Tiaras, sashes, make-up and a whole lot of pretty. These are the general images associated with beauty pageants, but is the glamour of it all the only motivation behind participating in these competitions?
Participants say that pageants give them an opportunity to showcase their talents and to engage in meaningful interactions. There is much commitment, hard work, devotion and satisfaction that result when one takes part in the intricacies of pageantry.
Sara Jo Burks, current Miss Senior Pike County, has not only been a participant of pageants but also a Miss Alabama judge. Her experience both as a contestant and a judge has allowed her to identify with young girls whom she trains and coaches.
“I know how it feels because I’ve done it too,” she said. “It helps me to be more understanding and helps me relate to them and they to me.”
Pageants open many doors for the women participating and offer opportunities that would not have otherwise been afforded.
Advancing to the Miss Alabama competition allowed Miss Troy University, Brandi White, a junior elementary education major from Dothan, to build connections beyond Troy University.
“The Miss Alabama Pageant allowed me to meet many great girls and build networks with them as well as learn from experienced coaches,” she said.
Both Burks and White have bonded with the Boys and Girls Club of Troy. Burks spoke with the students and White taught dance classes to younger girls.
“One of my favorite things has been teaching dance classes and sharing my passion of fine arts while letting girls know the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle,” White said. “I wouldn’t have been able to network with them to the same extent had it not been for Miss Troy opening the door.”
Pageants are not all glamor and glitz. They require girls to perfect their talent, platform and outward appearance. This can be difficult among all the other obligations and duties one is expected to fulfill.
“I have a full-time job so I know how much the girls are trying to juggle through school,” Burks said.
Victoria Bailey, a senior broadcast journalism major from Sylacauga, a participant in the 2014 Miss Troy University Pageant and current Miss Sylacauga, expressed her experience with the preparation for the Miss Troy University Pageant.
“Getting my wardrobe together and embellishing my platform, ‘No one fights alone’ — which focuses on providing support to families with loved ones diagnosed with breast cancer — have been learning experiences for me,” Bailey said.
Laura McKenny, a freshman broadcast journalism major from Dothan and the 2014 Miss National Peanut Festival, shares the importance of being prepared in an interview.
“In preparation for Miss Peanut, I had to make sure I was always up to date with the news,” she said. “Whenever going into an interview for anything, whether it’s a pageant or a job interview, it’s important to know who you are and what you stand for.”
A rewarding aspect of being Miss Senior Pike County for Burks has been getting to know the other participants.
“I know everybody says it, but it has been so rewarding to get to know the other ladies and see how accomplished they are,” Burks said.
She shared the story of meeting with Carol Hara, Miss Senior Wiregrass of Dothan, and learning of Hara’s business success.
“I was able to get to know her story and what all she had to go through as a woman of Japanese descent to own and operate a business for 41 years,” she said.
“Besides the friendships and connections made, I was able to meet those at Troy who are paying for me to go to school through the one-year full tuition scholarship I received,” White said.
“I think the most rewarding thing for me was getting to share my story and beliefs with not only the judges but also the other contestants,” McKenny said.
Being crowned Miss Peanut allowed McKenny to give back to her community by representing the Peanut Festival and the peanut industry.
“I am both an ambassador and spokeswomen of the Peanut Festival and the peanut industry and, also an example and role model to all those I meet,” she said.
Many women conclude that meeting other contestants and forming bonds with them have played a huge factor in their enjoyment of the competition.
“It was really enlightening to hear other girls’ platforms and stories and share mine as well,” Bailey said. “ I was able to have tea and meet Mrs. Janice Hawkins which was a huge reward.”
Some women have participated in pageants throughout their entire life while others have recently begun competing. Nevertheless, the factor that allures most girls to become involved is the skills they acquire from participating.
White was a participant in Junior Miss, which is designed for high school seniors, before taking on Miss Troy University and then proceeding to Miss Alabama.
“I really don’t have a lot of pageant experience, but Miss Troy showed me I work well with others,” she said.
Bailey has been involved in pageants since she was thirteen and has been competing in the Miss division for four years including the Miss Alabama and now the Miss Troy pageants.
“Mom thought pageants would be a good outlet for me based on my personality, and it definitely brought about better talking skills, better dressing skills and better interview skills,” she said.
From the outside, pageants may seem like a lot of smiling and focus on body image, but internally, there is a greater emphasis on personal development than what meets the eye.
“This is a great scholarship program and it definitely changes girls’ lives,” Bailey said. “It equips you with qualities that you want and need to go into the workforce with and gives you that edge when competing for a job.”
“It made me a lot better speaker than I thought I was and by preparing for Miss Alabama, I learned the importance of nutrition in the long run,“ White said.
Pageant veterans said they feel these competitions bring about a multitude of rewards and allow women of all ages to exhibit and hone their strengths while working with others and giving back to their community.