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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dudinetz

Mountaintops

We have entered into the time of year where pageant memories fill my social media and TimeHop. Having been quarantined for months now, part of me loves seeing these memories because it reminds me that I can, in fact, look good. Another part of me pauses and thinks, "Is that actually even me?"


And then, a weird mixture of self-disappointment and imposter syndrome starts to creep in.


When I was crowned Miss Sunset Coast in January of 2019, I knew I had about six months to prepare for Miss Michigan, and I took those six months pretty darn seriously. I practiced for my interview, thinking of everything they could ask me from my paperwork and what was happening in the world. I practiced my talent more than I had ever practiced a talent - down to every facial expression and movement. I developed my personal branding. I spent hours picking outfits and accessories for competition and for appearances throughout Miss Michigan week. I put in all the work physically to look and feel my best - the healthy eating, the workouts, the hair appointments, the manicure and pedicure, spray tan, all the works.


And when I got to Miss Michigan, I felt the best I had ever felt about my physical appearance. I moved through the week with a confidence and fire that I wouldn't have had if I didn't take those six months seriously. I performed the best I ever have because I didn't have that small, toxic, self-conscious voice in the back of my head. That was the goal of those six months of self-improvement, after all - to be able to perform with no distractions. To know and love myself inside and out so that I could focus exclusively on my performance and the job of Miss Michigan if given that opportunity.


And honestly? It paid the heck off. I did better than I could have ever hoped for and was named first runner up to Miss Michigan, my sweet friend Mallory Rivard.

Miss Michigan 2019 Mallory Rivard Sarah Dudinetz
The final moments, none of which I remember. Photo credit to Lindsay King.

This was, like, the mountaintop of all mountaintop moments. All of my hard work, my dedication, and my commitment was paying off then and there. It was a night full of adrenaline, photo ops, hugs and praises from friends and family, and feeling like I was genuinely on top of the world.


And then? I packed up and I went home. Life kept going. Which isn't a bad thing - life is supposed to keep going, that's how it works.


But it feels like I blinked my eyes and an entire year as passed. Suddenly I'm looking at pictures from my Instagram memories and I'm realizing that 2019 Sarah and 2020 Sarah could pass as entirely different people. 2020 Sarah is pale, a bit more fluffy, and she genuinely can't remember the last time she accomplished something truly productive ( or the last time she had something other than cheez-its for lunch).


Honestly, when I look at these two pictures, it's hard not to love the Sarah on the left a little more than the Sarah on the right.

Sarah Dudinetz Pageant

I guess what I'm trying to say is that expecting yourself to be in 'mountaintop' shape 100% of the time can lead to putting unnecessary and toxic guilt on your own shoulders. Pageant-based or not, I'm starting to realize that we all do it.


This entire blog post is based around this realization I had a while back. Pageants have unfortunately caused me to equate being in tip-top physical shape (tan, toned, whitened teeth, pretty hair, well-dressed, in heels, all the works) with being a 'winner'. I think the serotonin rush of having a crown placed on your head after putting so much effort into your physical appearance can be dangerous if you're not careful.


Important note: This isn't intended to reflect negatively on Miss America or pageants in general. It's just one of those negative side effects that I think can be morphed into a valuable life skill.


Being on the mountaintop isn't a bad thing, but it became dangerous for me when I expected myself to be there all the time.


I think it's pretty safe to say that life isn't just the mountaintops. We pageant girls can be way too tough on ourselves, even on good days. I, for one, have to learn how to love the version of Sarah that's tumbled straight off the mountaintop into the valley.


Why am I posting this? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I don't even know if my thoughts on it are fully formed. I just know that I can't be the only pageant girl that feels this way, but I know we all have a tendency to only share the good and suppress the bad. And I really, truly feel that it's worth saying that if you've ever felt this, you're not alone.


Because while 2019 Sarah may be conventionally 'better looking' and have an ego boost from doing well at Miss Michigan, 2020 Sarah is stronger in ways that I could have never imagined a year ago. She's graduated college, she's pressing on in the midst of a global pandemic, she's had to deal with her hometown flooding, a death in the family, and other chaotic events all at once.


So if I don't look exactly how I did 365 days ago... I can live with that.


I suppose if this weird brain-dump of mine makes no sense to you, I'll just say this: Take a breath. Cut yourself some slack (I'm looking at you, pageant girls).


Acknowledge that life isn't a consistent mountaintop.


You haven't peaked. If it feels like life is only going downhill, give yourself some grace. The version of yourself that might be standing in the valley right now is doing the best she can. She deserves all the love that you have to give her.

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