employed at the Hooters in Douglasville, Georgia.
This is her first title won from competing in pageants.
“I’ve competed in other pageants, but this is the first one I went all the way,” she said.
However, being in this position is not all glory. Hooters, at times, has been known to have a negative stigma.
Even on campus, Baumgartner has experienced discriminative behavior centered on her involvement with Hooters.
During Panhellenic recruitment, multiple chairpersons of sororities told her they would give her a bid only if she took her Hooters photos off her social media.
“I don’t want to restart my Instagram or quit Hooters to be in a club,” she said.
However, she does not hold resentment toward the organizations, nor does she have intent to speak ill of any Panhellenic sorority. She just realized that it was not for her.
Social media has been another source of backlash for Baumgartner.
“When I first won, the first two weeks were very hard because I would get a lot of comments from people that didn’t even know me saying I was the ugliest and fattest Miss Hooters International,” she said.
Baumgartner overcame the hateful comments by recognizing her accomplishment as something she achieved and was proud of.
“I thought, ‘Alright, I still won, so be that as it may, I might be the ugliest one, but I still won,’” she said.
Baumgartner recognizes that everyone has the right to their own opinion and knows some people will always see Hooters in a negative light due to the nature of their work uniform.
“In my opinion, I wear more at Hooters than I do in the summer,” she said. “It’s all about perspective.”
She said the managers are always making sure their outfits are not too revealing, and that Hooters has families coming in, so the uniform is controlled.
“There’s a classy aspect to what we’ve got,” she said.
She has felt like this has been an empowering experience for her.
“It’s like an opposite effect,” she said. “What you think could be showing more skin and making you feel like less of a person actually makes you feel like you’re way more in control because you can do so much when you are confident in yourself.”
Baumgartner is not a stranger to competing in pageants. She competed in the Miss Hooters International 2017 pageant.
“In last year’s pageant, I was Top 10 in Vegas, and I thought that was as good as it was going to be,” she said. “I also competed in the Miss Georgia Teens Pageant growing up, but this was the only one I’ve ever won.”
After being a pageant girl for so many years, Baumgartner describes her first win as one that was a long time coming for her and exciting.
The Miss Hooters International pageant has some steep competition, and the process is long.
Baumgartner said to win as an American contestant is a huge honor considering they have so many Americans competing due to the large nature of Hooters locations across the United States.
She competed as Miss Hooters Georgia two years in a row, representing the South.
Although the competition is tough, any active Hooters woman is able to sign up for the pageant.
Baumgartner said the stores do look at how good of an employee the competing women are when selecting.
She said the international pageant is very much like the Miss America pageant.
“We don’t have a talent, but the interview portion this year was the heaviest portion it’s ever been,” she said. “It’s like 40 percent. They ask you about future plans. It’s not all about Hooters.”
She said they want to pick someone that is a good person, who will properly represent the Hooters brand.
The win for Baumgartner was unexpected for her.
“I kept thinking it was going to be Rachel, who got second place,” she said. “I told her congratulations, and then I looked for a second and then dropped, thinking ‘Oh wait that’s me. That’s my name.’”
Now, she is excited to be at the pageant next year watching.
“I always thought that was going to be the coolest part of winning: watching,” she said.
Baumgartner is not done with pageants quite yet.
“I’m going to go into the Miss USA system next year,” she said.
Aside from this title, she also is the 2019 calendar covergirl.
Winning the pageant is separate from being able to land a spot on the cover. The international winner is only guaranteed a small feature in the calendar.
“The Hooters calendar and Hooters itself are completely different companies,” she said. “The calendar buys Hooters name and uses the Hooters girls.”
For her to get both was a chance occurrence that is not common.
“It was a double whammy because it’s never guaranteed,” she said.
Baumgartner has been in the calendar previously as a small picture under the month of October, but this is her first major photograph in it.
Her beginnings as a Hooters Girl started two and a half years ago.
“I wanted to work there when I was little because my family would go,” she said. “When I turned 18, I was still in high school, so I went and got a job there and didn’t tell any of my friends. Nobody knew until we graduated. Then, I started doing the pageants that summer.”
Now that she is the winner, for the next year she gets to do many events.
“I get to go on the calendar tour because I am both the covergirl and International winner,” she said.
Baumgartner is excited to meet the other women in the calendar. She looked up to Miss Hooters 2017 as a role model and knows she is now looked upon the same way.
“[Miss Hooters] definitely serves as a role model because she has to be best of the best employee as well,” she said.
Besides the calendar events, she is involved with the Hooters philanthropic events.
Baumgartner has done a lot of charity events with her title.
“I introduced the Share House to Hooters, which is an organization and a crisis center for women and children of domestic violence,” she said. “We get to work with The Children’s Hospital, and we also did a 20-mile bike race for prostate cancer.”
She arranged a philanthropy event on her own in Atlanta.
“I did a Georgia Halloween costume contest for all the Georgia Hooters girls, and we raised almost $1,000 for breast cancer research,” she said.
As Miss Hooters, she is not required to arrange any events, but she wanted to have something she did on her own when she talked about her year she said.
“I wanted to do something that I thought of, not something Hooters told me to do,” she said. “I decorated the whole store in pink. Customers that were coming in were donating.”
Baumgartner plans on organizing another philanthropy event on her own for St. Patrick’s Day with a similar concept but different charity.
Hooters tries to choose organizations that help women because of the company’s women-centered employment.
Hooters has given Baumgartner more than just career experience and a crown. It has helped her pay for her schooling and given her more confidence.
“Doing the pageants also helped me to realize not to compare myself to anyone, since at the end of the day different, judges are going to pick a different girl,” she said.
Education is important to her, and Hooters helps Baumgartner with flexibility in her schedule so she can attend school.
“They let me work once a month when I came to Auburn,” she said. “When I would go home to visit my parents, I would pick up a shift. They were very, very accommodating.”
She said Hooters encourages their employees to go back to school. She chose Auburn for its fashion design program and knew she would get the full college experience here.
“Auburn came up as one of the No. 1 ranked schools for fashion design and production,” she said. “Then, I came here and toured, and that was it.”
Her end career goal is to make pageantwear, such as evening gowns and hometown costumes for clients and be self-employed.
“Miss USA and Miss America always hire designers to do their costumes, and Miss Universe does as well,” she said.
Baumgartner wants to make her start by making hometown costumes for this upcoming Miss Hooters International pageant and has made all the dresses she will wear on the calendar tour.
As of right now, Baumgartner is taking online classes and cannot be on campus due to her mandatory engagements during her yearlong reign as Miss Hooters.
She said her greatest challenge is missing school.
“I like to sit in a classroom,” she said. “All I want to do when I’m done is be back full time and sit in a classroom.”
Baumgartner said she has been empowered by this experience in many ways.
“I have so many doors opened for me now, and I feel like I want to say yes to every opportunity,” she said. “Before working at Hooters and before winning, I didn’t say yes to everything, and now I’m just like ‘throw it at me, I can do it.’”
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