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Confessions of a Pageant Girl: Rocking the Stage and Taking on the World with Confidence

“You do pageants? Like, Toddlers and Tiaras, right?” No, I inwardly cringe to myself, nothing like Toddlers and Tiaras. Every time. Different people ask the same question every time they find out I do pageants. Please, my mother would never shove fake teeth in my mouth before smearing hot pink lipstick on my lips while simultaneously painting blue eye shadow on my eye lids, brushing bright pink blush on my cheeks for an unnatural rosy hue, and loading layer after layer of three-shades-too-dark foundation on my three-year-old face before pushing me out on stage and yelling “Sparkle, Baby!” That’s disgusting. 

In reality, the pageant world – the real pageant world – is absolutely nothing like this. Pro-am, or “glitz” pageants as they call them, are a sad excuse for pageantry and have, unfortunately, tainted the name and created hundreds of degrading stereotypes that respectable pageant girls from all across the world have to deal with.

I clearly remember the day I first asked my mom to enter me in a pageant. I can still see my seven-year-old self playing dress-up in my mom’s closet. Trying on dress after dress and wobbling around in heels far too big for my little feet. As I reached for a scarf on one of her top shelves, a Mrs. Field’s tin cookie box fell to the floor. I opened it hoping to find a spare treat even though I knew dinner was almost ready. However, I didn’t find a cookie inside. Instead, I found something even better. I found a future lifetime of memories. I found soon-to-be friendships with girls from states thousands of miles from my own who would grow up to be my wisest mentors and most treasured companions. I uncovered life-skills, positivity, self-confidence, stage-presence, a love of public speaking, and so much more. What exactly did I find in that cookie box? A crown. More specifically, my mother’s old crown and banner from when she was Miss Ohio USA. And thus, my love of pageantry began.

My beautiful mother competing for Miss USA in ‘87

That very summer (after begging and begging day in and day out), my mom finally entered me in my first pageant, a Natural Pageant. There was a strict no makeup rule for girls under 13, and the three areas of competition included walking the stage in an age appropriate evening gown, a personal interview in which I was required to wear a business suit, and an on-stage introduction where I would give a speech about myself in that same interview outfit. I was so excited. My mom and I went out together and bought my very first formal dress. It was white with puffy short sleeves and shoulder pads. But I didn’t care. I loved that dress. I felt like a princess. 

Photo Credits to my Mom, Hallie Thompson

The day of the pageant, my mom asked my babysitter (and future hairdresser) to curl my hair for the stage. As I stood in front of the hotel bathroom mirror before the pageant finale, I remember feeling like the most beautiful girl in the world. Hours later, I stepped out on stage and heard a huge audience cheering for me from behind the blinding lights. I was so scared, but I knew I could do this. That night, I didn’t win. I placed 2nd runner up, which equates to coming in third place. I was devastated. I cried for hours and hours, but I made a vow to myself  to never to give up. One day, I would win. 

And eventually, I did win. I won a lot. But I also lost a lot too. Pageants taught me that failure is a natural component of life. But more importantly, failure taught me the value of perseverance. Pageants highlight the unpredictability of personal preference. A famous quote in pageantry is, “On a completely different day, with completely different judges, the results could have been completely different.” This is something that can be applied to job interviews: On a different day, with a different interviewer, that dream job might or might not have been yours. It’s a humbling thought. 

At each new pageant, I learned something new about myself. I learned as a seven-year-old how to walk into a room alone, faced by a panel of judges, and answer with grace and ease any question they wanted to throw my way. I learned how to walk on stage, grab a mic, and introduce myself to rooms filled with thousands of people. I learned how to command a stage while wearing five inch heels as I strategically modeled chiffon dresses. And I guess you could say I learned the importance of health, nutrition, and exercise while standing backstage in a bikini with a hundred other perfectly toned girls waiting for their turn to show off months of hard work at the gym. 

Pageants have helped me grow from a shy seven-year-old who refused to speak to anyone but immediate family members into a 19-year-old woman who has held reporting jobs on TV shows, has been asked to make a guest appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice, has been interviewed numerous times on national TV, has traveled the country speaking to auditoriums filled with thousands of people on the importance of self-respect, and has spoken to countless elementary schools on bullying prevention. Pageants have taught me how to mature with grace, self-acceptance, and confidence. There’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without pageants. I owe everything I am today to the little girl who mistakenly uncovered a crown and discovered a dream. 


*Cover image from missuniverse.com

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