I'm not going to lie, writing blogs like this is hard for me. Over the seven years I've been competing, I've come to accept that people don't always understand pageants. Sometimes it's sad when I feel like I have to work so hard to prove why something, like pageants, are empowering to me.
There are a lot of larger cultural issues that I could address here, too--for instance, how our culture constantly pits women against each other for no reason, or the overwhelmingly negative and incorrect portrayal of pageants in the media--but for the sake of this single blog post, we'll put those aside.
So here we find ourselves! I think this message really needs to be shared, so here we go. If you're wondering why pageants have any relevance in the year 2021, you're in the right place.
It's no secret that the average cost of tuition is rising faster than the average person can afford. According to Bustle, the average cost of attending a public university - including tuition, fees, and living expenses - in 2015 was $19,548. If you pull the exact same numbers from 1975, and account for inflation/adjust them to 2015 dollars, they equal $7,833... meaning the cost of getting an education has MORE than doubled. And as we all know, the average income isn't rising at the same rate.
This is where the Miss America Organization steps in as one of the largest scholarship providers to young women in the world. In the past three years, I've won approximately $8,000 in scholarship money that I put towards my degree at Grand Valley State University. My story is not one of a kind in any way--In fact, I know women who have paid off entire degrees with the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've won in competing in the Miss America Organization.
Learning how to interview
Here's a stat that might not surprise you--92% of Americans fear job interviews, according to The Street. What's interesting is that men and women fear job interviews for different reasons. While the biggest concern of men was being overqualified for the position they were interviewing for, the biggest concern of women was the fear that they wouldn't be able to answer questions about themselves and their work.
And of course, we all know how important first impressions are. You can be the most well-rounded, educated, qualified person interviewing for the job... But if you aren't able to really sell yourself in an interview, you might get passed over.
I often joke that there's never going to be a job interview that's more challenging than my Miss Michigan interviews. Because in a job interview, I'm never going to be asked what should be done about the U.S's national debt, or what our country's response should be to illegal immigration. Years competing in Miss America have forced me to come face-to-face with something that 92% of Americans are afraid of. I've honed in on who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, how to confidently answer questions about myself instead of selling myself short (something young women new to the professional world are notorious for), my work, and of course, the dreaded 'tell me about yourself' through years of pageants.
Keeping your cool during stressful situations
It amazes me when people feel that pageants teach nothing and are irrelevant when the help thousands of young women conquer the NUMBER ONE fear that people all over the world have.
We're all familiar with the stress of giving presentations, speeches, or the aforementioned interviews. Many of us try to avoid these stressful situations as much as possible, but for pageant girls, we've had to embrace it. Not only in public speaking scenarios, but embarrassment too. Feeling like you absolutely BOMBED an onstage question (say a prayer you're not the next viral video of a 'brainhead pageant girl'), tripping in your heels on stage, or having your voice crack on that last note. We come face to face with embarrassing moments all the time in pageant world, and we have to learn how to handle the stress with grace, because the show must go on.
Encouraging volunteerism, giving back
Giving back and serving is, in my opinion, an often overlooked part of pageantry (maybe it just doesn't sell as well as the drama of something like toddlers and tiaras). Service is a huge part of many pageant organizations. In the Miss America Organization, it's one of the four points of the Miss America crown (All four are service, style, scholarship, and success).
I have friends who have raised thousands for charity, who have impacted countless people by helping open up the conversation around mental illness, and friends who have started their own nonprofits. These are women who spend all of their free time volunteering, helping, and serving wherever they can--and to me, that's pretty darn relevant.
Help you learn more about yourself
I have learned more about myself through pageants than through any other avenue. I've learned so much about how my brain works and how I handle stressful situations. I've learned how to handle loss and devastation with grace. Whether it's from a probing, introspective question from a judge during my interview (definitely not un-common), or realizations about who I am and who I want to be, pageants are one of the best ways to get to know yourself.
Building a thick skin
When you put yourself in the public eye--even in the smallest of ways, like competing in a pageant--you're making yourself incredibly vulnerable to feedback from anyone and everyone.
Vulnerability is a scary thing.
And if you compete in pageants, especially if you're fortunate enough to win a state or national title, all of the good, the bad, and the ugly opinions are going to make themselves known.
I've still got a long way to come on this one. But I know that I can thank the Miss America Organization for my ability to handle everything from criticism and feedback at work, to unsolicited comments about my physical appearance, with a level of grace, empathy, and strength that I wouldn't have otherwise. This is such a valuable skill, I can't even put it into words. I have learned how to listen to my own voice, the voices and opinions that I trust the most, and to let everything else roll off my shoulder.
I've often said that pageants are like a one-stop shop to becoming the best version of myself. They've taught me skills that I could never pick up in a classroom, and to anyone who might be reading this blog and thinking 'Should I give pageants a go?', my answer is a RESOUNDING yes.
And of course, you can get my blogs delivered straight to your inbox for all things pageant thoughts. *wink*