A lot of experiences that are considered feminine tend to be simplified by society, which can deter girls from positive, influential experiences like signing up for a beauty pageant. Contrary to popular belief, these contests are not all about catfights and spray tans. I will admit, even I was a naysayer at the beginning. I saw the television show “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and wondered how parents could put their young children through such scrutiny.
This comes from a from a former tomboy always wearing baseball hats and getting straight A’s, a teacher’s pet, not your typical beauty enthusiast. My junior high and high school years were filled with basketball, soccer and softball. Scraped knees and adventure were common throughout my youth, and that was great.
Fast forward to grad school, a couple of years ago, I was approached by the executive director of the Miss Los Angeles pageant and asked if I’d like to compete. Considering my background, I was pretty shocked by the proposal. Was she sure she was asking the right person? Why would I want to do that?
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Out of curiosity, I agreed to audition and quickly found out pageants are quite a bit different from any sport I’ve done before. Sure you practice together with the other girls, learn how to properly walk on stage and dance in choreographed routines for the opening of the show, but you’re each other’s competition.
Girls will casually ask you seemingly nice questions like, “Is this your first pageant?” “Why did you decide to do it?” But to me, it just felt like they were sizing up their competition. It’s like working in a high-end shoe department, where everyone is vying after the same big commission from a customer.
Considering the potential scholarship money and an opportunity to work with a charity during the pageant, I decided to compete. I dove in, and after my first official pageant practice, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I realized I had to strut around in a bathing suit, eloquently speak to the judges, and gracefully glide across the stage in four-inch heels—all while being in front of a live audience. Oh yeah, and I was terrified of public speaking. In my experience with sports it had always been about strength and teamwork, not standalone grace.
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These observations ended up being the true strength of my time at the pageant. While I don’t have a classic underdog championship story for you, I do have an experience where I stepped outside my comfort zone. I made friends with my competition, some of them showed me the ropes one where to get my gown, and how to deal with the day-to-day. I competed in a pageant, the same girl came home covered in dirt from the softball field all throughout my childhood.
Through the experience, I realized choosing to participate in group sports and not individual ones, was a weird way of hiding. I didn’t want to stand out at all, because I was painfully shy and afraid of being different. I now understand that it’s important to challenge such trepidations. Not only did this experience inspire me to grow as a person, it helped me realize I can accomplish difficult things on my own, embracing all parts of who I am.
These pageants aren’t just about beauty; they’re about empowering the individual to be confident in who they are. Bats and gloves helped me learn how to work in a team and high heels and ball gowns have helped me to gain a confidence in myself.