What my pageant experiences will teach my daughters

I wasn't one of those Toddlers and Tiaras girls. Instead, my pageant journey began at the ripe old age of 11. There were sign-ups for the 1st annual (and what would be the last) Little Miss Greenbrier pageant and I was ready to literally dig my heels in the pageant scene. 

My mom played it cool. She totally let it be my decision. Once she realized I was serious about it, she started teaching me what she knew from her own days in pageantry. She taught me how to walk and pose. We rehearsed the question/answer portion of the pageant, you know, the usual stuff.

I didn't become Little Miss Greenbrier. In fact, I didn't even place, and that was ok by me. After all, I got to strut around stage in a pretty gown and have my big brother escort me. In my mind, I had won by having a fun experience. 

As I got older, I aspired to become a lot of things - a college student, teacher, journalist, singer, dancer and Miss Fireworks! Miss Fireworks reigned supreme over the largest 4th of July celebration in the state of West Virginia and it was right in my hometown! Who needed to become Miss America when she could be Miss Fireworks and in charge of things like leading the parade, setting off the first firework and picking up rubber duckies from the river in the Rubber Ducky race?!

My first year in the Miss Fireworks pageant landed me in 2nd place and Miss Congeniality, and I was estacic! I had even screwed up the question, which was about my thoughts on then President Bill Clinton's impeachment. I started spouting out an answer I had rehearsed (We got a list of questions ahead of time.) and I totally forgot the rest. After a moment of brief silence (which seemed like forever) and a few stumbles, I collected myself and kept it real by giving a genuine, non-rehearsed answer. Lesson learned!

The next year was even more exciting. I earned 1st place and couldn't have been happier! I was much more relaxed this time around and continued to have fun with the dance routines and enjoyed hanging out with my friends. For two years in a row, I got to enjoy most of the perks Miss Fireworks partakes in such as the parade and banquets.

Third time's a charm, right? WRONG! Everything was business as usual. I picked my wardrobe, started rehearsals and other preparations for pageant day. There was just one little difference. I had been playing around with different hairstyles and decided to wear a curly weave this time around instead of sporting my own hair. It was quite obvious that I was wearing a weave and therefore I thought no more of it. 

Pageant day arrived. I got a strange vibe from the judges from the very beginning. One judge said, "Nice hair." "Uh, thanks," I said, thinking that was a strange remark for a judge to make. Another judge kept calling me, "Holly." "I'm Denise Lewis," I kept saying. Then came time for the stage stuff. It was so weird because the judges wouldn't even look at me. "What the heck is going on" I thought while donning a smile on my face. Other than the weird behavior of the judges, I must say it was the absolute best pageant performance I had done up to that point, especially whenever it came to the question/answer segment. I was asked, "What was the best advice you've ever been given and who gave it to you?" My response was, "The best advice I've ever been given was given to me by my grandmother, Hattie Hopkins, and that is to put God first in everything you do and the rest will fall into place." The crowd went wild. More importantly, I felt humbled and blessed to have the opportunity to share something so important to me.

The big moment arrived! Who was going to be Miss Fireworks 2000?! 3rd place was announced. It wasn't me. 2nd place. Not me. 1st place...NOT ME! I scanned the crowd and it seemed like everyone, and I mean everyone was looking at me. People were giving me a thumbs up; the contestant next to me grabbed my hand and said, "It's you." ..."And Miss Fireworks 2000 is......." NOT ME!!!!!!! What?! What happened?!

I totally fell apart. Not just because I didn't win, but because I felt like it was a personal attack. "What did I do wrong?" "What did the judges not like about me?" I later heard through the grapevine that I had been "disqualified" for wearing a weave. So, you let me go through the entire pageant knowing I was disqualified AND I was "disqualified" for something that wasn't even a pageant rule? Yeah, that all makes perfect sense. 

I went on to win a local pageant in the Miss America system, a pageant of much more prestige than Miss Fireworks, by pageant standards. I became Miss Four Seasons and the pageant had two additional segments that Miss Fireworks lacked - talent and the dreaded swim suit competition. The pageant took me on to Miss West Virginia where I earned a total of about $2,500 in scholarships for my academic achievements. 

My experience in the Miss America system put me on the fast track to doing pageant after pageant, with little success. Finally, I retired my evening gowns and swimsuits because I had learned some valuable lessons, lessons that I vowed to impart upon my daughter(s) should I have any girls.

Well, God has blessed me with two daughters. I will never "put" them in a pageant; it will be their choice. If one or both of them choose to compete in pageants, I will make it my duty to share with them the invaluable lessons I learned about myself and life in general. In fact, I promise to make these lessons a part of the fabric of their upbringing regardless of their decision to compete in pageants. 

1. Never judge your worth by what other people think of you.
2. Beauty comes in all shades, shapes and sizes.
3. You are perfect just the way God made you.
4. It's not about winning "things," like titles and crowns; it's about winning hearts by being a genuinely nice person.
5. No matter what you accomplish in life, stay humble and always strive to be the best YOU that you can be. 

I look back at those pageant days and laugh at things that had once made me cry. When you experience all that life has to offer - it's many ups and downs - experiences like pageants seem so small. But I encourage you to reflect on all of those "small" things that were once big things in your life, and try to find the lessons buried beneath the memories. Those lessons will be invaluable to your children!