Lights shining, legs trembling and hands shaking as I dip my perspiring hands into the fish bowl to pick out my on-stage question.
"What would you say to someone who told you they didn't believe pageants were a positive experience for girls?"
Now, in this moment, I blacked out and have no idea what I said, however there are a lot of thoughts I have on this topic I can express, now that I have experienced it firsthand. Never in a million years did I think I would participate in a beauty pageant, so this was a very fitting question for me to be asked, and illuminated many mind-altering changes that occurred as a result of this weekend. While I was used to being on stage in an acting capacity, the idea of prancing around in a bikini in front of a crowd of strangers not only terrified me, but made me sick. Why would girls want to do this? I asked myself this many times over the years as I watched old classmates primp and prep for upcoming pageants.
Then, I received a text message from my mother:
"You should be in Miss Montana"
At first, I thought this was a joke, told her no way, then dismissed the conversation altogether. But then one late night, curiosity got the best of me and I started to look into the process and researched previous state title holders. Not only did they all exude confidence, acquire copious amount of great perks and were offered many networking opportunities, but there was also scholarship money at stake. I had been playing with the idea of going back to school for a Masters for as long as I have been out of school, but never wanted to dish out anymore money. Before I knew it, I had reached a screen on my laptop that congratulated me on my application for Miss Montana 2017. Immediately, panic rushed over me and my palms began to sweat. What did I just get myself into?
While I have always considered myself an outgoing person, putting myself out there, whether it was in relationships, in a professional setting or in the spotlight of some kind, was something that I've found tremendously difficult in my early adulthood, because I feared failure. What's worse...I feared judgement. I came to a point where I realized I was so caught up on what other people thought about me, and how my actions portrayed who I was, or who people thought I was, that I simply wouldn't put myself out there and stuck to my comfort zones. I received criticism better than compliments because it made me feel uncomfortable to be praised, or made me feel conceited and big-headed to agree or accept. I so longed to be a self-sufficient, independent woman, but self-doubt, self-shaming, and low self-worth were feelings I was all too familiar with, and I know I am not alone. Finally, I decided I needed to make a change and told myself I was the only one that controlled my happiness and success. I vowed to take more chances, and competing in Miss Montana fell under that category. Being a strong independent woman is so difficult in today's society and young girls need more role models to prove to them that it's ok to have goals and aspirations that might sound crazy. It's okay to not love your body all the time, but it doesn't change who they are or make them any less beautiful. I would love to help young girls gain confidence and independence, regardless of people that might tell them they can't. I took the leap, and regardless of the competition outcome, I know for a fact, I grew as a woman.
As I experienced the whirlwind of a weekend the Miss Montana competition was, I had so many thoughts and emotions in response to the afore mentioned question, I felt like I could burst. It is so easy to look at a beauty pageant and see it as something shallow or surface level. For those of you who don't know what goes into a competition like this: the Miss USA Pageant competition was one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding things I have ever been a part of. I hardly feel comfortable in a bathing suit at the lake or a beach or somewhere where it is normal to be wearing a bikini, let alone on a stage in heels in front of hundreds of people. However, the moment I hit the stage for the swimsuit portion, I was transformed. I don't know whether it was the bright lights that blinded me from knowing anyone was watching, my family members cheering me on, or the knowledge that my stressful months of preparation and anxiety were about to end, but I felt so...alive. The thing about a beauty pageant is, it forces you to be nothing but confident in yourself. Those five seconds you have standing in front of the judges are more than four people staring at you, judging your appearance. It is five seconds to stand with the utmost confidence, forgetting the judges are there and feel the best you have ever felt about yourself, for yourself. There is no other option.
For me, the pageant experience was more than getting dressed up and strutting across a stage in front of judges. I met some incredibly inspiring and intelligent women from all around the state, and realized I don't need anyone else's validation of my self-worth. As I listen to myself say this out loud, it seems ironic that competing in a beauty pageant would result in this revelation, but when it comes down to it, the competition was never about anyone but me.
Oh and in case anyone was wondering, I placed second runner-up and was in fact, awarded a scholarship and am currently on my second semester of grad school :)
Huge huge thanks to everyone in the Miss USA Organization and NW Productions for giving me this opportunity.