Recently, I was at a house party and a friend of a friend I’d just met said, “So, maybe this is a rude question, but you do, like, beauty pageants, right?” First of all, you clearly know that I do pageants, so stop acting like you haven’t already stalked me on Facebook. Secondly, no, that’s not a rude question if you don’t ask it like I’m known for dropping stink bombs in the middle of church. I will admit that I don’t make a big to-do about my participation in pageants because of the stigma attached, but I do get offended when other people talk about them with the air of disapproval. It’s kind of like talking about your mom or sibling- you can complain all you want, but God help the person who tries to do the same. They really have no idea what they’re talking about.

 With the Miss Universe Pageant making headlines this past week, I found myself getting furious as I read the derogatory remarks about the women involved in pageants…the same vulgar comments that have been made for the past twenty years. Seriously, extreme “feminists,” either find a new angle or go away. To me, their comments about these women being “dumb” and “parading themselvespageant1 around like pieces of meat” are rude, belittling, and contradictory to what feminists supposedly stand for. These writers claim to believe in the power of women to strive for any dream they want- be it lawyers, doctors, politicians, ANYTHING. Well, something I desire to be is a woman with a voice. A woman little girls will listen to. A woman who lives her life in a healthy, ethical, and challenging way. A woman who isn’t afraid to be feminine and confident. A WOMAN. I don’t need to be in a business suit and bossing people around to project “girl power.”

Frankly, I respect the differences between men and women and find no need to completely eradicate gender codes. Sure, it’s a woman’s prerogative to become CEO of a company or President of the United States, but it’s also her prerogative to become Miss America, Miss USA, or Miss Universe. If feminism is giving women the right to chase any dream they desire, free of criticism or oppression, then why criticize and oppress women who dream of winning a pageant?

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Give me a 10 or a 2- I felt great.

I understand why the swimsuit competition makes some people upset. And I won’t play stupid and say that some girls don’t go overboard. However, I’ve done it. I’ve put on my bikini and four inch heels and marched myself across a stage, allowing seven judges to look for my flaws and give my not-perfectly-toned butt a number. But you know what? I’ve never been more motivated to get in the best shape of my life. I was healthy, thin, and proud of the body I’d worked so very hard for. The way I see it, the swimsuit competition is a reflection of how hard you will work for a goal.

No, it is not easy or natural to be fit and thin (at least for most people), but what’s so wrong with working out and making it happen? I handled a ten minute intellectually demanding interview of firing squad questions regarding the political arena, my personal platform (diversity awareness), and controversial social issues. I practiced and perfected my talent of opera singing that taught me discipline and dedication throughout my entire childhood. I indulged in my sexiness and femininity to exude poise in an evening gown that represented the class and confidence all of my “pageant preparation” had extracted from within me. Thirty seconds in a swimsuit was not going to keep me from my dream job of traveling the state and promoting my platform.

And, let’s be honest, the only reason someone doesn’t want to get in a swimsuit on a stage is because they don’t like the way they look (argue all you want, but it’s true). If you love your body- whether you’re a size 2 or a 14- why wouldn’t you be okay with other people looking at it in a controlled, non-sexual setting? The girls who go on stage in those swimsuits are the ones truly promoting what it means to be unwaveringly confident in your body- not promoting the opposite. I mean, I certainly did not get a perfect 10. But I’m okay with that because I was happy with how I looked. That’s what it’s all about- being YOUR best and recognizing that if you believe you are a 10, who cares if you’re holding a trophy at the end of the night?

The fact that people feel better about themselves when putting down “pretty pageant girls” is sickening. Unless you know each individual girl, who are you to judge what that woman is like? I only have experience in the Miss America Organization, which is scholarship-based rather than modeling (Miss USA/Universe is owned by Trump and does not include talent or scholastic aspects), but I can say with no hesitation that women who compete in pageants are no more self-absorbed or worse examples than anyone else in this world. As a matter of fact, the girls I know through pageants are less self-absorbed than most other girls our age and the best examples of successful, driven women I’ve ever encountered. You can make fun of the good girls doing community service with their big white smiles, but when was the last time you visited a hospital to play with the kids or raised awareness for a worthy cause? If you have, good on you. But a good heart and a good deed is no less admirable just because a girl is associated with pageantry.

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After one of my Miss New York assemblies

Even a pageant system that is not as involved with scholarship and service as the Miss America Organization does not simply draw dense, conceited muses. You can’t tell me that Miss USA 2007, Rachel Smith, doesn’t have an impressive bio (thanks, Wikipedia): “Smith graduated magna cum laude from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee in 2006 with a bachelor of science in journalism. Smith graduated a semester early, in December 2006. She received a full tuition scholarship to attend Belmont due to her community service activities and academic achievements throughout high school.While she was at Belmont, she interned in Chicago, Illinois, for eight months with Harpo Productions, a company owned by Oprah Winfrey. In January 2007, it was announced that she had been chosen by Winfrey to volunteer for one month at her Leadership Academy for Girls.” So, feminists, you’re telling me that her accomplishments are tainted by the fact that she won Miss USA? Good argument. Not.

Phew. Glad I got that all out.

Oh, and did I mention we’re the best of friends? That dress-cutting sabotage stuff is nonsense.