The whole idea of pageants can be a little foreign to someone unfamiliar with the inner workings of this intricate world. People seem to fluctuate between thinking it’s all Honey Boo Boo or just hot, clueless girls who look good in bikinis. But believe, it’s so much more than that. And as someone who competed for four years and previously held a state title, I’m here to break it down a little more for you.
1. These girls aren’t dumb
Sure, you can toss around a few examples of women sounding unintelligent (c’mon, like you’ve never said something stupid) when answering on stage questions, or ignorantly assume something that places a level of importance on the aesthetic automatically means that’s all there is to it. But you’d be so, so wrong. I’ve competed alongside girls who had well over 4.0 GPAs in high school, were on a pre-med track, and casually discussed foreign policy while changing into an evening gown in the dressing room. I once geeked over Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in The Time Of Cholera with the lovely lady next to me while we waited in line to go on stage. Don’t get it twisted. Pageant girls are some of the most intelligent, educated women I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know.
2. When you smile for too long, your face freaks out
I’m not sure faces are really designed to sustain a smile for a really long time. After a while, your mouth starts uncontrollably twitching like some cracked out, happy looking robot. It’s probably not a cute look, to be honest.
3. We shine like glitter, smell like shit
Okay, so maybe not shit, but put a bunch of super nervous, sweaty girls running around backstage like chickens with their heads cut off, changing into different outfits, readjusting sticky boobs (which are drowned with glistening sweat), and it’s a bit like a locker room. Plus the scent of hairspray and perfume. Mmm, it’s quite the aroma.
4. The moms aren’t all drama-crazy, control freaks
I think because of reality television and other representations of the pageant world in the media, there’s this general idea that bat shit crazy moms are everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely met some intense parents, but it’s not that different from any other time parents are involved. I never participated in sports growing up (the worst hand eye coordination, it’s actually kind of shocking I’ve never tripped on stage), but I went to a few games my friends played in. I remember once hearing someone’s dad scream at a basketball game, “GET THE DAMN BALL! I SWEAR TO GOD, IF YOU DON’T GET THE BALL NO DESSERT TONIGHT!” This was a game of nine year olds…I wish I was kidding. The weirdo parent trying to recapture their youth isn’t just something you’d find within pageantry. You’re going to find that weirdo no matter where his/her child goes.
5. Girls become friends, not enemies
Again, I’m sure there are times girls massively hate each other and go all Bad Girls Club: this bitch goin’ down, but in my experience, you bond WAY more than you fight. There’s always an element of competition, because duh, you’re competing, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically rooting for anyone to fail. I’ve truly made lifelong friends from my years in pageantry, and it’s the coolest feeling to know I could go to tons of different states across the country and find an old friend there to grab lunch with.
6. You sometimes get awkwardly serenaded
In the pageant system I competed in, the top finalists are brought back out on stage while someone sings to them. In theory, this is a cute idea. In reality, it’s so god damn awkward. Oh, hello middle-aged man I’ve never met before, please hold my hand and parade me around the stage while you sing looking directly into my eyes. This isn’t weird at all.
7. Your feet look disgusting afterwards
Girls might look put together at first glance, but just know they will have some messed up looking feet when it’s all said and done. Blisters, bruises, bleeding toes. Girls slip off their heels when judges are out of view and truck back to their hotel rooms barefoot and aching. Cue Hilary Duff, “Hey now! Hey now! This is what dreaaaams are made of.”
8. You learn how to think quickly
I legit love job interviews. It’s not that I don’t ever get nervous, but because of all the interviews and practice I had doing pageants during my teenage years, I always feel well prepared. When someone asks, “If you could be any kind of boat, what would you be?” followed by, “What is your opinion of Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law?” you become a pro at thinking on your feet.
9. You say goodbye to some freedom in your personal life
When I won, I had to basically sign off that I wouldn’t drink alcohol, engage in recreational drug use, get pregnant, married, and that I would always carry myself in a respectable manner, exercise good judgement, and above all, be a good role model. Phew, anything else? To be fair, I was 18 and already didn’t drink (21 my whole life changed, aweee yeaaaa) or do drugs. But I had a boyfriend, who I sure as hell wasn’t abstaining from. And while a lot of my pageant peers were blasting Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, I was a big N.W.A. fan. There were parts of me I felt I had to minimize because it might not be seen as “role model material.” I swear like a tiny sailor and make a lot of jokes about my vagina, so not everyone is down for that. Though I’m forever grateful to have had the experiences I did, I eventually realized I didn’t want to be too stuck in a box because it’s just not me.
10. Everybody wants to be a broadcast journalist
If you compare the amount of people who actually become broadcast journalists with the amount of people who say that’s their intended career at a pageant, you realize either A) some of yo dreamzzz ain’t coming true. I’m sorry. Or B) they’re actually just unsure and lost like most of us in our teens/early 20s and picked a cool sounding job to roll with.
11. Not all pageants are like the ones you see on TV
The most well known systems are the Miss America Pageant and Miss USA. Quick differences: The Miss America pageant awards scholarships to college and graduate students. Education is the big focus here. The Miss USA Pageant (the one Trump puts on) also places an emphasis on education and scholarship money, but there is somewhat more of a draw towards the entertainment world: modeling contracts, agencies, etc. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other organizations all over the country that put on pageants every year, not just these two.
12. The “exaggerated” crying reaction of winning is no joke
Imagine running on maaaaybe a solid 10-12 hours of sleep in 72 hours, that painfully forced smile, pouring your heart, soul, and (a lot) of money into this, standing on a stage next to incredible people you’ve become so close to in such a small amount of time, etc. You’ve been working, busting your ass and prepping for this moment for months and months…and months. Maybe you even see your family in the audience, waving to you. Some sentimental songs starts playing and the tension is so palpable, you can feel everyone holding their breath. And then, they say your name. You. YOUR name. Those winning reactions you see are some of the most honest human moments. And I love them because they are so raw and real. When I won, I was shocked, and kept doing this weird half cry/half laugh thing. It looks really weird. But super real. And something I will always remember.