Why 'Just be Confident!' isn't helpful advice
Do you want to know what one of my biggest pageant pet peeves is?
Imagine that you're about to compete in a pageant- maybe one of your first ever. You're overflowing with nerves and you feel nauseous just thinking about stepping foot on stage. You consult a friend or family member who gives you one of the most empty pieces of advice: 'Just go out there and be confident!'.
As these words leave their mouth, you might thank them, but that little voice in your head might be saying "... but how do I do that?"
When many of us think of 'confidence', we think of someone standing with their head held high, shoulders back, speaking with a strong and solid voice instead of one that is shaky and nervous.
But the thing that I've learned over seven years competing in the Miss America Organization is that confidence is so much deeper than this- and it can't be summoned up five minutes before a pageant. It's taken me years to develop a genuine confidence in myself. It took more than just someone saying 'Just be confident!' to help me get there (as well-intentioned as this advice may be). It took years of me, and those close to me, giving me the tools, support, knowledge and room to create that confidence from the ground up.
The truth of the matter is: Your subconscious mind will not accept pep talks. If you're not confident in who you are, it doesn't matter how far back as you hold your shoulders or how many times as people tell you to just be confident. You're not going to feel that confidence that's going to make you glow and set you apart on stage.
A perfect real-world analogy is if you are writing a paper for a class. Let's say you don't give the paper a second of thought until 20 minutes before it's due. On the bus ride to school, you whip up a quick paper, not bothering to plan it out or proofread it afterwards. You're probably not going to feel too confident about it, are you?
But if you were to really put in the work- if you did your research, really got to know the topic, spend time perfecting your paper, getting feedback... you're going to feel so much better about submitting it. You're going to feel confident in your paper, because you put in the work.
It's the same thing with ourselves on every level when it comes to the pageant world. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, you have to put in the work to make sure you are the best version of yourself.
At the time that I'm writing this blog, I'm in a bit of a pageant off-season. An extended off-season at that, because of a wonderful super thing called Coronavirus. So if you're reading this during an off-season, or even if you're not, now is the perfect time to start building that confidence.
Get to know yourself. Put the work in. Take care of yourself - just like the paper analogy, you can't feel confident in yourself if you don't care for yourself. For me, this means eating well and working out. I don't just do this to look 'skinny', or to wear a swimsuit on stage. I do this because I love how my eyes sparkle and my skin seems to glow just a bit more when I make these small changes. I love that I feel stronger- like I can jump higher, run longer, lift more, and so on.
Get to know yourself mentally as well. Listen to what your body and mind need. Along with the 'Just be confident!' advice, another piece of advice I heard often was 'Just be yourself!'. But for 14 year-old Sarah Dudinetz at her first pageant, I didn't even know who me was. I had to put in a lot of time and work into figuring out who I was and what I loved about myself. This meant finding the things about Sarah Dudinetz that I couldn't change and learning to love them.
One great example is that I'm naturally more introverted. I used to absolutely hate this about myself - I'd look at my more extroverted pageant friends and wonder why God couldn't have wired me like that. But what I used to look at as my biggest insecurity, especially when it came to pageants, where I was expected to always put on an extroverted face, I've learned to see as my biggest strength. It took work, research, and some counseling, but I came out better.
In a pageant sense, this means that you have to love yourself in every single phase of competition. I heard it said once that if you don't love the way that you look in your evening gown, it's going to effect the way that you present yourself in every other phase of competition too. And that goes vice-versa, all the way around. You can't convince your brain to feel confident- your subconscious mind has to know why you're confident.
So when you practice your talent over and over, it's not just so that you don't forget it. It's so that you can feel confident and comfortable the entire time - and if you need to make little changes so that you feel more confident, this is where you find those changes and make them. This is why we practice walks so much - if you don't feel confident that you can walk in those heels, that's obviously going to effect how you walk in them on stage! I would keep going, but you get the point.
And, disclaimer, maybe this part is just my opinion. But I don't think that true confidence can be created with mom or dad hovering over your shoulder. I don't think true confidence is built when they pack everything up for you, make every pageant/performance related decision for you, and every time you have the smallest problem, they fix it for you. Google says one of the synonyms of confidence is self-reliance or self-assurance. You have to know that you can do this on your own (obviously if you're younger, this changes. And there's nothing wrong with people helping you- we all know pageants take a village. But if you're older, you need to know how to rely on yourself).
You may now be thinking, Sarah, how DO I build real confidence then?
There's a lot of things I could say here, and I think that it looks a little bit different for everyone. But looking back at my journey, here's what has helped me.
Practice builds confidence.
Practice may not make perfect, but it sure gets your closer. I remember at my first pageant, I figured I didn't need to practice walking. I'd been walking for as long as I could remember. Surely it wasn't something I needed to practice.
Spoiler, I was wrong. Turns out walking in heels and a gown with an auditorium full of people staring at you while you get ready to answer your onstage question is VERY different from the walking down the hallway at school. Moral of the story? Practice it all. Practice the walks, the standing, the smile, the hair and makeup, the interview, thanking the judges when you win. Take videos of yourself and watch it back- you'll notice so many things that you don't notice while you're doing the thing.
Visualize the heck out of it.
Start seeing yourself as the title you're competing for in every area of your life. Don't compartmentalize pageants as just that thing you do on weekends. When I was preparing for Miss Michigan, I would think about what a Miss Michigan would do throughout her day, how she'd manage her time, how she'd communicate with others, how she'd take care of herself... when you start to see yourself in the role, your subconscious mind starts to not only accept the possibility, but according to the law of attraction or visualization process (which has been a HUGE help to me in the pageant world), it will help get you closer to that goal.
Not only that, but once you do win, you have this thought process to fall back on. It's less of a shock. Your subconscious brain has already accepted the idea of you winning that title, and you now know what your goals are with it, and how to put them into motion.
And of course, true confidence also means knowing you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you face. As I've said in my Losing isn't the end of the world post, you can't, and won't, win every pageant. But if you know and love yourself inside and out, you know how to handle the disappointment of losing, because you know that there is so much more to you than just a crown.
What have you done in the past to help build confidence for pageants? I'd love to hear it!