Friday, May 13, 2011

Yes, I am a pageant mom

I am a pageant mom. And I'm not afraid to admit it.

Years ago, I was just like the majority of people. I thought pageants were nothing but a grand excuse for shallow, snobby, self-centered young women to parade around in fancy dresses, way-too-high heels, and skimpy bikinis, puffing up their gigantic egos and acting like divas. I would occasionally watch a pageant on TV, and end up doing one or both of two things: laughing at the absurdity of it all, and/or feeling crummy and insecure that I wasn't a bleach blonde, size 4, long-legged human Barbie doll.

I was introduced to my first pageant 10 years ago. My aunt joined the board of directors for our local chapter of the Miss Oregon (who then goes on to compete for Miss America) pageant. Being excited about her new position, she begged, and begged, and begged me to come along. I'll admit, I didn't really want to go, but I didn't want to seem unsupportive or snuff out any of her enthusiasm, so I went.

That first year, I still had a negative perception about pageantry and all the girls who participated. They were all about my age. I was already married by then (and I think pregnant by then, too), so I was ineligible to compete (had I even wanted to). All the girls were dressed up, slathered in make-up, their hair in neat, hairsprayed updo's. I, in contrast, was in a lacy red camisole and pleather pants. (Yes, I wore pleather. Yes, I'm ashamed. Yes, I threw them out a long time ago.) I looked like a simpleton, an "average" beauty next to them. Even if I could have competed, I would have felt way too intimidated by these girls. I couldn't even be in the same room with them without feeling insecure!

The following year, a few of my friends competed, and I just couldn't quite believe that women of their calliber would compete in something as shallow as a pageant. I mean, had they no dignity?! Had they no self respect?!

I continued to attend pageants with my aunt each year, and each year I warmed to the idea a little more, and each year the girls seemed more and more human. Being a vocalist and growing up with a sister who was a dancer, I at least enjoyed watching the talent portion. (Well, the good talents. Every year there are some that are just downright painful to watch.)

In 2006 - my 5th or 6th year of watching pageants - my aunt roped me in. Every year she does a training workshop with the contestants, and she needed mock interview judges. I reluctantly agreed to do it. And you know what? I loved it! That, I think, was my turning point.

I finally saw that these girls are real people with real hearts and brains. They're young women who are passionate about their world and community. They are women with ambitions. They are women that are highly intelligent and poised. The interviews allowed me to take a glimpse inside the minds of pageant girls, and not a single one in the 4 or 5 years now that I've been helping with the workshop interviews has been shallow, self-centered, or mean-spirited.

Three years ago, I got to have dinner with Miss Oregon 2007, Kari Virding. She is one of the kindest, most down to earth women I have ever met. I have also had the privilege and honor of speaking briefly with Miss Oregon 2001, who went on to be Miss America 2001, Katie Harman. Let me just say, there is a reason she was Miss America! She is so intelligent, talented, and sweet!

At our local level - and at the larger Miss Oregon and Miss America pageants - we work so hard to make sure the girls keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Its not a "beauty" pageant or a "talent contest." It is a scholarship pageant. The girls are there to compete for scholarship money, not simply to be eye candy. The girls are there because they want to be there. They're there because they are driven and they want to get the education they need to make a better world. They aren't interested in simply being eye candy.

Sure, even in the best programs, and with the best people behind the scenes, things happen. Over the years, there have been some serious situations and "dramas" that have arisen, even at the local level. There have been chauvenistic men who have made inappropriate comments. But our program deals with things by protocol and is always fair toward the girls and sensitive of the situation. And we never let the program be a "free for all" of crazy, whiny, arguing, shallow women. We don't let the negative stigma be what our program is about.

But, there is a stigma for a reason. Unfortunately, "bad" pageants are out there; pageants that do nothing but objectify women and turn little girls into midriff-showing, more-make-up-than-Tammy-Faye-Baker-wearing brats.

And of course, media being what media is, that is all most people will ever see and ever know about pageants. Its chock full of juicy TV shows, YouTube clips, and articles about 8 year olds getting waxings and botox. Because sickeningly - and media feeds off the sickening things in this world - there are bad enough programs, and psychotic enough parents out there, that things like that do happen. And its enough to scare any sane parent!

So this is all people see. This is all people hear about. And this is all people think of when they hear of a child participating in a pageant.

So, you can probably understand why people were horrified when they heard I was letting my 6 year old daughter participate in a pageant. I had a number of less-than-supportive but very well-meaning friends on Facebook expressing their "concerns," worried that I was going to turn into a psycho stage mom and sell my daughter's innocence to the pageant circuit. I feel their fears were warranted, due to what they do see, but unwarranted based on what I know.

The pageant my daughter participated in had her onstage for a total of 10 minutes, if that. She came out for a choreographed dance with all the other Princess contestants, then later came out and stood with her contestant while the results were being read. And the Princess that went on to the Miss Oregon level was chosen by random draw out of a fish bowl. My daughter didn't have to "compete" at all. She didn't have to perform a talent. She didn't have to answer questions.

And out of that came strengthened friendships with some of her classmates and church friends, heightened confidence, a stronger sense of stage presence, and some great mentoring by the wonderful young lady she had as her contestant. Nothing negative came out of the experience. Nothing at all.

Which is why the stigma bothers me so much! With a good, solid scholarship program, and grounded directors and parents, there is nothing but good that comes out of it! I am still the same person I was yesterday. I'm not a psycho who wants to vicariously achieve "fame" through my child. And my daughter is still the same person. Still her sweet, wonderful, beautiful self.

I would never, ever in a million years allow my daughters to be a part of anything that objectified them or made them look like like little lounge singers, rather than the beautiful, natural, innocent girls they are! I would never, ever allow my daughters to be influenced by chavenistic men who want to cut down their worth to only what can be seen on the outside. I will never, ever allow my daughters to participate in something that places no value on their innner beauty, intelligence, personal drive, dreams, and desire to help their world.

I will, however, allow and support them fully in anything - even a pageant - that uplifts them, challenges them, and encourages them to be better people. I will always allow them to participate in activities - even pageants - that allow them to be the natural beauties they are both inside and out. I will always allow my daughters to be surrounded by other strong, intelligent, passionate, driven women who can show them how to make a bigger positive difference in this world.

It gets draining for me to constantly defend our choice to participate in a pageant. I get tired of explaining the differences between what people see pageants as on TV and in the media, and what a legitimate pageant really is. It gets disheartening to provide others with facts and positives about pageants and have it just go in one ear and out the other. And it makes me sad that all the negative "fluff" pageants have dragged pageants liked the Miss America program through the mud, and ruined all its credibility in the public eye.

I don't honestly know what the point of this blog was, except to just share my knowledge, my heart, and my experience with pageants. I guess the bottom line is, if you pick the right program and approach it with the right attitude and motives, it can actually be a very positive thing. Its only about exploiting your girls if you, the parent, let it be!

So, I will continue to support my pageant daughter as long as she wants to participate. When/if she wants out, I'll support her in that decision. If she wants to try and go all the way up to Miss America, I'll support her in that decision. Its up to her, and the sky is the limit!

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