I have never been much of the pageant type. I hate being the center of attention and would definitely freeze on stage if the judges asked me a question. Some people love them, I do not. I recently took interest in the behind the scenes of pageants when my cousin, Olivia Smith, dove into the pageant world head first. Being the supportive family member I am, I have gone to see her multiple times. I have come to realize that pageants aren’t the misogynistic or sexist beauty contests that they are made out to be. These events are actually very wholesome and full of women trying to make a difference in the world. Yes they walk around in high heels and pretty dresses, but they also develop a platform and study their chosen area with great diligence. These young women compete in competitions including talent, interview, and answer in order to win and join some of the best community service organizations. In Alabama, we have the Miss Alabama Organization. Miss Alabama gives away many college scholarships to these winners and connects them with some amazing community service projects. Another common misconception is that these contestants have a lack of intelligence and are only worried about the crown. This could not be farther from the truth! Some of the majors at the pageants I have attended include biochemical engineering, medical technology, law and even biological sciences on the pre-med track! These girls are intelligent, driven and talented. I sat down with Olivia Smith, an aspiring Future Miss Alabama, and learned some revealing information. It’s time to uncover the pageant world and see it as what it truly is- a wonderful opportunity for scholarships, community service and great friendships.
The Pageant Process
From the outside, pageantry may look like a bunch of girls who are looks-focused and have a head full of air. But on the inside, contestants are smart, witty, service-minded, and extremely talented. Yes they get to wear pretty dresses and glide across the stage, but these girls are truly amazing. First, the girls have to create a platform (we will discuss that later). They have to do community service, publicize their platform, and support other organizations. The contestants also run through two speaking portions: the on-stage questions and the interview. For the on-stage questions, the contestants speak about their platform and the judges ask each contestant a question in front of the whole audience. This question can be ANYTHING-from womens rights to current events. The interview portion is a private interview with the contestants talking to the judges. They talk about platforms, interests, school, extracurriculars and basically get a background of their contestants. The other pieces of a pageant are talent, evening gown, and walk. The talent of some contestants is astonishing. Some sing, some dance, some play instruments and many other things. Evening gown is a portion of the pageant completely dedicated to the contestants’ beautiful gowns. The walk and evening gown portions are tied together, contestants do the traditional pageant walk while wearing their spectacular dresses. This is really the only part of the pageant dedicated to beauty. By learning more about this grueling process, I came to see that most pageant girls aren’t shallow and conceited like we’re led to believe.
Can you explain platforms?
-“A platform, otherwise known as a “social impact initiative,” is something that the contestant is extremely passionate about. My social impact initiative is called “The Adoption Option” advocating for foster care children and adoption statewide. I chose my social impact because I was adopted at birth and want to give more children in Alabama a success story just like mine, my goal is to be a voice for the voiceless. I have worked with many foster care and adoption organizations and plan to work with more.”
How do you prepare for the on-stage question portion?
-“The only way I know how to prepare is to pray. I pray every time I walk out on stge. I ask to speak, perform and walk with grace and confidence and for God’s name to be lifted above my own. I also research what is going on in America that week because sometimes the questions that are asked as our onstage questions can root from current events. Another way I prepare is to be confident in my social impact initiative and know that it can be a touchy subject for some, but also know that this is a story and passion of mine that I am connected with on a basis unlike others.”
What is the hardest part of the pageant process?
-“The hardest part is probably the stress that comes with it all. pageant days are stressful because we have to learn an opening number and sometimes a closing number. We have a 10 minute interview, talent, and evening gown.”
What is your talent?
-“My talent is baton twirling. I was a competitive baton twirler for 6 years.”
Any advice for someone wanting to start in the pageant world?
-“Do it!! It’s so much fun and you’ll never know if you like or dislike something until you try!!”
So Olivia, why do you love pageants?
-“I love pageants because they bring me closer to girls that have very similar goals as myself. Everyone in the pageant world is so incredibly supportive of one another, no matter who walks off the stage crowned, we all want the absolute best for each other.”
Do pageants make you feel empowered?
-“Absolutely, pageants make me feel incredibly empowered. They make me feel confident to be a woman, they make me feel supported by other women in my state and age group. They also make me feel incredibly supported by the community and state that I am in.”
Do you think that pageants deserve the sexist narrative they are given?
-“I personally do not believe that pageants should be classified as sexist because typically we have male sponsors, male judges, and so many incredible males involved with making The Miss America Organization what it has become over the last 100 years. Even though pageants do not allow men to compete, there are so many other ways to get involved in the pageant world as a male if you want to be more involved.”
They Walk the Walk AND Talk the Talk
From the outside and to the untrained eye, a pageant can look like a sexist contest full of air-headed girls vying for the crown. But to the people who seek the truth of their opinions, these contests are wonderful, wholesome, and they bring women together. These girls compete in many difficult events, build their background, walk, talk, and think perfectly. They can’t be afraid to put their opinions out there or to speak in front of a full audience. I don’t know about you, but I would never be able to compete in an event like this. The on-stage question would freak me out to every extent and I would never be able to reply to a random question on command like these incredible young women do. These women do all this wearing heavy earrings and having used three cans of hairspray. These contests are far from the sexist rituals they are made out to be. What I see in a pageant is very different from what someone else sees. When I see a pageant with contestants, I see beautiful, smart, and confident young women. They are making positive impacts on our world, competing for scholarships to some wonderful schools, and becoming some of the best contributors to our society. By watching and talking to Olivia, I got to see what pageants truly are. I’m hoping that by reading this interview, you too can rethink your opinions on pageantry. And hey-maybe you’d like to try one out yourself.
An immense thank you to Olivia Smith for this awesome interview. I hope my writing and her words can help change the narrative on the institutions of pageants across the globe.