Miss USA has come and gone, and the internet remains full of criticism and confusion about the world of pageantry. It’s forever tainted by Honey Boo Boo and Miss Teen South Carolina ’07. Women either love it or they hate it. Men either love it or they. . .love it. Most people don’t understand what draws women to compete. And I’m just over here eating ice cream and looking back on my glory days.
No matter how you feel about the pageants, I promise they’ve got a lot to offer–More than just the scholarships, networking, and pseudo-fame that most people talk about. Here are some of the life lessons you gain as a pageant contestant:
Appreciate freedom of speech and expression. Because, when you’re crowned, those freedoms go away. Suddenly, you’re a representative for a system that would like you to promote certain causes, speak a certain way, wear certain clothes, and avoid certain activities. And that sticks with you.
Last weekend, I found myself debating whether or not it was acceptable to post a photo in which another former titleholder and I were holding beers. . .We’re both over 21. . .We’ve. Been. Brainwashed.
But in all seriousness, pageantry teaches women that we’re capable of scrutinizing our own actions. It teaches us how glorious free speech and self-expression truly are, and it makes us realize how unnecessary it is for others to try to ban and censor our actions. I CAN MAKE MY OWN CHOICES, MAN.
Throughout life, you will meet people that love and hate you for no reason at all. Titleholders meet plenty of people (women) that hate them simply because they believe that pageants are inherently demeaning and sexist, and that all pageant contestants are ignorant morons (Side note: I believe that the women that feel this way are ignorant morons, so we almost have something in common). Titleholders will also meet people that admire them for no reason other than the fact that they have a crown on their head.
Formers learn how little they can do to affect people’s initial judgments of them and, in turn, how important it is to define themselves by more than just a stupid crown. Nobody will see past that part of your identity if it’s all you ever talk about.
(Side note 2: Former titleholders have so much respect for people that are constantly in the public eye. Athletes, actors, comedians, TV hosts—We feel (some of) your pain.)
Sometimes, no matter what we do or say, certain men will sexualize and disrespect us, and the best way to deal with that isn’t to cry and complain. It isn’t to become bitter and call every man a pig.
It’s to put your middle fingers up, move on, and refuse to give those people your attention.
Our bodies have limits, and we need to respect them. Getting ready for competition teaches us how far we can push our bodies in the gym. Pageant week teaches us how long we can deal with being starved before we get hangry and hunt down the closest pizza joint. And life after pageantry teaches us when we need to put down the beers and hamburgers.
Competing in pageants teaches us about the limits and capabilities of a healthy body.
Humor is key. Former pageant contestants are some of the funniest people I know, and I’m convinced that it’s because they’ve all learned to use laughter as a mechanism for coping with the bullsh*t they put up with on a daily basis. If you’re looking for a good laugh, ask a former pageant girl. Pretty good chance she’s got a funny YouTube video, a hilarious story, or a dirty joke to share.
Learning how to speak to anyone, about anything, at any time is a friggin indispensable life skill. Seriously. Thank you, pageantry, for teaching me how to strike up a conversation on just about any topic. Now, when a person I’ve just met starts talking politics, sports, religion, or modern architecture, I can at least make them feel like they aren’t talking to a brick wall.
We’re quite capable of handling pressure. Because we’ve had to do it before. I’ve been asked to speak on behalf of organizations I knew little about, I’ve been pulled into on-camera interviews at a moment’s notice, and I’ve had to improvise speeches in front of full auditoriums of people. Being a titleholder means learning to be creative, deal with deadlines, and perform your best in any situation. So, shout-out to all of my employers (present and future)—I’ve got your backs.
Many things in life are absolute B.S. Pageants teach women that sometimes money and politics trump hard work. If the director wants a specific girl, she’s going to win, if a state organization is extremely wealthy, that state is going to place, and if a woman comes on stage all tatted up in swimsuit, she’s going to become internet famous (Please note: This is not true of all systems, just most of them. Specifically the ones that rhyme with ‘Miss Shpamerica’ and ‘Miss Goo Essay’).
Learning that some things in life are completely guided by political bullsh*t becomes valuable as women apply to college and enter the workforce. Sometimes life isn’t fair, ladies. Just keep on keepin on.
It’s important to invest in the success of others because walking alone will never lead to satisfaction. If you can lend a friend, a coworker, a teammate, or a fellow competitor a hand, do so. Pageants teach women that if they act as cheerleaders for the people around them, the people around them will probably return the favor someday. It can be difficult not to see things work out in your favor, but if you support the people around you and keep pushing forward, you’ll usually find that success isn’t very far away, and you won’t be the only person celebrating when you reach your goals.
So, while you may never know the difference between Miss USA and Miss America, or understand why a woman would waltz across a stage in her swimsuit, understand that those women are up there learning.
Life skills, baby. Life skills.