This post was inspired by a post written by my good friend, Katlynn Kennedy, for The Odyssey. Be sure to check that out as well!
I know I'm not the only one that thinks back on their high school self and absolutely cringes. I wore outfits that I'm embarrassed to even think of, I had no idea who I was and worried far too much about other people's opinion of me, I was self-conscious, I was questioning everything about my future, and I overall was in major need of a whole-life makeover.
When pageants came my way part-way through high school, I didn't think that they would be the exact whole-life makeover that I needed. I figured it might be a fun way to push my comfort zone and wear some pretty dresses, but that was it.
What I found, of course, was so much more. I owe so much of who Sarah Dudinetz is and what she's accomplished to the years that I've spent competing in pageants, and as I've competed, I've realized how GIANT the disconnect is between the stereotype that many people have when they see a girl wearing a crown and sash, and the reality of what pageants provide for girls like me.
I don't regret my participation in pageants, and I'm not going to apologize for it. Here's why.
Of all the ways I've found to improve myself, pageants are the most well-rounded opportunity.
When I used to dance, I was becoming a better dancer. When I played flute, I was becoming a better flute player. When I would give speeches or presentations in class, I was becoming a better public speaker.
But when I'm competing in a pageant, I have to be and do all of these things. I have to practice my talent, taking voice lessons and rehearsing it until I truly feel like I could perform it forwards and backwards flawlessly. I have to prepare for my interview and onstage question, which means spending hours each week reading or watching the news, thinking through my stance on controversial and complicated current events, knowing myself inside and out, and working on my actual public speaking skills. I have to take care of myself physically as well, making a dedicated and self-disciplined effort to eat well and work out enough so that my physical presentation matches the work I've put into every other category. When I'm competing in a pageant, I have to make a more intentional effort to promote my platform, which encourages me even more to give back and to make a difference.
In summary, I love pageants because they're the one-stop-shop to becoming the best version of myself.
The people that I've met have turned into my best friends and my most valuable network.
Sound cliche? I know. But I'm not kidding. (Featuring one of my all-time favorite pageant photos of when my friend Erica Kennedy and I were both giving up our titles, and someone made the mistake of leaving us two goofs on stage alone with a microphone).
I've listed them off in other blog posts, so I won't get redundant and do it here, too. But having this common bond over pageantry has given me a network of incredibly talented friends and connections across the country that I would never have otherwise.
Not only is it great to have these connections as I enter the professional world, but I also think this was the thing that high school Sarah needed more than anything. Coming from a smaller town, I walked into the pageant world and met women who were not only beautiful, graceful, and classy, but were also hard-working, dedicated to making the world a better place, and more motivated than anyone I had ever met. This changed my life. I realized that there were different options for my life than I had ever known of, and I owe that to these women.
It's not near as glamorous as it seems - and there's a lot of sacrifices pageant girls have to make.
I'm not sure where people get the idea that if you have a pageant title, you're automatically treated like a celebrity. This couldn't be further from the truth.
The amount of times I've woken up crazy early on a Saturday morning, driven myself somewhere hours away for an appearance, only to change clothes in the back of my car when I get there, eat some snacks I packed myself as 'lunch', make the appearance all by myself - which, those can be stressful too, whether it's giving a speech, volunteering, or anything else - just to drive myself all the way back is insane. There's no red carpet, there's rarely exciting sponsorships or fun perks like people think. Not only that, but I had to sacrifice a whole day for it.
Pageant girls sacrifice a lot in order to do what we do - often with little praise or payment in return. We love it, we truly do - but it's not because we get to feel like a celebrity all the time. There's a reason that people call their year with a title their 'year of service'.
And when pageant girls prep for a pageant, we give it our all. Pageant preparation isn't something that can be compartmentalized into one box, while the rest of your life is in another. Pageant prep sits in every box of your life. When you're having conversations with your friends, driving to volunteer events on weekends, spending Friday night at home practicing your talent instead of going out, and when you're going to sleep early so that you can wake up and work out before you have to go to work.
My free time always seems to turn into 'pageant time', and even when I'm going about my daily life, preparing for that pageant is at the forefront of my mind. Rarely am I able to relax and 'not care' in the way that many other 22 year olds live their lives. I wouldn't have it any other way of course, but those sacrifices are still just as real.
I've learned how to lose without tearing winners down.
This one is so important to me that I actually wrote an entire post about it.
Life is full of ups and downs, but sometimes it really feels like there's more downs than ups. It's impossible to win every pageant - you're going to lose a lot more than you're going to win.
Such is with life.
There's been days that I've congratulated whichever of my friends won, hugged them tightly, and excused myself to go cry in my hotel room or car. The disappointment is still there, I wouldn't do pageants if I didn't want to win them. But I've learned how to be supportive of other women and to celebrate their successes with them, while not beating myself up about losing or getting bitter. I've seen other women do it for me. One of my favorite pageant sayings is that we're not competing against one another--we're competing to be the best versions of ourselves, alongside each other.
I've learned to dust myself off and pick myself up when I lose, when I'm so tired I feel like I can't keep going, or I just feel lost and confused. Pageants taught me how to put on high-heel-clad foot in front of the other, and just to keep going.
They've taught me to care less what people think about me.
I am POSITIVE that people have said a lot of things about me since I started competing in pageants - good, and bad. Whether they're people outside of my little pageant bubble mocking or praising or anywhere in between, or they're people in the pageant world offering well-intentioned feedback that can actually be quite hurtful... I've had to learn how to handle what many people think about me.
Every human is hardwired to fit in, to care what other people think, and to desire to belong. But especially in an environment like pageants, where you're literally being judged by 5 (or so) very accomplished judges, as well as being offered feedback and criticism and comments from countless voices (Not to mention social media comments, voy boards... you get the point), you need to learn to filter what you find valuable. You also have to learn how to recognize what your own voice is telling you, and how to follow that before you follow anyone else.
All of that to say...
When it comes to pageant girls, there's a lot of misconceptions. Most people don't understand what pageant girls do or why we do it, and it can be challenging when you find something as incredibly empowering as pageants, which have helped you create such a wonderful life for yourself... only to have people mock it and not take it seriously.
It's ok. I'm not asking you to be empowered by pageants. Different things empower different people.
But when somebody sets goals to improve themselves, you should do everything you can to encourage it - even if you don't understand it. Just know that this is how I challenge myself. This is how I grow and become the best version of myself. This is how I get the public speaking skills and self-confidence that have landed me a job and speaking engagements in the past. This is how I get to challenge myself to be more outgoing, and to advocate for causes I care about, make a difference, and become the overall best version of myself.