Okay, I drew you in with the title, but the answer is yes. I won’t even beat around the bush or sugar coat it. Yes a million times. I’ll tell you why. When I was thirteen years old, I received a letter in the mail from an organization called National American Miss. It was a pageant for young girls that focused on evening gown, public speaking, community service, and interview as its competition categories. My parents had no idea what to do with the begging pre-teen who was asking to go to the open call, but eventually they gave in.
We packed up the minivan a couple weeks later and headed to the hotel listed on the invitation and entered the hotel ballroom. I don’t even remember what happened that day. I don’t even remember why or how I was mailed that invitation when I had never participated in pageants before. All I remember is the letter, the hotel parking lot, and the moment I put my deposit down to compete for the title of Miss Illinois Jr. Teen.
Fast forward 12 years later, I am a twenty six year old professional. I have competed in numerous pageants growing up, I acted as a coach for my younger sister when she started to compete, and I ending up winning the Miss Illinois Teen title on my fifth and final year of eligibility. Five years!! I was having an out of body experience when they called the winner out of eighty girls that I didn’t even realize they called my name. I was the first ever Miss Lake in the Hills, I won Miss McHenry County and won Best in Speech and Communications at the Miss Illinois pageant with a speech I wrote in my hotel room the night before. My sister began competing and I coached her from not placing at all at a local Miss Chicago pageant to placing First Runner-up at the Miss Illinois Pre-Teen competition. Pageants are a family affair too, my entire family would coordinate their wardrobe with our evening gowns and if I was the most nervous person in the room, my parents were the second. I have traveled all over the country for pageants with my mom and it has become a longstanding girls weekend tradition for us.
So in short, yes, I am big believer on the relevancy of pageants. Here’s why.
“I am a standing advocate for the professional, personal, and purpose driven elements of pageantry that have molded me into the woman I am today.”
The life skills that I learned in pageants have propelled me in my life and set me up for success in a variety of areas of the real world. They have forced me to define and organize my sense of self, advocate for others, win gracefully, lose gracefully, and have fun in between. I’ve learned that zippers have a mind of their own when you’re backstage and need to zip a dress. I have made life long friends with women I have traveled the country with, learned from, and networked with. I have asked myself difficult questions about what I stand for and I have also answered questions about what kind of shoe I would be. (Silly question, but it’s actually a personality based one.)
A critical element of every pageant is the interview portion. However, it’s not your typical job interview of twenty to thirty minutes or even an hour long. No. The judges have approximately anywhere between one minute (if it’s a round table and you speak to each judge individually) to five minutes if it’s a panel. This means you need to be efficient, communicative, authentic, and inspiring within the span of the time it might take most of us to brush our teeth in the morning. It means there is no time to fumble or ask for a second question or take time to think through things. Your A game is the only option. You spend months preparing accordingly.
Another critical element of the pageant is public speaking. Whether it’s in the form of an on-stage question or a spokesmodel section of the competition, you need to master your stage presence and your articulation when addressing hundreds of people. You usually have a time limit with these as well, so the same challenge of timely and thoughtful communication comes into play at a grander level, especially when addressing societal issues and challenging topics.
There is no job that I can think of that wouldn’t benefit from confidence in the interview room or in a public speaking environment. As pageant girls, we are skilled at commanding the attention of a room and do so with confidence at a very young age. I personally have benefitted from these skills and do not get intimidated by interviews in the workplace.
When you’re a pageant girl, you’re a competitor. It’s not the fun reality, but the fact of the matter is that there’s one crown and a number of girls vying for it. However, this does not mean you don’t learn how to compete and how to make friends at the same time. I have built lifelong friendships with women I competed with for years. When one of us would win, there was a genuine excitement that her dreams had come true for her because we knew the journey it had taken to get there.
One of my absolute favorite things is watching the little girls who competed at the same time as me grow up to be amazing teenagers and young women. These are girls that have their own charities, foundations, national platforms, honor roll placements, etc. I have even traveled to Miss USA and Miss Universe with friends I met through pageantry, years after we stopped competing. This balance of preparing for the crown, but also enjoying the competition is an incredibly valuable attribute to have in real life. It teaches you grace, humility, and the fact that we should cheer for others until it’s our turn.
Although pageants are an incredibly public event, the bulk of the work is internal and personal. It’s months of practice on your own running through interview questions, defining your brand, eating healthy and working out, deciding what stances you’ll take on societal issues, etc. It’s being honest with yourself, practicing self discipline and self love, and believing that you are worthy of the pursuit of a title. This isn’t always easy and it can sometimes be challenging to think through what you stand for or why you deserve to win, but at the end of the day, it’s incredibly rewarding to have an understanding of why you’re there.
I always laugh when people ask how I prepare for a pageant and assume it’s all shopping and dress fittings. Usually, that’s the last step you engage in as a competitor. Before you find the gown, you need to find the girl. You need to discover who you are, what you’re passionate about, how you’d like to create a legacy and give back to your community, what kind of titleholder you’d like to be, etc.
I just recently attend a pageant prep workshop and the main theme of the weekend was defining your why. Why are you competing? Why are you a strong representative? These are questions that outside of a pageantry context might seem strange to ask, but they have actually always spurred a sense of purpose in me. It urges me to consider the type of person I want to be and the type of leader I want to be. It forces me to address my own limitations and insecurities that say I’m not good enough or I’m not ready. It forces me to make a plan, define a strategy, and do daily work to reach that goal.
At the pageant prep workshop, there were floor markers that indicated “You belong here.” While these were in reference to COVID social distancing efforts, I found myself truly thinking. Did I belong there? Did I still have the pageant girl in me? Was I in over my head? Was I tall enough, was I small enough, was I enough period? It had been almost seven years since I had last competed in a pageant and although I was always interested, I kept putting off getting back into pageantry. Year after year, I made an excuse and I counted myself out before I could even jump into things.
In fact, at the end of the weekend, when prompted how I had felt about the day, I began to cry. At first, I felt embarrassed and caught off guard at my reaction. Seriously, I was fine one second and having a Kim Kardashian crying moment the next. But upon further reflection, I realized that I had forgotten what it felt like to truly believe in myself and to find myself worthy of things that were thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Working with my coaches at Pink Door Prep propelled me to address this in a mock pageant session and bring this sentiment to the forefront. Their authenticity, grace, and empathy in their response to my reaction just further reinforced to me that I was in the right room with the right people and that I needed to start believing that I was the right person too. Sometimes, we get lost in all of the glitz and the glamour and the flash. What it boils down to ultimately is, “Am I doing this for myself?”
I have dealt with a lot of various insecurities my whole life and they were rearing their head now that I was putting myself out there again. I had not competed in such a long time and the process of defining my why was not something that I was used to practicing in my adult life. Being pulled back into the pageant arena, I realized this and began to value the person I’ve become and felt a sense of purpose to push through my fear and go for it anyways.
Pageantry has truly defined who I am and I’m a pageant girl loud and proud. But it’s not always easy. There are years without placements in the Top 5, years where you run into catty contestants (and their moms honestly), years where you 150% believe you can win and plan like no other and still lose, years where you prepare and still make silly mistakes that cost you the crown, and years where you feel burnt out and over it. I remember one year where I lost the title by half a point and just sat in the car ride home silently fuming and looking out the window like a drama queen. But this is like any other environment and honestly, this is like life. You win some, you lose some, but you make the best out of it regardless.
Pageantry is an all encompassing experience that encourages women to put their best foot forward in literally all aspects. Professional, personal, and purpose driven elements are at core of the modern pageant woman today. Pageantry encourages sportsmanship, community impact, self awareness, a stellar wardrobe, professional presence, refined public speaking skills, and the belief in one’s self that yes, you can do it. Modern women today have the ability to choose what they stand for and pageantry is a platform to showcase this. It may not be for everyone, and that’s okay. The Super Bowl isn’t for everyone and I’ve learned that I don’t defend myself to people who are set on misunderstanding the value of pageants. But for those that do understand and welcome it, you’re in for a life changing experience.
And remember, you belong here.