Today the Miss America Organization announced a ground breaking decision that will forever change the competition...contestants will no longer compete in the swimsuit portion of the contest.
I wish I could be a die-hard pageant girl and tell you that as a former competitor, I am completely shocked and thoroughly disappointed in this decision. But I'm not. Before I continue, I want to be entirely clear about one thing: the swimsuit competition never made me feel objectified. Quite the opposite actually, it made me feel empowered. It gave me a sense of determination and accomplishment as I worked so hard to be disciplined and treat my body with respect. But I'm not 21 anymore.
I'm now a mother of a daughter who is at an impressionable age and learning daily about what defines beauty - both from what I teach her and from what our culture shows her. I am also the mother of a tween boy who sees overly sexualized images from every available form of media including fast food advertisements, and I find it difficult to explain the concept of a scholarship program when the images on the television are no different than those on the billboard.
So - I have found myself in a dilemma recently as more and more people ask me if I will allow Ellie to compete. I've always used the answer "When she is old enough to make that decision, I will support her just like I would in any sport," hoping it would buy me some time to sort through my thoughts.
The truth is nothing and I do mean NOTHING prepared me more for my career in television and public relations than my years of competing in the Miss American Organization. Through the interview portion of the competition, I learned how to think on my feet, present myself with decorum in front of an audience, and how to communicate with both poise and conviction.
The talent competition encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. I was terrified to sing in front of the audience, but I did it anyway. I learned how to be brave and face my own insecurities, how to carry on when things just didn't go the way I thought they should and how to take both defeat and criticism. I still use those skills to this day.
And even the swimsuit competition left me with invaluable wisdom about setting goals and attaining them. I knew I would never be the best, but I learned how to be my best.
I never played a sport. Pageants were my "sport," and I find myself applying those lessons to my parenting as I help Eli navigate the athletic stuff. Just like with pageants, it's learning how to win and lose with grace, how to set and attain goals, and how to be your best even when you can't be the best. They are lessons that will carry him through this life long after we pack away the trophies and put away the cleats.
I know, because that's what pageants have done for me.
So what this decision means for me is a committed answer to the question about Ellie: yes, I hope my daughter will follow in my footsteps and become a part of the Miss American family. I hope that she will learn the same lessons I learned and gain the same confidence I received as a competitor.
As a mother, I applaud the Miss America Organization for protecting the innocence of both our daughters and our sons by celebrating women for their academic successes and achievements in community service and talent.
As a former competitor, I thank the Miss American organization for preparing me for my achievements and for protecting, empowering, and celebrating women!