On December 20th, nearly 100 adult women from all over the world will find themselves spray tanned, made up, and donning 5.5” heels to compete in the internationally televised Miss Universe pageant. They will smile and smize in both swimsuit and evening gown in hopes of taking home a jeweled crown. The pageant community will refer to it as our “Super Bowl,” while secretly we’re just excited that it has found its way back onto a major network following the Donald Trump fiasco earlier this year.
Pageantry sometimes gets a bad rap. Between women botching final questions while televised, the feminists who think the swimsuit competition is outdated and degrading, and John Oliver tearing down Miss America’s scholarship claims, it’s easy to characterize the women who compete as superficial, backwards, and dumb.
Here is what people who haven’t competed (or known someone who has competed) miss: there is no better arena to develop the ability to handle loss or rejection and bounce back quickly than pageantry.
Tenacity is the ability to keep going. It’s perseverance, determination, resolve. It’s the strength to try again after being denied. Tenacity is one of the only qualities that must be developed; we aren’t born with the resolve to keep trying, we build it by failing over and over and over again.
Real life is filled with rejection. It’s filled with not getting the job despite being extremely qualified, dates not calling us back despite us feeling a connection, our resume being passed over even though we used a killer template and perfect grammar, being dumped after a year long relationship and never seeing it coming.
As humans, we search for reasons and rationality. We want closure, we want feedback, we want to be able to improve. As we get older, we learn that it’s rare enough to get feedback, and even rarer that we’re going to be able to comprehend it once we get it. Here’s where pageants come in.
Many of the women who compete at Miss Universe will have bodies that rival Victoria’s Secret Models and not win swimsuit. At Miss America, concert pianists who are Julliard bound don’t win talent. These women may be the very best version of themselves, leave everything on the stage, get a standing ovation from the audience, and still not make the top fifteen.
There’s a saying in pageantland, and it’s this: on a different day with different judges, the outcome would be completely different. Why? Because pageantry is entirely subjective.
Because each judge can interpret how to give a 1-10 score differently. Because there’s not tenths of points or full points given based on quantifiable things.
And so, pageantry teaches women to accept that what one particular panel of five individuals thinks doesn’t define what they are worth. It teaches women that there actually may not be a reason that they weren’t named the winner or even that they didn’t place in the top ten. It teaches contestants to accept that while they might be supremely qualified for the job — and would maybe even be the best Miss Whatever there ever was — they may never get the opportunity.
Most importantly, it teaches women that many times rejection is not a reflection of them, but rather a reflection of a particular circumstance: Different day, different judges, different outcome.
In this way, pageantry empowers women to view rejection as a stepping stone to their ultimate success. It develops tenacity. It shapes contestants into people who grieve a loss, but continue to be hopeful for the best that is yet to come. It gives them the ability to find peace following unexplained rejection rather than overanalyzing how the outcome could have been different.
Instead of viewing the women who compete in Miss Universe through a lens of judgment, perhaps there is something to be learned from their courage of putting themselves out there. For going after what they want. For having developed the tenacity to try over and over again.
Sometimes, it’s just not for us. The job, the interview, the man, or, in this case, the crown… sometimes, it’s just for someone else. Not because they are better, more qualified, prettier, nicer, superior to us, but because it is their opportunity, not ours.
And that’s okay, because our opportunities — our job, our interview, the man of our dreams — are not for them either. They’re ours. And they’re often right on the other side of rejection.