Confession time: the vast majority of my life skills were learned in six inch heels.
Earlier today, I was sitting in my Communication class when my professor uttered two heart-stopping words: mock interview. The room went silent. I could almost hear the thoughts of my worry-stricken classmates as they silently begged for an asteroid to burst through the ceiling so we wouldn't have to go through this. But me? This was my time to shine. I had a list of potential answers stockpiled in the back of my mind with real-life examples to back them up. I knew the three words I would use to describe myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and where I see myself in five years. But why?
One word: pageants. You heard me right. You know, the big, highly advertised events you click by on TV while muttering about how "degrading those contests are to women" and how "brainwashed those girls must be". Sure, there are some people who get way too into it (I'm looking at you, Toddlers in Tiaras). But, what the media doesn't show is what goes on behind the scenes.
For me, it all began as a dare. One day, when I was 11 years old, my mom got tired of me complaining about the way I looked. She looked me straight in the eye and said "Stop it. You know, you could probably be Miss Minnesota someday". Although she was in fact joking, being the stubborn person I am, I took that as a challenge. I promptly went to the computer and entered myself in my first pageant. Ever since then, I have been competing in pageants, specifically within the National American Miss system, which emphasizes communication skills, community involvement, and goal setting. After several close calls, I finally took home the title of Miss Minnesota Jr. Teen in a division of 130 girls, and went on to win the talent division and place in the commercial acting division at nationals. But, through both my triumphs and failures, I gained so much more than a few crowns and banners.
First and foremost, I gained the skills I need to succeed in the world today. Because of the interview and public speaking portions of my competitions, I'm able to properly introduce myself to a group of people I don't know and gauge my audience appropriately before speaking to them. I feel at ease behind a podium presenting to an audience of three hundred, and as an interviewee with a judge or potential employer. I gained compassion and understanding for the countless types of people I encountered while doing community service during my reign, and I learned that a crown and banner does not make you more important or valid than those you serve.
Next, I learned that in life there are very rarely second chances. In pageants, you have from 30 seconds to one minute to show your skills on stage and convince a panel of judges who don't know you that you are the best possible candidate for the title. This draws many parallels to real life; in a job interview, you're showing an employer that you are not only qualified for the job, but that you're a personable individual who is going to be pleasant to work with. If you make a mistake, there's no second chance, and there's no one to cover for you. Even in daily interactions, your words matter. What you say during one conversation can determine what someone thinks of you for a very, very long time.
Most importantly, I learned how to fail graciously and win with humility. Throwing a fit when you don't place as high as you would have liked to won't change anything. But, reflecting on your mistakes and what you could have done better will help you hone your skills so you can perform to the best of your ability next time. And, when you win, pageants taught me the importance of staying humble and kind. After all, on any different day, with a different set of judges, the outcome could have been different.
Moments like the one I described above in my Communication class bring into perspective just how lucky I am to have been a pageant competitor for so many years. Unfortunately, I haven't always been vocal about my history in pageants due to the many individuals who stereotype competitors as unintelligent, self-centered, and willingly degrading themselves by allowing themselves to be openly judged. However, these stereotypes couldn't be further from the truth. The pageant competitors I know are hardworking, dedicated, brilliant people who use these competitions as a platform for community service and to achieve professional goals. We compete because we are confident in who we are as individuals, and we don't feel judged or degraded when we walk across the stage to showcase all of the hard work we've done in preparation for that moment. We compete to make a statement; we can do anything we set our minds to, even in an evening gown and stilettos.