Anything you have ever heard about pageantry has most likely exposed the good, bad and ugly aspects of the historical tradition. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the important thing to remember when expressing opinions of pageant competitions is that they are not all created equal. There are many pageant systems out there operating for different purposes on a variety of principals, and contestants have their own reasons for participating in them.
I started competing in small town festival pageants as a pre-teen and eventually discovered the miss america scholarship organization as a college student, which in comparison is an entirely different animal. Competing in scholarship pageants is an incredibly rewarding experience, but also one that requires intense preparation and discipline. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a necessity, and regardless of how many four point rhinestone hats you walk away with at the end of your pageant career, the journey results for every contestant in learning more about herself than she ever thought possible.
My first steps on a local stage as a miss contestant were nothing short of intimidating. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. What I did know was that I had this gnawing hunger to win a local title and compete in the miss oklahoma pageant since I was a little girl. I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight and that it would be challenging, but I was willing to try.
Tossing all of the basic pageant preparation aside, (diet, exercise, walking patterns, wardrobe selection, talent, hair and makeup) the most important phase of the competition hands down is the private interview – in which you are given nine minutes and thirty seconds of the judges undivided attention to prove to them that you are qualified for the job. You introduce yourself and they immediately begin rapidly firing questions at you about everything under the sun. They typically ask about your life and career ambitions, opinions on political and social issues, pop culture, current events, why you want to take on the title and how you plan to serve your community for the next year if you win. For a confident, well versed and well-rounded individual who is aware of the direction her life is going, this interview is a piece of cake. For someone not quite on that level it can be a pretty intimidating experience. (note: after being drilled in this environment multiple times, job interviews are a breeze, mostly because you aren’t expected to solve all of the world’s problems in a timely manner)
Accepting the reality that you aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea is a hard lesson to learn, but is as vital in the pageant world as it is in the real world. I competed in fourteen pageants before I won one. Occasionally I would be named runner up or win overall talent or swimsuit, but it took a while to really achieve what I was vying for. The lesson I eventually learned from the times I walked away with ‘nothing’ was that I never actually walked away with nothing. Shortly after the disappointment of not winning had worn off, the fire quickly reignited and I was eager to figure out what I could have done better and ready to re approach. I wasn’t that worried about how many attempts it was going to take to get there. The main concern I had was my ability to embrace constructive criticism, failure, and rejection without allowing it to destroy my self-worth. I also had to learn not to worry about what other people thought of me, especially family and friends. One season I found myself competing almost every weekend, and the way I remedied my fear of disappointing people was to enter and compete without telling anyone. You would think that having people there to support you would help but I found that I was more nervous when I was aware of who was in the audience.
Cut to the night I was crowned. I felt great about my interview and was anxious to hit the stage. Every part of the competition flew by that night and before I knew it we were lined up for awards and crowning. It was a tough competition that year with twenty + contestants, all exceptionally smart and talented women. As the runners up began being announced I stood at the back of the stage in awe of every single one of them, feeling more and more nervous in knowing that they all worked just as hard as I did and wanted it just as badly. Time stood still when it came down to announcing who had won. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion before during and after the emcee said it out loud. After that I couldn’t hear anything, I knew I needed to move but I had trouble getting my feet to carry me forward. I was overwhelmed. As I stood there having a crown pinned to my head and looking out into the audience I noticed the judges stand up as they were applauding. I wasn’t seeking validation from those seven highly successful strangers, but that validated me. Simply put I had a dream come true moment and a feeling of serious accomplishment. It was very cool.
I understand that it is impossible to fully measure the value and capabilities of a person solely based on their scores in five categories. I knew from the beginning that winning a crown would not define my worth as a person or make any major changes in my life. How I use the knowledge, growth and experience I have taken away is entirely up to me, and that is how success and value should be determined. The friendships, connections, and overall experiences I gained have already helped me in many areas of my life, and that to me has been worth it.