My first pageant was on September 28, 2013. As most pageant girls who have been in the game for a little bit would probably agree, it's kind of embarrassing to think back to the first pageant-- There was so much I didn't know. I could barely curl my hair, which is evident in this car selfie I took following my interview (Also EYEBROWS?? Ew). Speaking of my interview, I didn't even know how those worked. Was I supposed to walk in and shake the judges' hands? (No.) What would happen if I didn't know the answer to a question? (You answer the best you can, and life keeps going).
But honestly? I wouldn't want it any other way. If I could sit down with 15-year-old Sarah before her first pageant, there are a lot of things I'd say- first off, for starters, take more pictures (Can you believe this is the only picture I have from the day??). I decided to throw out the same question to some of my pageant friends: 'If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice at your first pageant ever, what would it be?' And I've included some advice from them as well!
1. Don't even think about getting the crown.
Don't even think about winning. Don't even think about placing. The best thing you can do is make it a goal to learn as much as possible. This might sound cliche, but the experience is truly the most valuable thing you can take from the pageant.
When I asked my friends what they wished they knew at their first pageant, my friend Madison said: God already had a winner picked long before you even sent in your application, so ruminating on whether or not you're going to win is just a waste of your valuable energy.
Bring a notebook where you can write down EVERYTHING you learn and observe. Maybe things you can invest in if you want to keep going in pageants, like clothing racks, garment bags, or other travel necessities. Maybe you realize you really want certain snacks during pageant days, or that it might be nice to bring a robe and slippers to wear in the dressing room (I even bring a pillow and blanket if it's a long pageant day). Everything you can learn during your first pageant will mean that you're better off for the next one.
2. You probably have a lot of questions. Ask them.
During my first few pageants, I genuinely had no idea what was going on (Honestly, after 7 years, I still don't always know what's going on).
The problem was, I was FAR too shy to ask the questions I had. I didn't want to look like the one that didn't know what was going on. I just waited until the answers revealed themselves, which meant that it took me way longer than necessary to learn things. I wish I would have just sucked it up and asked.
Sometimes in pageant world, and life in general, people are going to assume that you know what's going on and that you're ok unless you say otherwise. Advocate and speak up for yourself if you're not sure what's going on- chances are some other girl has the same questions.
(Quick note: I may not have many pictures from my first pageant, but I've definitely still got friends from my first pageant. This is me hugging Vivian Zhong, who won the very first pageant I was in, almost six years later competing for Miss Michigan in 2019! Don't be surprised when you make some of the BEST friends you've ever had, and when they stick around for a while.)
3. Don't let other people make you feel inferior.
Other girls might have have fancy clothing racks, a ridiculous amount of high-end makeup, and really glamorous dresses. That's OK. Don't feel inferior because you don't have those things. If you keep going with pageants, you will start to accumulate a lot of this stuff... but having all these things doesn't make you any better than anyone else.
And don't let people play mind games with you. Trust me, they might try. The pageant world is full of so many great people who are helpful, kind, and genuinely the best people I've ever met. But, just like the real world, there will be mind games, petty competition, and people who don't know how to handle their own personal stress and anxieties. If you get a weird vibe from anybody, if they make you feel anxious or inferior, here's what I would always do:
Bring your headphones. You'd be surprised how much better off you may be mentally if you block out what certain people have to say (especially in the dressing rooms).
It always helped me to write some mental reminders out beforehand, and then reread them when I started to feel anxious or like someone or something was rubbing me the wrong way. Bring them in your journal, a note on your phone, or just have them ready in your mind. Some examples might be: "I am here to do my best, to learn, and to have fun." "I can't control everything that happens today, but I can control how I react to things today." "My only competition is myself, and I am here to become the best version of myself."
Remember why you came here in the first place. Have a solid answer to the question: What are you doing this for? Is it to push your comfort zone? To make friends? To grow as a person? Do you love to perform and be on stage? Are you passionate about sharing your social impact initiative/platform? There could be a million reasons.
4. BORROW BORROW BORROW.
For your first pageant, borrow anything and everything you can. For my first pageant I borrowed my evening gown, my interview dress, my talent outfit, all of my shoes... you get the idea. There's a chance that you might get through this first pageant and decide that you don't want to do any more-- which is TOTALLY ok! But if that ends up being the case, it's better to come out having not spent hundreds of dollars on a brand new pageant wardrobe.
5. Be yourself - not the version of you that you think people want.
'People' might be judges, they can be your friends, your family, the world's assumption of pageants girls....even the girls you're sharing a dressing room with. Everybody's head is filled with different expectations of what 'the girl in the crown' should be like. We're never going to agree on all of it- whether it's how she should look, how she dresses, or her personality traits. It's why people make rude comments about winners, things like "I don't like her. She just doesn't look like a Miss America to me."
That's why it's up to you to figure out who you are, and to not let those voices get in your head. (Because honestly, who cares what one person thinks a Miss America should look like?)
When I started competing, I hardly knew who I was - so this advice would have been hard to take. If you're feeling the same, think about this as you go through the pageant. If you're making any choices with words you say, how you hold yourself on stage, what you wear, etc. that don't make you feel like a million bucks, then it's worth examining whether or not that decision was true to who you are.
Heed these words from a former Miss Michigan, Arianna Quan: "Validation from other people is intoxicating, but compromising your own values to chase that high will leave you disempowered."
6. BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.
You just did something that not many people have the guts to do. Please understand that this is scary stuff. You've already accomplished SO much just by stepping foot on that stage. New day, new judges - you can't control the outcome. Just be proud of what you've done.
7. Enjoy it? Keep going.
Pageants aren't for everybody. They're not one size fits all either - maybe you need to make some changes, or you need to try a different organization.
But if at the end of the night, you felt like a little fire had been lit inside of you and you want to keep going, set some goals and get to it!