Teenager uses platform to shine light on Tourette’s, mental health

Southfield principal’s daughter wins pageant

By: Charity Meier | C&G Newspapers | Published September 18, 2023

 Avery Hill is emotional as she waves at the crowd after  being crowned Miss  Michigan Teen U.S.A.

Avery Hill is emotional as she waves at the crowd after being crowned Miss Michigan Teen U.S.A.

Photo provided by Jolia Hill


FARMINGTON HILLS — A North Farmington High School student has overcome multiple physical and mental health challenges to rise to the top of her game as Miss Michigan Teen USA, and she is using that platform to bring awareness to those conditions.

Avery Hill, 17, who has Tourette syndrome coupled with anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic, got into pageants thanks to a chance spotting of an ad on Instagram in 2021. Hill was just 13 years old when she approached her dad, Edward Hill, about signing up to compete in pageants. She said she knew nothing about dresses and pageantry back then.

She was able to compete in her first pageant that year as the contest fell right after her 14th birthday. According to pageant rules, teens must be at least 14 years old to compete. That first year she was named a fan favorite and was given the title of Miss Farmington Hills Teen.

“After that year, I was like, this is really fun. This is an amazing experience,” said Hill. “I got a lot more confident after that. … I was saying to myself, ‘I’m going to keep doing this until I win. I don’t care how many years I have to go back. I’m going to do this until I win.’”

In 2022 she was named a fan favorite again and made it to the top five.

This year, Hill chose to wear a black ball gown, something that is rare for pageant participants, and that made her stand out from the crowd.

She said she competed with the mindset that this was her year and that she was not necessarily going to win, but was going to do better than she had done the previous year. For Hill, the pageant is not a competition against other girls. It’s a competition against herself.

“I think that’s what your last year has been about — learning who you are. Learning the good, bad and the ugly about yourself. Recognizing that in order to win or be considered Miss Michigan Teen you just have to be your true self. Be authentic and learn from things that you’ve gone through, like learning about mental health and recognizing that it’s OK to talk to somebody about,” said Avery’s mother, Jolia Hill. “You know, learning about Tourette’s and recognizing that there’s stereotypes about it, but you really want people to know that you have Tourette’s, but Tourette’s is a spectrum.”

As Miss Teen Michigan U.S.A. Avery has the opportunity to speak at numerous engagements across the country. She said she is using the platform to educate people on the disorder. She said that Tourette’s is actually on a spectrum. However, most people stereotypically think of it as random swearing. She said she is on the lower end of the spectrum.

“My tics started when I was in sixth or seventh grade. It would just be like little things like blinking, or I would open my eyes real big. Then I started having a couple vocal tics, and I just started gasping for air,” Avery said. “People tend to think of it as just cussing. That’s what I thought it was when I was younger too, and I was just blurting out loud sounds and having very aggressive movements and then, like, cussing too. I’ve learned it’s a lot more in depth than that. You can have, like, anxiety tics, and that doesn’t mean you have Tourette’s, and you can be really, really high on the spectrum and have the worst type of Tourette’s where you can go into having seizures. Thank God I’m not that far up on the spectrum and my tics are not as bad as that. They’re not into sending me into having seizures. But my main goal for the future and for this year is to be able to get out there what Tourette’s is about and just to educate about it.”

She said she was offered two treatments for her condition — behavioral therapy or medication. She said she did not want to take medication and elected to undergo therapy. However the therapy, which taught her to recognize signs that tics were coming so she could control them, only worked for  a short period of time. Avery said she started developing new tics, and the therapy no longer worked for them as she never knows when the new tics are coming.

On top of the Tourette’s, Avery found herself very depressed during the pandemic. She said the forced seclusion of the pandemic was very hard on her mental health. However, Avery said she now believes her battle with mental health has made her a better person and attributes her recent success to the struggles she has faced.

“I wasn’t, like, talking to my friends that I normally would on a daily basis. So, it was like a really, really huge change that I didn’t adapt to, but my mom put me in therapy and now I’m a better person,” Avery said. “I like this version of myself (better) than I feel like I would have become if I didn’t go through my mental health battles. I feel like I came out better on the other side.”

Through the pageant program, Avery said she was able to gain confidence and self-esteem.  Something many people don’t think of when talking about beauty pageants. Avery attributes that way of thinking to shows such as “Toddlers in Tiaras” and said she understands that concept, but for her it just isn’t true.

“I kind of take it as a learning experience,” she said. “This is also something that I enjoy doing, and it gives me a lot of new experiences every year, and I meet new girls  from all over the state every single year. It’s cool to me in the sense where I don’t really get to the point where I’m like, ‘This is, like, degrading. I have, like, low self-esteem,’ because it’s like I’m looking on the positive side of it.”

According to the Hills, when the competitions changed with a new production company. The beauty concepts shifted from a stereotypical blond bombshell to young women of all races.

“With the change looking for girls to be diverse. Looking for girls to be who they really are, to be authentic,” said Jolia Hill. “That’s what made me feel like, ‘I’m OK with my child being in this setting,’ because the executive director was like, ‘Hey, don’t think of this as a pageant. Think of this as a program to help young girls understand who they are and how to better themselves in what they are, what they represent and how to be the best you for the rest of your life.’ And for me, I was like, this is it, because that’s what I want my baby to be able to do and be.”

Jolia Hill said she has seen her daughter really grow through the pageants. She said that because of the pageants, her daughter has come to believe in herself and is able to strike up a conversation with an adult and not be concerned about whether they’re older or if they know more than she does — to be confident in who she is.

“The growth and how they’ve been working with all those girls it’s amazing,” said Jolia Hill.

“Through the competition and through the training and through the preparations and through just getting to know people that assist her — whether it be walking, attire, makeup — her self-confidence has just been boosted 100%,” said her father. “She has found herself. She does what she likes to do. She does speaking engagements. It has just helped her self-confidence tremendously, and she is like a different person now.”

Edward Hill, the principal of Burnley Academy in Southfield, said that his daughter was not that outgoing prior to the pandemic and wasn’t really involved in stuff. Now his daughter is a beauty queen, a cheerleader and has so many activities that she actually had to eliminate some of them as she had too much on her plate. He said the pageants have really helped his daughter to hone in on her personality and who she is.

“It is a wonderful thing to know that you’re a part of her winning, a part of her just achieving, a part of her just growing and knowing that  the things I’ve taught in the past, the things I’ve said, the things we’ve exposed her to, the things that we’ve tried to teach her is all coming to fruition and it’s working out for us,” he said. “So my wife and I feel wonderful about it. We’re head over heels.”

Avery wants people to know that mental health is important and something that people can learn from and reflect on. She said that by going through issues and finding ways to address them, people can find ways to work on bettering themselves and find a new way to look at the world.

Avery will be competing  as Miss Michigan Teen U.S.A. for the title of Miss Teen U.S.A. Sept. 28-29  in Reno, Nevada. She said she is also planning  to host a fundraising event to benefit Tourette syndrome awareness and mental health.