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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

Pageants are not what you think they are.

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Through most of 2019 and all of 2020, I spent my time learning about the importance of self-love. I had just gone through a pretty crappy break-up which took a major toll on my self-esteem (the relationship was quite toxic), and it took quite a while to find myself again.

In 2021, an ad for a pageant popped up on my screen on Instagram. The pageant, known as “Miss Teenage Canada”, run by Pageant Group Canada, was something I’d never heard of before.

I mean, of course, I watched every Miss Universe growing up, and I was always in awe of the ladies I saw. These incredibly beautiful women, all so confident and well-spoken walking the runway in these stunning gowns… “This definitely isn’t something for me,” I thought.

But then, at the same time, I figured, “Why not try something new? Who cares what the outcome is?” And with that, I took a leap of faith and entered the pageant, with absolutely no knowledge of pageantry.

This decision was one of the best that I have made in my life. Competing in Miss Teenage Canada 2021 went pretty well for me! In the preliminary (provincial) pageant, I won the titles of Miss Teenage Toronto 2021, and 1st Runner Up Miss Teenage Ontario 2021.

Moving on to the national pageant was an even more amazing experience than the provincial one. Although I did not place in the top 20, I did win the award of Miss Teen Talent Canada 2021. I was so grateful to be able to perform a piece from “Swan Lake” in front of the judges, which led me to winning that award.

Immediately following Miss Teenage Canada, my pageant director, as well as one of the chaperones from the national pageant reached out to me. They recommended that I compete the following year in the “Miss” division — to vie for one of the Miss Canada titles.

Pageant Group Canada organizes a national pageant week every year where selected ladies vie for five of the most prestigious pageant titles. The winners of each title represent Canada for one year until they compete internationally at the selected pageant.

The titles are some of the most well-known, oldest, and prestigious pageants worldwide: Miss World, Miss Supranational, Miss Intercontinental, Miss Earth, and Miss Grand. Of course, Canada also has their own representative for Miss Universe, but this is run by a separate organization.

After careful consideration, I told my director that I would like to compete again in the Miss division. While I was unable to compete in 2022, I competed in August 2023 for Miss Canada, and was pleasantly surprised to place 3rd Runner Up for Miss Grand Canada!

But What Did Pageantry Teach me?

Doing new things in life teaches you… a lot. While I did not know that there were myths surrounding pageantry, or what it entailed at all, entering two pageants taught me more than you might expect.

Common Pageant Myths, Debunked

#1: Pageant girls can’t make a difference.

This is absolutely not the case.

Of course, when you see a bunch of gorgeous women on stage in bikinis and evening gowns, it can be difficult to understand that looks are not all that matters in pageantry — we don’t see what actually goes on behind the scenes.

Each delegate in any pageant is expected to advocate for something, and each pageant focuses on promoting some sort of cause.

The Miss World pageant, for example, has a section of the pageant which focuses solely on charity work. Each contestant has to create their own “Beauty With A Purpose” project, and present their works to the jury at Miss World.

I had the opportunity to meet Jaime VandenBerg, Miss World Canada 2021, this past summer while competing at Miss Canada. Jaime’s BWAP project focuses on gender-based violence. After having faced a terrifying gender-based attack, Jaime decided that she would make it her mission to advocate for women and gender-based violence, using pageantry as her platform.

Being based in both Canada and Mexico, Jaime decided that for her project she would raise money (and awareness for gender-based violence) by climbing Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico. She was quite successful in accomplishing her goal.

In addition, she created “Canadian Herstory,” a multi-faceted platform to empower and encourage women to achieve their dreams in a safe manner.

Jaime is just one of the many extraordinary women in pageantry advocating for a good cause. Being a trailblazer, she—along with so many other ladies—are living proof that your story is what makes you unique and beautiful, it’s not all “just in the looks.”

girl in the Scottish Highlands
Lauren Zweerink

#2 Beauty queens are perfect.


Yes, it is expected of pageant queens to look their best. After all, they are representing the country and the organization which chose them: it is only in the winners best interest to look (and feel) their best.

But the reality is, beauty queens are human, too.

From personal experience, pageant week is not easy, in any way, shape, or form. As fun as it sounds to always be dressed up in glamourous evening gowns and constantly wearing high heels, it can get rough!

You’d be surprised at how often during pageant week you’d think about wearing sneakers and sweats, but it’s in each delegate’s best interest to constantly look their best, and prove to the jury and the organization that they are capable of being the next reigning queen.

Along with that, winning a title comes with a lot of stress. One has to be able to keep their mental, emotional, and physical health in check at all times in order to represent their country as best as possible.

Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer With Notebooks
Anna Schultz / Her Campus

#3 Titleholders do not have obligations after being crowned.

Mega false.

The busiest part of a titleholders reign begins the moment after they are crowned!

Each winner must sign a contract with their organization. In short, the winners are expected to fulfill the obligations of the contract, as well as do extra where they can — the more that you do, the more attention you draw to yourself at an international level.

Each winner that is selected was chosen by the organization because they seem like not only an appropriate fit for the selected pageant, but because they carry themselves in an organized manner.

Titleholders who are unable to fulfill their duties may lose their crown and title, leaving the 1st Runner Up to take their place.

#4 You can’t make friends in pageantry.

One thing I’m sure of is that pageant girls are depicted as catty or bratty; that they fight often and are against all the other contestants. This is the complete opposite.

Pageants attract some of the most empowered, intelligent, and talented women from all across the country, to come together and spend a designated amount of time together.

It is during all the early mornings, late nights, sneaking into each others rooms, pep-talks, crying, laughing until you cry, and event-attending that will actually lead you to making friendships which last a lifetime.

I competed for Miss Canada this past summer, of course, to try and win a title, but the factor that attracted me back the most was the sisterhood, the magic which I experienced from my first pageant.

I still talk to some of the girls who competed with me in Miss Teenage Canada in 2021. They are some of the most supportive women I know, and my hope is that the girls I met this past summer will also stay in touch with me, and keep the sisterhood going.

Pageantry is much more than someone’s looks. It is their walk, their talk, their mind, their poise, and most importantly, their heart, which all play factors in determining who will win the crown.

Emma Keyes

Queen's U '24

Emma is studying English Language and Literature at Queen's University. She enjoys the arts, and is a sucker for all things romantic.