After months of preparation, there were two of us left on the stage. For almost a year, I have been preparing for this moment. I have given my diet a complete makeover, missed social events for gym sessions, and practiced walking until I had blisters on my feet. I dedicated my life to preparing for this moment right here.
The emcee announces the new Miss Teen Ohio United States, and it’s my name. In this one single moment, everything I have been working for had paid off. With the announcement of my name, my life changed.
Photo of me being crowned as Miss Teen Ohio United States 2014
Each year, women around the country have this same experience of a lifetime. Whether they are competing for Miss United States, Miss USA, or Miss America, this life-changing moment is a constant. Most people who have never been around the pageant world still know about the infamous top two hand hold before the winner is announced, but what they don’t know is what happens after the crown is placed on the winner’s head. Winning the title doesn’t just mean that you get to walk around looking pretty with a crown on your head (although, the crown is a nice perk). Winning the title is so much more than that.
The idea that all pageant girls want “world peace” is a stereotype that is far from true (I mean, everyone knows it would be awesome if we could have world peace but it’s just not a realistic pageant platform). For many pageants, including Miss United States and Miss America, having a platform is a part of the competition. I’ve met girls who have platforms that range from pediatric cancer to domestic violence to helping the homeless. Contrary to popular belief, pageant platforms are not always simple, easy to talk about issues. My personal platform as Miss Teen Ohio was (and still is my main cause, although I no longer have a formal title) suicide prevention. After losing a very close friend of mine in high school, I knew that this was the area where I wanted to make a difference. Through pageantry, I was able to work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and even emcee their Out of the Darkness Walk in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, I was able to share my experiences with others and talk to them about why this issue is important and why it is important that we end the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. For other women wanting to make a difference in whatever cause is important to them, pageants are such an incredible megaphone. They give women the opportunity to not only work with a cause that is personally significant to them but also with whatever cause the pageant organization decides to take on. With the Miss America Organization, for example, the titleholders work with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. All contestants competing in Miss America state pageants must raise a minimum of $100 to donate to this cause. According to the Miss America website, the organization works to “raise funds and awareness for children’s hospitals throughout the United States.” Service is also an important aspect of the Miss USA and Miss Universe Organization, where titleholders work with different causes such as breast and ovarian cancer, Best Buddies and the United Service Organizations (USO).
Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev volunteering for Children’s Miracle Network
Pageantry also allows women to become a better version of themselves. When you compete in a pageant, you are basically asking strangers to believe in you and choose you as the best person for the job of being the new titleholder. For you to ask this of them, you need to first believe in yourself. That being said, confidence is key within pageantry. According to The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report in 2010, 85% of women in the United States felt confident in the way they look, but by 2016 only 50% did. In addition, 85% of women said that they would choose not to go to events or activities because they didn’t feel good about how they looked. What?! The difference between a pageant and everyday life is that in pageantry, confidence is required to be successful. You can’t just fake it till you make it here; the judges can tell who really feels good about themselves. Pageant coaches teach their clients confidence and work on how to develop it within themselves. Self-acceptance is a vital pageant criterion, and this is many times what separates the winners from those who do not place. Having confidence also makes these women come back year after year to try again. Whereas society teaches women that they have to be perfect and never make a mistake, pageantry teaches that you gained something just from competing even if you don’t win the crown. Pageantry teaches that winning is based on the subjective opinion of judges. It teaches that defeat is okay if you gave your best effort. It teaches that the opportunity just wasn’t meant for you, and that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. These are important life lessons that women learn at a young age as pageant contestants and that really help to increase overall self-esteem. To walk across the stage in front of thousands in a bikini like a Victoria’s Secret Angel, you have to be pretty confident in yourself.
For the many who say this is outdated and sexist, I have to disagree. Walking across the stage is an adrenaline rush like no other and leaves you feeling like if you could do that, you could do anything. In addition, pageants are way more accepting of different body types than the modeling industry. Let’s be real- it’s not perfect. But, I’ve met many, many pageant contestants who are not 5’8” tall (myself included) as is the minimum height requirement in the modeling industry. I’ve met pageant contestants who are a size 00 and who are a size 12. There is no sort of height or weight requirement to enter a pageant. If you go into modeling, you have to fit a certain mold and be accepted into an agency to even get your foot in the door. With pageantry, anyone can compete at the most local level. What this means for changing standards in the beauty industry is that change starts with the contestants. With pageantry, the standard is a smaller, toned frame. But with every big pageant that happens, that is changing. At the 2016 Miss Grand International pageant, Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir was told that she was too big to compete. So, she dropped out and broadcasted to the world what the pageant organizers said to her. This led to many people choosing not to compete in or support this organization. This year, she will be competing at Miss Universe as Miss Universe Iceland. The pageant industry provides much more of an opportunity to induce change than the modeling industry because the system starts with the contestants and the fans. Pageantry focuses on having a body type that you feel comfortable in and proud of, not fitting a certain mold.
Miss Iceland Universe 2017, Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir
Competing in pageants also provides women with many important skills that they can apply to their future careers. Did you know that public speaking is the #1 fear of Americans? Over things like, you know, dying, public speaking is ranked by Americans as more terrifying. Pageant girls not only public speak for the actual pageant, but also throughout the year as a titleholder. When I first started pageants, I was shy and terrified. I competed at a state pageant with over 150 girls and talked to maybe one of them, and only even did that because she talked to me first. Since then, I have spoken in front of crowds of thousands of people and made so many new friends through competing. Public speaking is such an important skill to have because it doesn’t just apply to literally getting up and speaking in front of a huge crowd. Class presentations, work presentations, and even just raising your hand to speak up in a big lecture hall become so much easier when you have public speaking skills in your toolbelt. In addition, pageants also teach interview skills. For those who don’t have jobs throughout high school and college, they might not experience an interview until they are 23 years old. For pageant contestants, this skill is learned early. What you don’t see on TV is the interview portion of the competition. Usually, this counts for about 1/3 of your total score. The contestant sits down with the judges and is drilled with questions on everything from how they would fix the federal deficit to why they want to be Miss ______. If they then make it into the Top 5 on finals night, they usually have to answer the famous on-stage question. How can you not ace a job interview when you’re used to preparing for such hard questions, and potentially having to answer them in front of an entire audience? You have so much more confidence walking into a job interview when you know you’ve done it 1000 times before.
Miss USA 2015, Olivia Jordan, during the final question portion of Miss USA
Finally, and maybe the most relevant to college students, pageants provide scholarships. The Miss America Organization is a scholarship pageant and is actually the #1 provider of scholarships to women in the world. You don’t even have to win the title to earn scholarship money. In this system, contestants receive scholarship money for winning a preliminary award, winning the overall title, being a runner-up, and more. Many women graduate debt-free because of pageantry.
Miss South Carolina 2016, a student at Clemson University
If you want to promote a cause that is important to you, increase your self-confidence, challenge beauty standards, learn important career skills, or win scholarship money, consider entering a pageant. If you still say “no way,” at least maybe think twice about the stereotypes you think of when someone mentions a beauty pageant. Pageant girls being nothing more than pretty girls with big hair is a thing of the past. The empowered, independent, driven pageant girls of the future are here to stay.