Posted: 12:04 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I have a confession to make.
I am a deep-south girl, which among other things, means I did a lot of pageants growing up.
Honestly, it’s nothing like you see on TV. “Toddlers & Tiaras” really gives the whole pageant system a bad name.
At the risk of sounding completely bizarre, you need a little bit of background to understand this post. First, there are a lot of different types of pageants, but the one “system” (as they are called) that really set the highest standards is the Miss America Organization. They truly require rigorous interviews and also judge a talent portion.
Secondly, and I say this with complete honesty, pageants are not about being pretty. They about taking pride in your intelligence, your skills and your fitness. Plus, the Miss America Organization gives out millions of dollars of scholarship money every year. (I still have a $1,000 savings bond from one of them that I have yet to cash out.)
I know that many people look down on pageants because they think that they objectify women, but the pageant world (or at least the one I grew up in) was actually filled with intelligent and talented women whom I admired very much. I cannot tell you how many girls I met through the system who were extremely accomplished opera singers, musicians and students. They were never treated (and certainly never acted) like they were pieces of meat on stage.
It takes a lot of guts to dance in front of hundreds of people and answer a question on stage that could literally be about anything. It’s not like going to a job interview where you know they’re going to ask you questions about your past history or how you fit into a company. You could get asked about a range of issues, wars, economic issues or political issues, and you have to think fast.
I honestly feel sorry for the girls who have botched on stage questions only to have videos of their mistakes go viral. I’ve been in their shoes, and it’s not easy. Honestly, it was an honor to get to know the women I competed with, and I am still friends with many of them to this day.
While I have a lot of funny stories from my pageant days, like spraying “butt spray” to make sure we didn’t get wedgies on stage during swimsuit, I also spent a lot of time volunteering. I was just 13 and 14 years old when I was giving speeches in front of packed junior high auditoriums. Pageants and the opportunities they provided gave me a lot of experience in professionalism and poise.
Also, because the interviews were so detailed and rigorous, I had to stay on top of current events. In any given interview, I could be asked about stem cell research, cloning, religion or politics. As a teenager, those were pretty heavy topics. Yet the experience of getting grilled by a panel of judges made interviewing for a job in my 20s that much easier.
I don’t think people realize that there are many different types of pageants, and that the older systems, like the Miss America system, really do cherish community service and volunteering.
Plus, like Sandra Bullock says in Miss Congeniality, it really is a scholarship program. Women have won thousands of dollars to go to college and graduate school and pursue their dreams, and no personal finance enthusiast should ever frown on that!