What I've Learned From Being A "Pageant Girl"
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Politics and Activism

What I've Learned From Being A "Pageant Girl"

It's not all about the glitz and glamour.

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What I've Learned From Being A "Pageant Girl"

Peeking out behind the curtain in the wings of the stage, I can see my competition amazing the audience and judges. I’m overwhelmed with emotions – a mix of nervousness, excitement and even jealousy. However, once my name is called and I step on that stage, nothing else matters. I am giving my all to be my best self, and the feeling never gets old.

Pageants have been under a lot of criticism in recent years. Shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras evoke an exaggerated view of over-sexualization and backstage drama, and the growing feminism movement shuns the idea of women “parading around” in swimsuits and being judged on any sort of physical appearance. However, they are only telling part of the story. Participating in these programs doesn’t put women down or make them believe they are worth any less; they only create confident, strong and empowered young women.

I owe who I am today to my experience in pageants and scholarship programs, and it has only ever been for the better.

I participated in my first pageant at the age of 8. It took place in a hotel meeting room with only 3 or 4 other girls. I wore my white, puffy-sleeve, lace-trimmed First Communion dress with my hair in tight curls. I don’t remember much other than I mentioned I love cats when I introduced myself, and also that I felt absolutely confident, radiant and beautiful.

Despite my confidence, I didn’t win. A girl in a slinky blue gown and with hair in an elegant French twist (who also looked about 10 years older than she actually was) took the crown. However, I got a participation crown and sash of my own, and my loss didn’t stop me from singing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera all the way home.

That confidence has stuck with me my whole life - in addition to the million other skills and lessons I have learned because of these programs.

Interviews are fun for me, I have no problem acting calm and poised when facing a difficult situation, and I know how to tastefully represent myself in all circumstances. I froze while speaking to hundreds of people at a county fair pageant when I was 11 but have only loved public speaking ever since. I can also blame pageants for being a better student, role model and citizen.

In high school, I was a well-rounded student leader with good grades, a love of service and a passion for being involved. However, though most didn’t realize it, I owed it all to a scholarship program. Distinguished Young Women, formerly known as America’s Junior Miss, is a competition for high school senior girls and has been in my blood since before I was born. My mom participated when she was in high school, and at the age of 3 I watched my Aunt Jill win a local title.

So as a sophomore in high school, I knew I needed to start working in order to do my best in the categories of talent, scholastics, interview, fitness and self-expression. I asked the guidance counselor how I could serve in the community. I ran for a position in student government – and won. I went from number 16 in the class to number 4. I also regularly started working out and attending TurboKick classes. I’ll admit at the time it might have been for the program, however after a while it just became a part of who I am.

I won state and became Distinguished Young Woman of Illinois for 2012, but everything that helped me succeed there also helped me get into dream universities and succeed at life. But I didn't stop after my title ended. Now in college I still love to serve, my academics are of utmost importance, and I hold leadership positions not only in student government but many other organizations as well.

And from my interactions with other “pageant girls,” many of whom I consider my friends, the same is true for the majority of those who compete. We are all just working to better ourselves and the communities around us – and maybe win a little bit of scholarship money in the process.

So before you sit there and criticize the girls who are out there giving their all this pageant season, try to picture yourself in their shoes. Could you perform a flawless talent, gracefully answer a question on stage, or even rock a bikini in front of thousands of people? Then think about being able to do all that in addition to being at the top of your class, having an impressive resume, and serving others on a regular basis. It’s not all fun and games, and it certainly isn’t all about outward appearance.

I am so grateful for all of the people I have met, life lessons I have learned and opportunities given to me from these programs. I have never felt the least bit degraded or worthless because I’m trying to live up to “impossible” standards, and I have never felt as though I am being valued as less than a man (in fact, I think they’re the ones missing out – there’d be a lot more driven, talented and …ahem…well-dressed men if they got to compete for scholarship money.)

The benefits of scholarship programs are endless, and they have only ever given me the ambition to further my dreams, as well as the confidence and courage to achieve them.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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