As every well trained, once upon a time, pageant girl, I will be tuned in to see the newly crowned Miss Universe tonight. It’s kinda a big deal.
I didn’t grow up a pageant girl, but as you may have read before, I caught the feva after making the top 12 in Miss NC USA on my first, very last minute, attempt at capturing the crown. I’m pretty sure they called my name a few times before someone nearby politely waved to inform me of the fact. The thought of being a “beauty queen” was so far outside of the realm of possibilities for me that it didn’t register in the moment that they were calling my name. After that surreal experience, I concluded pageantry was surely a path I was meant to be on. The highlights of which include the title of Miss NC Earth, a few host opportunities, a few stints at the judge’s table, and an appreciation for the army of people that supported me through all of those endeavors that I will never forget. The friendships I have to this day, were by far an unforeseen bonus. In light of it all, I have a confession to make. That feva was the start of an identity crisis that I’ve just recently been able to reconcile.
You see, I’m not an optics person and I’ve had a very real love/hate relationship with the idea of being seen as beautiful. It’s not just the optics argument, it’s much deeper than that. Beauty, in the way that we celebrate it — has 2 serious flaws in my opinion:
- It’s a coincidental external metric with no baseline
- Every point of reference has a unique set of thresholds that in the proper wold of comparison, disqualifies them from comparison
To be even more exact, the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” cliche, while true, is causing the world a plethora of unnecessary frustration. The beauty we’re all ultimately attracted to is abstract. It’s something within an individual that we just can’t seem to articulate. True beauty is internal — it’s confidence, it’s clarity in your purpose, it’s loving yourself unconditionally. That’s the kind of beauty you can’t put a crown on, and what we’re all closet-struggling to figure out, myself include. But what I can tell you is — you can’t take those first few steps down the yellow brick road until you see the dichotomy of your very own ruby red slippers. Weather true or perceived, neither definition of beauty is more truer than the other; they’re both relevant and we all must choose, either consciously or subconsciously, which version we’ll subscribe to.
Based on that decision, we then get to decide what we’re willing to do in its pursuit. Not a black and white call by any means, but a very complex soup of possibilities that involves an array of beliefs on cosmetic surgery, daily regiments, and ultimate goals.
With that being said, I’ve never understood how a panel of people could make a just attempt at judging beauty in a night, a weekend, a week, or even with all of eternity in their back pocket.
Being able to articulate this internal conflict I’ve had all along has led me to my own truth. Being on the Miss Universe stage was not my calling, but the perspective gained from the experiences surely was. As someone who’s vocal about re-righting gender “roles” but has also gotten to know some of the women that have made it to the top of the Miss Universe ranks — I must encourage you — don’t be so quick to judge. Anyone that makes it to such a level of competition has put some serious hours into preparing for the opportunity. It is not for the faint of heart. Having been on the other side of the curtain, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the blood sweat and tears that these women put into bringing their best self to a stage, regardless of what that means to each individual.
And as for me and my stance on women’s empowerment, that’s all I’m truly fighting for: a world where people get to decide for themselves who they want to be, put their time in, and then kick ass and take names.
For this, and a lot of other reasons, I’ve grown to appreciate optics. Because the truth is, no matter what you want the impact of your life to be, you need both. Miss Universe planted the seeds and after 17 years of mulling, this is what I’ve come up with. So…
To the next Miss Universe — congratulations!
To everyone else on that stage — yasss queen — you are so deserving! Keep putting your time in, wherever life takes you!
To everyone watching — I hope you learn to articulate your own definition of beauty and find the courage to live it out loud for the world to see — Miss Universe style.