Crowning Glory-Pageants Develop Tomorrow's Leaders

If you have never competed in a beauty pageant, you probably think they are dumb or full of fluff. If you have competed and lost, you probably feel that they are rigged and unfair. Having competed for several years in my youth in one of the most competitive and respected pageant systems (Miss Texas America and Miss Texas USA), I can honestly say that competing in pageants developed my confidence, self esteem, poise and social graces.

I competed in my first pageant at the ripe age of 14. Initially, I wanted to make new friends and showcase my talent and grace. I quickly discovered that there were girls who were more beautiful, richer and more taleted than me. Did this destroy my self esteem? No, it made me accept that I can only be the best me and I was my only competition in life.

Looking back, although at the time I was very angry, I didn't deserve to win any of the pageants I entered. I was ill-prepared and didn't have the proper coaching required to nail the competition stages. It is the rare occasion where a contestant can enter a pageant and win and continue to win at every stage but it does happen.

I was a young woman when Vanessa Williams was crowned the first Black Miss America. I stood at the tv in complete awe that someone who looked like me could win a beauty pageant. From my own experiences, the White contestants with long blonde hair always won. Vanessa Williams inspired me to pursue my pageant dreams with hopes of becoming the first Black Miss Texas.

Faced with a pregnancy in college, I made the decision of parenthood over pageantry but continued to watch and support young women in pageants. It can be a wonderful experience IF the judging is fair and the opportunities are far reaching post-pageant. I have been asked to judge pageants across the Ark-La-Tex and pride myself on a fair assessment of the young woman in front of me. I refuse to be a part of a scoring system where we are coached on what "type" of girl to crown and am appalled at judges banter about "tattoos", "cheap evening gowns", and eye rolling in interviews when a contestant states that First Lady Michelle Obama is a role model to her. While we bring our own perceptions and bias to the judging arena, we are to leave our political affiliations and personal caveats at the door. If a contestant has an opinion and belief that she can logically support, applaud her rather than condemn her. We aren't there to judge our best clone!

I remember having a heated discussion with a friend once who asked me why are there "Black" pageant systems and how would I feel if there was a White Miss America pageant? My response was "Ummmm....there is such a system! It took Texas 75 years to crown a Black Miss Texas in the Miss America system." Black pageants were created out of desire to reward young women who have different body types, uncommon life experiences and who may not have the money to invest in thousand dollar evening gowns. Black beauty has always been defined differently and let's face it.....most judging panels do not reflect a diverse population.

I enjoyed my time competing although at the time, I was angry and disappointed in the final result. As I watched my own daughter compete in some shady systems, I was once again reminded that integrity in pageants is more valued than a rhinestone crown. People spend thousands of dollars and young women put in countless hours at the gym or in talent rehearsals to put their best foot forward. While it may not be your thing, afford these young women the chance to shine on stage and develop skills, grace, poise and interview skills which will far exceed the final judges tally.

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