Hi Empowerista! I'm a huge fan of pageants. For those of you who knew me while I was Miss Wisconsin USA in 2009 or when I co-hosted the Miss USA telecast in 2015, you're probably like... duh. But for those who only know me through my TV hosting or #Empowerista community, this may come as a surprise. Because pageants often get a bad rap. And quite frankly, it's understandable why they do. The public has very limited exposure to pageant contestants. At best they typically see them once a year in swimsuits and evening gowns on the national telecast. At worst they only see them when one of their top 5 questions goes viral after the national telecast. Correction... At worst, they're mesmerized by Honey Boo Boo and have a completely unrealistic view of what (most) pageants are like.
If you prefer to watch me discuss this topic with former Miss USA, Kristen Dalton Wolfe, and Miss Guam, Brittany Bell, click below:
In actuality, a pageant is more about the months of physical, mental and intellectual preparation leading up to the pageant; plus, the volunteer, leadership, career and scholarship opportunities these women receive. Unfortunately this isn't the part of pageantry the public has found most interesting, and therefore, the networks haven't given this portion the proper air time it deserves (#ratings). To be fair, in the past year I've seen significant efforts to incorporate these women's dynamic and inspirational stories much more.
The best pageantry insight I can share of course is my own. In 2009, I had a dream of being a TV host one day, so I would Google everyone I looked up to, to see how they got to where they are. I saw a theme: a lot of them competed in pageants. So I competed at Miss Wisconsin USA that year with a big dream and very little pageant knowledge. And I won... while wearing an inexpensive (prom) dress from David's Bridal and over-sprayed hair. I spoke to two of the judges afterward who affirmed I had the personality and presence (what matters most) to make up for the lack of polish.
From the time I started preparing for Miss Wisconsin USA until the Miss USA pageant, I dove into a deep journey of self-discovery and self-love. I reflected on my thoughts about politics, pop culture, and most importantly, myself. One of the ways I prepared for Miss USA was to journal about the most significant things that had happened in my life. How often do we put the pieces of our life puzzle together? Not enough. Reflecting on our lessons learned, successes and obstacles overcome is a wonderful way to grow as individuals.
When I trained for Miss USA, I learned how to treat my body like it's the only body I'll ever get. It shouldn't be frowned upon to be in excellent physical condition. Eating healthy and working out is crucial to living a long and mobile life.
I think it's important to note, everyone's "best shape" manifests differently. One person's healthiest lifestyle will yield a flat chest and no hips (right here!) and another's will lead to big boobs and curvy hips. One shouldn't be a trend one year and the other a trend another year. They should both be considered beautiful... always.
As a whole, pageants do a great job of showcasing what a wide range of fit bodies look like. You see short/tall, curvy/straight and dark-skinned/light-skinned all on the Miss USA/Miss Universe/Miss America stages. Compared to a Victoria Secret fashion show, these pageants are progressive. With that said, I'd love to see them push the envelope even more and see someone with Ashley Graham's body type, for example, rocking those stages.
It all comes down to challenging yourself to be the fittest version of yourself.
Yes, working out 6 days a week and eating almost entirely "clean" may not have been sustainable. But it was a huge confidence booster to know I was capable of reaching that level of discipline and determination, which I now apply to other areas of my life. I also adopted several new healthy habits that stay with me today. For example, pre-pageant (in college) I rarely hit the gym; post-pageant I now work-out 2-3 times a week. Pre-pageant if I had a package of Oreo's in my pantry, I'd eat a whole row; post-pageant I've learned it's okay to only eat 2-3.
The biggest gift was how pageantry helped launch my entertainment career - my reason for competing in the first place. In addition to the internships and communication training I was doing, I met my first agent while competing at Miss USA 2009. He helped me land my first TV job, as a morning news anchor. After this first job, I received bigger and bigger opportunities each year with the biggest being hosting the 2015 Miss USA telecast - the very competition I competed in six years prior. #FullCircleMoment
Options are empowering. And that's exactly what a pageant is: an option... just like soccer, dance, surfing or yoga are. Ultimately we should choose options that makes us feel most empowered. Pageants won't be that choice for everyone, but I'm beyond thankful I chose pageantry, along with many other interests that have helped make me the dynamic and empowered woman I am today.