If you ask most people what they think of when they think of “pageantry,” their first thoughts might be embarrassing on-stage question blunders or Toddlers and Tiaras. A 5’1 Asian computer nerd who wears glasses 99% of the time is the last thing that comes to mind.
For a while, I never told people, especially in the business world, that I competed in pageants. There are so many negative misconceptions and from an outward perspective, pageants can seem shallow. I’ve always been the type to break misconceptions and I wanted to explain a bit about why I compete and how pageants have shaped me into the woman I am today.
I often get asked (even by judges!) “Why do you compete in pageants?”
I sometimes ask myself that question – especially when I’m at the gym after a long day or practicing piano when I have work to get done. After nine months of hard work, hearing my name called for top 10 reminded me of why I spent several hours each week prepping for this moment.
The four pillars of the Miss America Organization are style, scholarship, service, and success. As I thought of how I wanted to shape this post, I figured those four points would summarize my “why” best.
When people think of style, their first thoughts are a classy pair of heels or a new dress.
Pageants have taught me that style is not just about being well-dressed. Style is how you carry and present yourself. Pageants have taught me how to walk in to a room, back straight, head high, and be confident in who I am.
It’s not uncommon for me to walk into a business setting and be the youngest, the shortest, and the only Asian. It’s that confidence that helps me stick out positively among a group of people who’ve owned a business longer than I’ve been alive.
I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in two and a half years, and debt-free. Without ever having won a state title, I’ve earned more than $7,500 in scholarships from pageantry. Even girls who have never won a title have been able to rake up hundreds in scholarship dollars.
The Miss America Organization is the leading provider of scholarships for women in America. The Miss Indiana Organization made around $50,000 in scholarships available, which is excluding the money the ladies earned at their local competitions. This year, I earned $1500 at Miss Indiana and $300 at my local title, which I’ll be putting towards graduate classes in the fall.
Several girls I competed with were graduating debt-free or with little debt (or knew how much they had in debt – which was a refreshing surprise) thanks to scholarships from MAO and other organizations.
Service is one of the core foundations of Miss America, which is evident even at local levels. All Miss America Organization contestants must start out at a local competition before advancing to the state level. To qualify for competing, contestants must raise $100 for Children’s Miracle Network.
Every girl in the Miss America Organization is active in her community and each spends countless weekends giving back. Each girl in the Miss America Organization develops a social platform she wants to advocate for during her reign. These range from eating disorders to raising awareness and funds for certain cancers. My personal social impact initiative was Learning to Love Learning, where I advocate for creative ways to get kids excited about learning!
I love being around young women who are active in their communities and who have a sense of altruism.
Confession: I don’t like playing piano. I had a terrible experience with my grade-school teacher and that bitter taste still remains. Still, with talent being 50% of my score, I knew I had to master a piece in order to place competitively. I decided on my favorite piece, the beautiful “Nocturne in C# Minor” by Chopin. For nine months, I practiced piano 3-4 hours a week, which is grueling when the pageant is seven months away and you think, “I have time.”
When I played my piece, I proudly walked on stage confidently, trusting in my hundreds of hours of prep. After I got through the hardest part in my song, I realized I could play the rest of the piece with my eyes closed (I didn’t) and had this huge smile on my face. In that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. Success.
The Miss America Organization has seen thousands of successful young women grace its national, state, and local stages. I really appreciated seeing how we were all different, but we were all successful in whatever we did. Whether we were a teacher, a dancer, or an entrepreneur – we all work incredibly hard to accomplish our goals outside of the glitz and glam of pageantry.
“Success is not final, failure is not final. It is the courage to continue that counts.” -Winston Churchill
In each pageant I compete in, I realize it’s just the opinion of five random people. Some performances are better than others and the saying “different judges, different winner” could not be any more true.
I’ve never found my identity in pageantry or become so obsessed with chasing a crown that I forget my core principles or morals. I don’t compete in pageantry solely because I want to become Miss Indiana, since I know that privilege and responsibility is rare. I compete for the girls I’ve met, the connections I’ve made, the experiences, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Looking back at myself 4 years ago, I couldn’t walk in heels and was ridiculously awkward on stage. I was wearing purple eye shadow and had no idea what I was doing. Now, I’m only *slightly* awkward and have matured so much in my presence and speech. (I’m also ridiculously proud of how I have finally mastered make-up on my monolid eyes)
I’m so excited to see my growth in the upcoming years and I’m excited to compete next season!