Pageants have been under scrutiny for some time now, for making girls feel that their bodies are inadequate. How can one understand the effects of pageantry on young girls, if they have never before been exposed to Pageant life? That is the question that I set out to answer when I was a contestant in the Miss Italian Youngstown Pageant.
Before the pageant, the only exposure that I had to the pageant world was from viewing Toddlers and Tiaras. Also my Nanna tried to enter me into toddler pageants as a child, but my mom refused-I don’t think that my almost encounter counts. I entered the pageant completely clueless.
The pageant consisted of modeling, a speech about our Italian heritage, and a talent portion. That being said, the pageant was judged on modeling, speech, and talent, so that is one part hotness to two parts ability. considering that this was a beauty pageant, I thought that it was very lenient on the “beauty” and it focused more your acquired abilities.
The only bad thing about my experience was the dress. It was stunning and I loved it… online. I ordered a size 8, the size that my prom dress was. IT NEEDED TO BE LET OUT! This was in no way shape or form, the pageants fault. I decided to stop playing soccer for my senior year, and I’ve continued to eat as if I was playing. If anything the pageant has helped to promote a positive body image for myself. If it wasn’t for the way I felt on stage, I would not have been able to write honestly about what size my dress was. The pageant taught me that no one sees the tag with the size, they see the whole you, your intellect, your talent (stand up comedy for me,I channeled Babs in Funny Girl), and your confidence. I noticed that even the tallest and most slender girls in the pageant did not look as beautiful on stage if they were not confident. Confidence was key to this pageant.
The highlight of my night was when we lined up, off of the stage, to be crowned. Two little girls, age 4 and 6 (approximately) scurried towards me, and told me that they loved my dress. At that moment, I knew that I was a role model and I had no right to criticize myself over a bit of cellulite here or a muffin top there. After I told them that they were adorable and thanked them one of the girls shuffled away, and the older girl stayed by me. As she jumped up and down she asked me to show her my shoes. I lifted the bottom of my dress to show my shoes and she motioned towards the other girl and screamed, “DID YOU SEE HER SHOES!” To those little girls, I was a like a movie star. My only hope for them is that when they become teenagers that they are able to be at peace with their image and that they will forever know that they are rock stars.
I didn’t win the pageant, but I won something much more valuable. At my heaviest weight, I still felt beautiful and radiant. The pageant gave me confidence, grace, and peace. Pageants have been scrutinized before for promoting an unhealthy body image to young girls. In my experience, it was the healthiest competition that I have ever been involved in. Of course not all pageants are the same. There are some where all that matters is how much glitter you wear, how much you spent, and how dark your tan is. There are also others that will not allow glitter, tans, and are relatively low-cost. The experience you have is determined by your confidence and what pageant you enter.
P.S All contestants at the Miss Italian Youngstown Pageant received the world’s most amazing swag bag, and a very large trophy. We were also told by the pageant director that he wouldn’t have cared if he drew a name out of a hat to crown the top three. To him, and to everyone in the audience, we were all winners.