The Beauty of Pageants: Lessons Learned by Strutting in Stilettos on Stage


Beauty Pageants. These two words cause most feminists to cringe! Brainless Barbies bouncing around in bikinis, waxing poetic at best (and fumbling for words at worst) about “World Peace,” as they brandish their beauty for a crown that represents the “total package.” We know the stereotype.

Yet, I am a beauty queen.

I am not brainless. I used to play with Barbies. I was a size two for about a minute, until I saw a piece of chocolate. I actually do love fitness and all things that glitter. I still occasionally wear my tiara around the house. (It’s a sign for my husband not to disturb me, because I’m usually writing. He thinks it’s adorable. And, yes, I’m wearing it right now.) I may seem like an anomaly from your view of the typical, “Pageant girl,” but I can assure you, I’m not.

When I started participating in pageants as a teenager, I was well aware of the stereotype that I was diving headfirst into. I was the awkward girl in my all-girls Catholic high school, who preferred looking polished in a dress and high heels on free dress days, instead of pajamas or jeans and a T-shirt like my other classmates. They nicknamed me “Elle Woods.” I was desperately searching for “my people:” ambitious, multi-passionate, charitable, conscionable women, who weren’t afraid to sparkle, whether on stage or off. I found them in pageants.


I remember feeling so at home for the first time at orientation at the Miss Teenage California Scholarship Pageant, among my fellow well-dressed stiletto-strutter teens. As I spoke with these girls, confidence oozed out of them, and not in a bitchy way (as you might have thought). They had a confidence that derives from knowing that they have a purpose. A purpose in life. A purpose in their career ambitions. A purpose to serve others generously. They owned their purpose with femininity, grace, and discipline. They inspired me to be better!

At the time, I was also in a pretty fierce (and secret) battle with my body. I had been an on-and-off bulimic since I was twelve, struggling with my changing pubescent body image. As an early developer, I didn’t know how to accept my overripe, curvaceous shape, nor did I have many good examples of how to be healthy and fit, aside from Self Magazine. When I found pageants, I was stunned to see girls both succeeding and struggling with similar body image issues. Sure, not all of them were healthy. There were, of course, the handful of girls who dolled out bad “diet” tips. Not surprisingly, this handful of girls were also the ones who gossiped and spread negativity, which was just an outward reflection of their own insecurities.

For the most part, though, I gravitated toward the ones whose healthful habits were congruent with their purpose. These girls were confident enough to treat their bodies with respect, nourishing her with healthy food and mindful exercise. Even though I didn’t win the crown or even come close to winning, I loved participating in the pageant so much, I felt I had won! That was when I made a decision: I was going to act like I was crowned. Not in a snooty princess way, but actually and actively taking the time to better myself, to do more charity, to speak up for causes that I believe in, to travel, to develop a better relationship with my body, to be more involved with my school activities and my community. Aside from a wad-full of scholarship money, all these possibilities were completely within my reach, even without a crown! As they are within yours…

A true queen is confident. She honors her body and her femininity, treating her kingdom with respect, nurturing it with nutrition, disciplined fitness, and balance. She is driven by a faith in a Greater Source that she was created for a purpose, to create good in the world, to inspire with her legacy of love. She travels to experience different cultures, to eliminate prejudice, racism, sexism, and bigotry. She speaks up against injustice with grace, and is open to listening to different viewpoints without derision or judgment. She treats others with kindness and compassion, serving with generosity. She sparkles.

All of this you can be without being crowned by a panel of random judges. This is the beauty of pageants. You learn and inspire others to be better by your example. When you do this, you crown yourself.

*photo courtesy of Dollar Photo Club