If I were to ask you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “pageant girl” your response would probably include a list of pretty predictable answers. The most popular being what one would describe as a “bimbo.” From there we have plastic surgery, leaked nude photos, Honey Boo Boo, and if you are really read up on the topic, Miss Teen South Carolina USA and the urgent need to nationally distribute global maps to our nation. These are just a few of the many generalizations I have heard attached to “pageant girls.” The list, however, is endless and from my experience, the longer you talk about it the weirder it gets. So, rather than allowing your imagination to roam, we’ll make one thing clear:
Said assumptions are wrong.
Pageant girls have always been some of the most amazing women this society has failed to take note of and I had no idea until I became one of them. That’s right. I’m a pageant girl. After watching Miss Hawaii live, I decided at the ripe age of three to add a successful career in pageantry right next to my dreams of growing a mermaid tail and living within the depths of the pacific among dolphins. Although I realized that some of my goals were a little lofty, I never let go of pageantry. This dream of mine became a reality in 2011 when I was crowned Miss Hawaii’s Outstanding Teen. After years of careful planning and sufficient dreaming, I had the privilege of joining their ranks and working beside the very women I looked up to for most of my life. And as I did so, I realized that they were even more amazing than I previously understood. I learned that there was so much more to pageantry than the hour-long competition we as speculators get to watch. For those who are successful, it’s a lifestyle. One that encourages scholastic achievement, community service, the pursuit of passion, and public involvement. And one that requires work ethic, perseverance, long suffering, and love. Yet despite the fact that we strive towards living exemplary lives, we continuously battle stereotypes that suggest otherwise.
Pageant girls have always been the subjects of an unreal amount of heat from the media. In 2003 Fox News political commentator Greta Van Susteren, who was one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 most powerful women in 2014, openly acknowledged this after recapping her experience as a judge for the Miss America pageant. When recounting the interview portion of the competition she explained that she “tried to find the contestant who could take the heat of the media.” For Susteren and the rest of the judges, that contestant was Ericka Dunlap, who went on to become a successful Public Relations Specialist after her year of service as Miss America. Unfortunately, however, Ericka’s success is not universal. Sometimes, titleholders screw up. Really badly. And when they do, the media makes sure you know.
This would be the perfect time to tell you that all of the pageant scandals covered by the media have been fabricated but I can’t. Most of them, if not all of them have probably taken place and you have every right to be informed when they do. The problem arises when media outlets place their primary focus on the negative rather than simultaneously highlighting the positive, they rob you of a complete understanding of the culture. How could you have a positive opinion about pageant girls after Cosmopolitan, a magazine with over 5 million followers on facebook alone, published an article highlighting “8 Really Dumb Things Beauty Pageant Contestants Have Said About Education”? Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Beauty-Pageant Scandals” list didn’t help us either. And although People magazine has been putting forth admirable efforts to expand their audience’s understanding by given an equal amount of light to both sides, they face an uphill battle against other outlets that are more concerned with entertainment than they are with reporting. Rather than giving you the entire map and allowing you to navigate yourself towards an educated opinion, they reel you into a game of Wheel of Fortune in which Vanna only has 1 letter on the board. And once you fill in the rest of blanks by yourselves, most of you come up with stereotypes that leave us pageant girls feeling like misunderstood mythical creatures.
At the same time, I would be naïve to discredit the negative encounters many of you have had with pageant girls. Some of you have not only read about the types of girls that verify the stereotypes. Some of you have met them. In fact, most of us have. That is where an important principle comes into play: the select few rarely represent the majority.
The behavior of one person is not a direct reflection of the culture they belong to, it is a reflection of they themselves. Bill Clinton may have had an affair but assuming that every other President after him will do the same is a hasty generalization. The same concept applies to our negative encounters with pageant girls. For example, I had a mental break down in the arms of a fellow contestant during my teenage pageant days. Not only was I incredibly homesick but I was also battling nasty medicinal withdrawals after losing my pill case during my travels. In the moment, this contestant proved to be incredibly compassionate, however, while interviewing with the judges the next day, she disclosed the details of our evening together without my consent. She was later awarded for having the “best interview.”
I know. You’re telling me.
It would have been easy for me to assume that all pageant girls alike must be hiding hidden agendas beneath their perfectly teased hair. The betrayal I felt could have served as perfect justification. Nonetheless, I knew that the manipulation of one contestant could not plausibly outweigh the love I received from the rest. By deciding to allow this experience to affect my opinion of her and her only, I was able to move forward and develop relationships with others that I still hold to this day. Like pageantry, behavioral patterns without a doubt exist within every culture. But rather than focusing on negative patterns that create dangerous generalizations that condemn the masses to the same fate, it would do us a lot better to focus on those who work so hard to defy them.
So far I have explained exactly what a pageant girl is not, let me go ahead and tell you what she actually is. But rather than listing a grand set of adjectives we all hope will be mentioned in our eulogies, I’ll tell you about a few I know and let you decide for yourself. Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012, is an advocate for children of incarcerated parents and was named one of The Top 100 women leaders in STEM by US news and World Report. Lauren Seely, Miss D.C.’s Outstanding Teen 2011, is currently interning for Jimmy Fallon. Paoakalani Midro who ran for Miss Hawaii’s Outstanding Teen twice but placed as the first runner-up both times just graduated from Harvard University. Jeanette Morelan, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2011, worked on a self-developed community care and development program for orphans of HIV/AIDS and young adults in South Africa. And Lauren Cheape Miss Hawaii 2012 is a member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives.
If that’s not enough, let us not forget that Kristin Chenoweth has won a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy. Miss America Kira Kazantsev speaks three languages, was a triple major at Hofstra University, and was accepted into Notre Dame Law School. Halle Berry won an Academy Award. And Oprah Winfrey is well….Oprah Winfrey.
(no explanation necessary)
These are the women who participate in pageantry. These are the women who embody pageantry. These are the women that sparked the burning flame that fueled my own personal journey within pageantry. Pageantry is a noteworthy goal that encourages excellence in all aspects of life. And in regards to my own journey, it is a large reason why I have succeeded thus far in life.
Yes, we walk across stages in patterns wearing nothing but a bikini. Yes, we glue said bikini bottom to our butts. Yes, we whiten our teeth. Yes, we wear fake hair. And yes, we dish out thousands of dollars on a gown we only plan on wearing for 10 minutes. I understand how that may sound ridiculous to you. Just as football is definitely not a lifestyle for me, pageantry may not be a lifestyle for you. But it is definitely not a bad lifestyle and should definitely not detract from our character or discredit our academic success, involvement within the community, or passion pursuits of national issues. It would be unfair to overlook the thousands of dollars I raised for various non-profits just because I also struggled with an addiction to bejeweling.
There have been many occasions during which I have faced-palmed in confusion while watching a pageant or reading what the tabloids had to say about something that took place during a pageant. But those are not the moments that define pageantry for me. Rather, I choose to remember the moments that have changed my life. Whether or not you’ll do the same is your decision. But as I said earlier, pageant girls have always been some of the most amazing women this society has failed to take note.
And frankly, I am so incredibly proud to be one of them.
God lives and He is Good