When you think of pageantry, what do you think of? Most people think of tall, blond, unintelligent, and abnormally thin young women strutting down the runway in their 5-inch heels and revealing bikinis. That’s exactly what my friends, classmates and even some family members envisioned when they read in the newspaper that I would be competing for the Miss Teen NY title, and later, the Miss Teen USA title.
I could feel the judging vibe instantly. But why suddenly did people change their impression of me? It’s not as if all of a sudden, I strutted down the hallway in overly heighted heels, a flaunting dress, my face plastered in makeup with lashes extending beyond the surface of my face, and recently dyed blond, wavy hair swishing from side to side. I was the same person I was a day ago; nothing about me has changed.
I didn’t appreciate the stereotype I was characterized under. I felt as though I was placed into a Ziploc bag labeled, “Pageant Girls.” There were assumed expectations to be upheld with this genre of females. Media has embedded a false image of pageantry into people’s minds, including myself prior to my participation.
But amongst the many pageant organizations, this one was different. America’s Beauty Pageant is an inner beauty competition. My three judges were not focused on what we wore or our bodily figure. Therefore, I wasn’t asked to strut down the runway in a swimsuit, and for the casual-wear modeling portion, we were asked to wear something that represented ourselves. Some wore their sports uniform, or a cultural dress; one girl that stood out to me wore a military outfit, symbolizing her service to the country. This shows that each contestant has a unique quality and that clothes and body figure do not determine beauty; it’s the activities we are involved in and how we use our talents to serve others that are important to being a true winner.
The judges cross-examined each word out of our mouths during the interview, they observed our interactions with our fellow contestants, and they interpreted the way we answered the infamous “pageant question” and how we presented ourselves under the bright lights. The judges were looking for the spark from within—what sets us apart from others. So while my friends and classmates back home had made assumptions that I had been swallowed up into a world of high heels, make-up, and fancy dresses, there was more to it that they failed to see.
I went into the pageant not as a tall, abnormally thin and unintelligent blond, but as myself— a short half-Haitian, half-Japanese, curly-headed girl, with a passion for journalism and cares more for the people in my life than I do about making myself appear perfect on the outside. It’s not to say that pageantry is not about beauty; it’s beauty from the inside out.