The spirit of a little girl.
Pageants aren’t just for little girls. Your age just defines your division. So why are people even more negative towards older women in pageantry? And why are there so many more Ms contestants than compared to a few years ago? I may have found the answers: trends, social media, and the spirit of a little girl.
When you think about pageants, you think about little girls, teens, and Miss contestants. You think about Miss America and Miss Universe, which means women to about 25 or 28 years old, respectively. But when you ask non-pageant people (and even some pageant people) about “Ms” pageants, they give you the “raised eyebrows.” Over the last couple of years, more and more existing pageants have begun to add the Ms division. Now granted, there have always been Ms pageants and pageant systems that have a Ms division – it’s just that with this new trend, you tend to be more informed or aware about them.
We live in a day where “trends” are brought to us from social media. And those who bring the trends are social influencers. And those who are social influencers are those who are in the spotlight of their industry. And for pageantry – those are beauty queens. It’s no longer about the good ole days where you (the queen) attended a local festival and snapped some pics for you hand-made scrapbook. It’s no longer a time where you visit another pageant in your crown and banner and pose with the new & outgoing queen for a pic to put in your farewell collage. Today, it’s all about snapping, posting, hash tagging, live videos, tagging, posting, posing, boomerangs, posting, posting, POSTING! Social media is now the beauty queen’s digital scrapbook. Every minute of our lives, in general, are most often found on social media. I even find myself worried about how many times I've posted to social media, and it’s exhausting! The pageants that started about 8-10 years ago were new and fresh, and offered so much to contestants that other systems didn’t. They gained contestants and grew in numbers, then stepped into social media. They eventually became influencers in the pageant industry, and caused trends that rippled throughout the pageant world, but then their contestants started to age out. Not wanting to be left out or have to switch systems, or whatever the reason, former contestants started being vocal on requesting a Ms division. As I said earlier, Ms divisions or Ms specific pageants already existed, but for whatever reason, contestants did not want to venture out. Perhaps it was a bad experience with another director, or negative experience at another national competition, or perhaps the other contestants within the system were not as welcoming – it could be any number of reason(s). Or, perhaps it was just that they loved that one system so much they didn’t want to leave! So, pageant systems started adding Ms divisions. The influencer influenced their audience by sharing the message that “YES YOU CAN COMPETE HERE!” And next thing you knew, has-beens were dusting off their dresses and strapping on their high heels to walk across that stage for another taste of the spotlight. The pageant systems that were offering a Ms division for a long time already had to make adjustments since the new kids on the block were picking up their contestants, and the systems that haven’t yet offered Ms divisions will now be seen as copy cats. (I know, I know – that doesn’t really matter, but trust me when I say the pageant politics are harsh.) But the point is – this “trend” caught that thirty-something successful working woman to try her luck in a pageant for kicks.
I’ve always coached ladies who have competed in the Ms divisions. In Louisiana, we have a ton of fairs and festival pageants who have the Ms division. That isn’t new to me BUT what is new-ish is the Ms division on a bigger pageant platform. Some people may think of it as “an old lady chasing a young girl’s dream”, while some see it as “a strong and accomplished woman who is changing the world.” Then of course there are the others who just don’t care or think it’s just flat out silly or a waste of money. Once pageants get in your blood, no matter how far you go or how long you sit out, pageants ALWAYS run through your veins. You stay connected by watching the pageants on TV or online. You stayed updated with pageant news. You sometimes catch yourself looking through Pinterest for pageant dresses you don't need. (Don’t lie you know you do!) You stay in touch with old pageant sisters and watch their next successes. Just because you have more birthday’s doesn’t mean you are an old spinster 'has-been' who can’t walk in high heels and forgot how to speak on stage or give one heck of an interview! No. It just means you had a few extra birthdays, but you are still capable of going after anything you truly, truly want. So what if it brings you back to your childhood when you competed in pageants. That spirit stays inside you. Going after a little girl’s dream should never been put in a negative light because you are telling people that you have to stop dreaming just because you’re older. You’re saying you cannot better yourself or challenge yourself or set goals to be successful just because you’re older. Yea, I’m pretty sure that is ageism. But should there be an age limit on Ms pageants, overall? Should there be an expiration date on dreaming and reaching success?
I competed in the Miss America system, but I had only one year to make my dream a reality. I entered at 23, turning 24 the week before state competition. I wasted my five other years not competing so now I had one chance. In my state, winning on your first try does NOT happen. There has been only ONE contestant (that I can remember since the 90's) who waltzed in on her first (and only) try to win Miss LA. Of course she went on to claim 1RU at Miss America so she was MORE than super ready for the role. (Not being negative about her – she is an extremely talented and beautiful person! She was my pick from the start and she deserved the success! I'm just saying pageant politics are for reals.) But, I knew my chances were not that high. Some would say that I “didn’t pay my dues.” But after 24 years of age, unless you switched to the USA system – your pageants days were done. (I was not built for the USA system – I tried.) Yes, there were other systems that had the Ms divisions which I could have competed in (and I did) but it wasn’t the same. The “big stage” glory was gone. The "recognizable" title was gone. The glamour wasn’t there. Though I won, twice, I didn’t have the same rush, and after my reign, I retired from competition. I was getting those “raised eyebrows” and I was over it. So I did what any other pageant girl does after retiring from pageants …. She gets even more involved in pageants!
I became a hobby-pageant coach, which turned into a full-time business owning pageant coach. When I decided to compete in the Miss Earth USA Pageant this year, I thought long and hard about “why.” You know my reasons already (and if you don’t please visit my other previous posts and no it isn’t because I’m following a trend!) but now I find myself asking “why is NOW – this point in my life – a good time to compete?” Here is what I’ve come up with – Now that I’m thirty-something I look at the twenty-something’s. It’s funny to actually see how much difference there is between our two timelines of life, but only separated by a handful of years. Twenty-somethings are finishing up school and just stepping into their professional careers, and still going through the young-age trial and error phase (kind of like teens!). They still have life lessons to endure (as we all our entire lives) and big decisions to make, and have to figure out the priorities of life. If I had ever become Miss America or Miss Universe, I would have never learned that not all of life was about fame. Real life for real people aren’t about press conferences, book signings, worldly travels, TV appearances, and even though we as a society tries to make social media “real life” – being a famous social media star is NOT REAL LIFE! How many YouTube channels do you see where beauty queens (who have become famous from their social media push during their reigns) are YouTuber’s as their part-time job – along with being IG famous and a twitter trendsetter? A good bit are. (Again, not knocking them, because I know from personal experience it is NOT easy work and kudos to them for keeping it up!) But once you launch that social media following, you have to decide to pursue it and maintain, OR walk way and join the real world. So since I didn’t have that experience, I had to undergo the traditional “finish school and get a real job” route. I stumbled. I learned. I had a variety of jobs. I experienced real life hardships, loss, gains, and just regular adventures. Now, as a thirty-something, I know what matters to me and how to keep meaningful priorities in check. Life shouldn’t be about being Insta-famous or a YouTube sensation, BUT it is, now, a part of the duties of being a titleholder. Adapting with the times is essential to thrive, and it’s the same with the pageant industry. And that is the real reason I’m competing – because I’m seeing more and more pageant coaches (of all ages) who are still actively competing. They are staying fresh and relevant within the industry through first-hand experience, not to mention networking, changing their coaching styles, and addressing new pageant needs and dilemmas. And so …. Here I am - 151 days away from my own competition and I’m faced with a whole new set of dilemmas. But I’ll save that for another day. So back to my original question – should there be an age limit on Ms divisions? My personal stance is, no. Life changes you and when you’re a changed or evolved person, you tend to become a better version of yourself. That brings a whole new game to competition. You also have to know what works best for you. You have to know when is a good time to walk away or take a break. Honestly, some girls are just not cut out for pageants. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough or pretty enough or talented enough or smart enough – it just means that THIS is not for you. If you are confident enough with who you are and what you do that not winning or winning queen doesn’t affect you, but you still compete, then you, my friend, are a rare bird. Tough and amazing, yes, but a rare bird. So when you start to doubt yourself and your skills – yes, it is time to walk away because nothing in life is ever supposed to make you feel less than who you are. You, have to love YOU.
So why do some people give the raised eyebrows while others give the high fives? Because they don’t understand. They aren’t connected or invested. They are misinformed or uneducated about how pageants positively affect people whether it’s through community service, scholarships, skills, travels, and/or opportunities. These people should be your audience. When I shared with my pageant families about my competition, they were thrilled and supportive. They get it because they are connected. When I shared with my family, even though they have been involved in my pageant career for 26 years, I got the raised eyebrows. That was tough. But I had to separate that response from my own personal investment. I’m thirty-something. I don’t need an approving glance or approving high five. I’m good with my own solid belief in myself. The journey to becoming a role model, leader, or titleholder isn’t an easy one. I’m putting in the time for create a social media presence. I’m putting in the time to promote the pageant's platform. I’m traveling. I’m actively participating, and recruiting others to participate, in the pageant's platform. I’m training in the gym twice a day, 7 days a week. I’m devouring the news and informing myself about global issues centered around the pageant’s platform. I’m building my audience while trying to reach more. I am putting in the time because it’s meaningful to me. I want to look back on this year as one of dedication and hard work towards a goal, regardless of the outcome. I know I put in 1000% and that is enough for me.
So next time you see a Ms contestant – think about the little girl inside her. Would you discourage that little girl from going after something meaningful to her? Would you tell her it was a waste of time or silly? Would you tell that little girl to grow up and be real? Would you tell that little girl you don’t believe in her? Of course you wouldn’t. So why should Ms contestants be any different? …. They shouldn’t be because age is just a number. If you look in her heart, you'll find the spirit of a little girl with endless goals and dreams.