Since I outed myself last week with a few #TBT pictures, I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about my experience in pageants. I competed in the Teen USA/USA system for several years in both Texas and California – along with the Miss America system and some smaller pageant systems. I didn’t start competing in pageants until I was 15-years-old, so it was definitely my choice. (No Toddlers and Tiaras here!) My parents were supportive, though my dad didn’t really understand why I did it. He did tell me later that he really admired the fact that I would put myself out there, “lose”, and still be willing to go back and try again, so that being said…
What Pageants Taught Me…
Interview Skills (Individual and Panel)
There has yet to be a job interview or media interview that has stumped me. I know we all like to giggle at the stupid answers (Caitlin Upton, I’m looking at you for giving us all a bad name), but pageants taught me how to answer ANYTHING. Panel interview, one-on-one interview, discussion roundtable… you name it, and I’ll dominate it. I LOVE interviews. (Recently I was trying to figure out why my kids aren’t better interviewers… and I realized that I learned it from preparing for pageants. You can bet that I make my kids create notecards with questions and practice answering them every.night. now. Paying it forward.)
Holding Myself Accountable
This comes in a variety of ways. The most obvious one comes to looking and feeling my best. In the Miss USA/Teen USA system, the score is broken down in thirds. 1/3 interview, 1/3 swimsuit, and 1/3 evening gown. There’s no faking anything. If I didn’t eat right or do my cardio, my trainer could tell (and swimsuits don’t lie). But it wasn’t just about looking good in a swimsuit – I also learned to hold myself accountable for my behavior. I took the idea of being a role model for girls very seriously. (Don’t judge me.) When I was in high school, our local titleholder got dethroned for threatening the cheerleaders at her school… That moment showed me (well before social media) that everyone is always watching what you do and making poor (or stupid) decisions can have lasting and unintended consequences. I always held myself to high standards, but pageants taught me an even higher standard about perception vs. reality. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want broadcasted on the front page of the paper. Ever.
The Importance of Being Nice
One of the proudest moments of my pageant career was the first year I won Miss Congeniality. My friends, the cynics, laughed about that endlessly. They called it the Butt Kissing Award. While I laughed at their jokes, the joke actually stung. A lot. Because I was REALLY proud that, in what many people deem to be a cutthroat win-at-all-costs environment, I was THE girl that people felt was the nicest and most helpful – and I honestly did try to be that person. It’s some nerve-wracking stuff, that getting up in front of strangers to be judged in an ugly, ill-fitting swimsuit… and it helps to have someone to share the tips and tricks of the trade with you (hello butt glue!). It helps to have someone to laugh with, whisper with, and calm your nerves with… After all, aren’t we all the new girl in everything at some point?! I am VERY proud of my multiple Miss Congeniality awards, and I’ve since abandoned the friends who made fun of them. Nothing bad comes of being sincerely nice to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you should be a doormat and not tell people how you feel – but rarely are we competing with each other as much as we think we are. Why act any differently?
Dressing for My Body Type
I LOVE getting dressed up. I LOVE fancy evening gowns, high heels, and feeling pretty. (Come to think of it… I’m pretty sure that’s probably what got me involved in pageants to begin with… I mean, where else do you get to strut around in gowns and jewels as a high schooler other than prom?!) My first year, I tried to mimic what I imagined was supposed to be my style. That meant full-on sequin/beaded downs… that didn’t really flatter me or look like teenage style. After my first year, I fell in love with everyone else’s gowns and tried to emulate their style.
Unfortunately (fortunately) for me, most of those gowns were WAY out of my price range, so I ended up settling on something that was a little more my style…. but still not the most flattering. I ended up getting myself a job at the local bridal salon that did a lot of the gowns, and I really learned how to find dresses that would work for my body type (and that job also helped my budget). By the time I ended up on the Miss Texas Teen USA stage, I had a lot more figured out. I also learned the importance of tailoring my clothes, particularly my suits. I maintain that I landed my first internship because of my confidence and my perfectly-tailored raspberry suit. (I mean, I was one of 4 girls in my department – I was destined to stand out – but who shows up in RASPBERRY to get a job in oil and gas?! THIS GIRL.) While not all my clothes were always perfectly classic and tailored throughout college (and I definitely did try to be “trendy” – and failed), I’ve always considered how I look and feel in my clothes more than whether or not I’m on-trend. I know that if I’m constantly messing with hemlines, straps, or trying to make sure my bra isn’t showing… I’ll be doing that when I wear an item… so I won’t buy it. When I bought my wedding dress, I knew that I didn’t HAVE TO HAVE a strapless dress just because almost all the dresses I saw in magazines were strapless. (And for what it’s worth… I am still so in love with my dress… because it’s different… and looked perfect on me!) I’m not afraid of (and actually prefer) bright colors. I know that certain colors wash me out (particularly in bright light). And I know… that really and truly, no matter what, there are very few (if any) swimsuits that look good on everyone. But there is a swimsuit that will look good on YOU… and it will take forever to find it.
Grace Under Fire
There are a lot of activities where you can learn to lose. But there aren’t many when you will absolutely be solely in the spotlight as that decision is made. Pageants definitely taught me how to hold myself together when things didn’t go my way. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry when I got backstage or at the end of a long weekend (seriously – most pageant weekends are three day marathons between rehearsals, prelims, interviews, and finals)… but it did mean that I realized the importance of maintaining a smile and projecting positivity when things didn’t go my way. And in real life, I’ve learned that you don’t get to react the way you want when things don’t go your way. I can’t (shouldn’t) yell at a principal when he tells me something I don’t want to hear. I can’t (shouldn’t) lose my cool with my employees when I don’t like their attitude. Being a successful young professional means that you know how to keep cool under pressure… and I like to think I perfected that because I learned how to lose in a very public forum.
Like anything, I think there’s a myriad of activities to learn valuable life skills. I don’t think that they all have to be learned on the athletic field, the pageant stage, in the dance studio, or at a Scout troop meeting. Pageants just happened to be one of things I enjoyed doing – and it’s safe to say I took some valuable skills away from them… and I also knew when it was time to hang up my heels (thankfully well before The Donald made them into an over-sexualized mockery of women).
I think the most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing and take all the lessons you can from it. Because of my own experiences, I don’t believe everyone should get a trophy (ever). I don’t believe that you should always win everything you do. I don’t think that parents should remove obstacles for kids. I don’t believe that parents should let kids quit activities because they don’t think they are “fair”.
I do think that people need to learn how to lose (gracefully), that people need to learn how to get back up and try again after defeat, and that they need to learn that life really isn’t all that fair – and if you can learn that from an activity (instead of a catastrophic life event), you should consider yourself pretty lucky.
I also believe that there is nothing wrong with being girly, wearing pink, enjoying high heels, and becoming a petroleum engineer. Take that, gender roles.