My grandmother used to preach the saying “don’t read a book by its cover.”
I had grasped how important that statement was 15 years ago but so much has changed since that dinner table conversation. Our first interaction with someone isn’t face to face anymore; therefore our personal “ book covers” are the first 6 pictures on our Instagram account or our profile pictures.
The same can be said about first impressions. Everything that I post can change someone’s first impression of me and it would be based on that one meme or the cat video I shared simply because I thought it was hilarious. I don’t even like cats. The very same reason I refuse to post anything when I am feeling overly emotional about a topic or conflict. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.
(Hooo child, I could go into another long tangent about our social media personas vs. real life but I want to get to my point.)
I am a pageant girl.
That statement alone has probably flushed a slew of images through your mind based on what the media/entertainment world has shown you. It’s true, this is part of my identity. It’s also true that I used to hide the fact that I did pageants from a lot of people because I didn’t want that to be my first impression. It was a title that I worked so hard to achieve just to turn around and hide.
When I met my freshman college roommate I was careful not to put up any pictures of me in crowns and dresses in our 10×20 dorm room. We stayed up late eating Ramen and had conversations about sports and what our high schools were like. When I told her that I would be missing my first weekend at college because of a pageant, she looked at me like I announced to her that I had cancer.
“Did you say pageant? Like a tiara-and-a-dresses-pageant?”
“Yep,” I responded.
“Wow, I didn’t take you for a pageant girl.”
Although I laughed it off, this is still something I battle with every day. Fast-forward 7 years later; I achieved my goal of representing my state on the national stage. Once you reach the big stage, there is no more hiding the fact that you are a pageant girl. The media has you in their grasp and they will squeeze out every sparkle you’ve got until you have become a dull empty jar.
Interview after interview, the world got to know my story. CNN, Good Morning America, and Fox and Friends all showed their viewers a “side” of me they thought the world would find most interesting. The funny thing about our media, everything is instant and nothing is off limits. We form opinions on people who we have never met or had conversations with but we form them based on the spliced interview featured on the 5:00 broadcast.
“Wow, you are a lot different than I expected” is a statement that I hear at every event I go to. Heather and Scarlett are two of those people and now they are two of my best friends. When I meet up with old high school friends the statement changes to “I didn’t realize you were into that sort of thing.” I spend those first few conversations explaining how competing in pageants allowed me to graduate from college debt free. Or how pageantry has given me the tools to walk into any job interview with confidence. How I have found the importance of making a small impact on my little community and people who need a voice.
Yeah, I am a pageant girl.
I wear that title just like any other job title and I have learned to embrace it. The experiences I had while wearing those crowns have molded me into the person I am today. I learned to embrace the fact that I was a victim of child abuse when a family friend sexually molested me. I share advice with other people who also have broken pasts and don’t know how to pick up the pieces. I have conversations with people who also have incarcerated parents and how I managed to have a healthy relationship with mine. I help women of all ages learn to love themselves, too, even though they can’t stand to look at themselves in the mirror.
To you, I might just be another girl with a crown but to me, that crown is a beacon of hope. It gives others hope that their lives are not defined by their past and they can overcome the stigma that society has put on them. My title is more than a hunk of rhinestones and a banner displaying my home state. They are the tools that I use to teach those people that there is more to them than the beat-up book cover you can’t look past.
When you look in the mirror, what does your book cover look like? I didn’t like mine so I changed it. And yes, there is a crown on it.