Lessons Learned from the World of Pageantry

Yep, I pretty much felt like Abigail Breslin in the movie Little Miss Sunshine.

I entered my first pageant after I graduated from college, a few weeks after watching the Miss America competition that year and making a spur-of-the-moment decision it was something I wanted to try. I was late to the game, considering most girls had been competing since they were 4 or 5. At 22, I figured better late than never and gave it a shot. And you know what? I loved it and the whole experience helped me come out of my shell. I had been that student who blushed when I answered questions in class, because I hated all the attention. I credit pageants for helping me develop into someone who actually loves public speaking. A few years after my first pageant, I ended up in a job where all I traveled around the Midwest, speaking in front of large groups. Trust me, I would have considered that cruel and unusual punishment in my pre-pageant days.

I also discovered a lot about myself through competing in pageants. Here are two of the lessons I learned along the way…

1. It’s OK to Wear the Crazy Jungle Dress When Everyone Else is Wearing Rhinestones.

When I competed in my first pageant, I’d never even been to a pageant before. I’d only watched them on TV. It was a whole new, unknown world. For example, I didn’t know the evening gown was such a big deal and that many girls would be competing in custom-made gowns that cost upwards of $1,000. On top of that, I now know they have a specific look: they’re very structured and move just a certain way as you walk across the stage.

Back in 2006, I didn’t know about any of that! I just went to Nordstrom and bought a dress right off the rack. I loved it because it reminded me of the green “jungle dress” Jennifer Lopez had made famous (minus the plunging neckline). It was perfect.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward to the pageant. As I stood backstage with the other contestants, I couldn’t help but feel  out of place. There were some seriously amazing gowns but none of them said  “jungle dress”… except mine. But the only option I had at that point was to get out there and own it. Ironically, during my one-on-one interviews the next morning, the judges actually remembered me from the sea of rhinestones and said they loved how I’d taken a chance and done something different. What I thought had been a huge mistake had actually worked in my favor.

With my Grandma before a pageant. I was going through a leopard print phase that has lasted until…Now.

2. You Can Be Prepared, but You Can’t Plan Everything. Especially When Tanning is Involved.

I prepared for my first pageant like it was my job. I had a big, white binder where I kept everything organized (paperwork, wardrobe ideas), went to the gym religiously and obsessively snacked on carrot sticks whenever hunger pangs would strike. Yeah, I was pretty intense about the whole thing.

Since the pageant was in the fall, after my summer tan faded, I decided to get an airbrush tan right before the pageant. If you are not familiar with the wonderful world of tanning, it’s a miraculous tan that can take you from ghostly white to bronzed in just one session. A friend suggested a salon that provided airbrush tanning to our NFL cheerleaders here in Kansas City and I scheduled a trial run a couple weeks before, just to make sure it didn’t turn out streaky (this was back in the early days of sunless tanning and I’d had my fair share of streak-tastrophes.)

I loved how it turned out and scheduled my next appointment for the night before I left for the pageant. I arrived at the appointment right on time. My bags were all packed and I had grand plans of heading home afterwards and getting in bed early. Everything was set. I walked into the tanning salon, only to discover the person who did airbrush tans had double booked herself and was at a tanning convention in Las Vegas.


Could you come back next week?” The front desk girl asked.

Um…No! By then I would be humiliated into pasty white seclusion for the remainder of my life.

I left in a complete panic. It was almost 8pm and I didn’t have that many choices, especially since I was supposed to leave early the next morning. I called every tanning salon I could think of, with no luck. As a last resort, I remembered I had a gift certificate to a salon I’d never been to before and quickly dialed their number.

“Oh yes!” The receptionist said enthusiastically. “We offer tanning!”

I could not have been prepared for what I was subjected to next. Instead of a quick, fifteen minute airbrush tan, I was subjected to the most ridiculous process. I was given what can only be described as scanty paper “clothes” (I use that term as loosely)  to wear while I was exfoliated from head to toe. Next, I was covered in orange, seaweed-like goop and left under giant heat lamps like a lizard for what felt like an eternity. After that I showered off and was told a beautiful tan would develop overnight. I looked down skeptically at my still-pasty skin, wondering if I’d just sacrificed two hours and much-needed beauty sleep for some kind of voodoo tanning process.

Miraculously, I woke up the next morning with the most amazing tan. It was even better than my trial run airbrush tan. It had been a weird, strange and a painfully long process, but I wasn’t pale or streaky up on stage, clad only in my swimsuit and a generous amount of spray adhesive to keep everything in place.

And that is all that really mattered.

3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the World of Pageantry

  1. Mama

    Enjoyed rereading this again, and was reminded that life is always a crazy combo of ups and downs. Thank you for inspiring me to learn good lessons along the way. You are an amazing, brave, and beautiful young woman! XOXO


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