STORY BY GIULIANA LAMANTIA
From an outsiders’ perspective, beauty pageants may appear to objectify women for their physical appearance, competitors run by girls with pretty faces dressed in swimsuits and evening gowns.
However, contestants see it as an opportunity for scholarship, community outreach and building self-confidence and self-awareness.
The Miss America organization works primarily as a scholarship program, providing over $45 million each year for contestants at the local, state and national levels.
Leslie Moore, executive director of the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program, a preliminary state level competition affiliated with Miss America, does not prefer the term “beauty pageant” to describe the program.
“There certainly is a beauty element in the sense that all these young women want to look their best, but the Miss America organization is a scholarship program,” Moore said. “It’s one of the primary factors that sets us apart from other competitions and pageants.”
Having competed herself up to the state level and holding local titles, Moore has enjoyed watching the girls grow as she continued her work with the organization.
“I really love to see how much these young women focus on impacting change in their communities,” Moore said. “They focus on personal growth, and being involved as long as I have, you really see a great amount of development over the years and just a great deal of confidence.”
Preparing for a pageant takes an immense amount of time and effort. To compete, contestants must keep up-to-date on current events, stay involved in the community and excel in public speaking.
“When it comes to preparation, it is a lifestyle change,” junior Alida Fowler said. “You have to make sure you are working out and changing your diet. I met with a pageant coach to work on my walking patterns, interview and talent.”
Fowler has competed in pageants since she was 15-years-old. She held the Miss Iowa Collegiate title and also won best interview in the Miss America Collegiate competition.
For Fowler, the support of family and friends inspires her as she balances pageants with school and other activities.
“Competing in pageants is very stressful,” Fowler said. “You are basically allowing yourself to be judged. You are practicing walks, interviews, working out and eating perfectly, on top of working more than 30 hours, taking 18 credits and being involved in multiple organizations. At the end, I still think my support system is a huge reason why I continue to do it.”
Even after all the work of the pageant, winning a title does not just mean receiving a sparkly crown. Titleholders are expected to act as role models and interact with their community.
Current Miss Iowa titleholder Aly Olson would be a senior at University of Iowa. However, she currently only takes one class, since Miss Iowa is as time consuming as a “full-time job.” She plans to finish school in the fall, but for now she is focusing her efforts on community outreach.
“I have a business manager, and she and I are constantly looking for opportunities and events and organizations across the state that would be interested in having me come sing and perform or interested in having me speak about diversity or empowering women or just what its like to be Miss Iowa,” Olson said. “We just contact those organizations and I’ll travel the state and do as much of that as I can.”
Olson has competed in pageants on and off her entire life. As Miss Iowa she spends a lot of time with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. She also spends time advocating for diversity and inclusion.
Beyond volunteering, challenging the stereotypes surrounding pageants is one of Olson’s favorite duties.
“It is my responsibility to let every organization and person I work with know that I have a lot of integrity, a lot of experience and intelligence that I want to bring to them,” Olson said. “We all know sometimes people hear the word pageant and they don’t understand that it’s more than a pretty girl who wants to come in with a crown on her head, and so that’s one of the exciting challenges of my job, that I get to challenge that head on all the time.”
Graduate of University of Iowa Christy Scimeca currently holds the Miss Pearl City title from the Muscatine, Iowa local pageant. While she prepares to compete for the Miss Iowa competition in June, she is also expanding her mission platform, working with the March of Dimes organization. She enjoys the opportunity the title has given to work further with them.
“My platform is the March of Dimes because I have a brother who was born premature at 26 weeks, so the March of Dimes helps fund research and provide education to end prematurity in babies,” Scimeca said. “Since being crowned Miss Pearl City, I’ve been able to jump headfirst into the March of Dimes organization, and I’ve been accepted onto the Iowa City local board as well as the Iowa State level board and I’ve been able to immerse myself in all those opportunities and help others.”
Something all contestants can agree with is that the pageants have helped prepare them for the future by building confidence in various situations, such as job interviews and public speaking.
“It helps you to be comfortable in your own skin. You have to walk up on that stage, whether it be in your talent outfit, in a swimsuit, in an interview outfit, and you also have to be able to answer any question that’s thrown at you,” Scimeca said. “It really helps you with confidence. If you walk away with that, and prepare and be the best version of yourself, you may find things out about yourself that you never knew that you could do.”
Moore said the interview portion of the contest is dramatic and one of the most important pageatn features since the interview and talent portions have the highest influence on the final score.
The nine-and-a-half minute interviews are held in private as the contestant stands in front of five judges.
“They’re firing questions pretty quickly all over the place, everything from personal behavioral types of questions to hot topics, such as ISIS and really deep political dividing types of issues such as abortion or gay marriage,” Moore said. “They’re also able to talk about their platform, so these young women are incredibly well rounded. They know going into the competition that they need to know what’s going on in the world, they need to know themselves individually.”
Although the pageants have played such a large role in the lives of these contestants, Olson strongly advises girls interested in pageantry to find passions and opportunities in many areas of life.
“Much of what I’m doing can be done without this role and this title, and so you need to fill your life with other things and opportunities,” Olson said.
“Only one person will win, but that doesn’t mean that only one young woman will be able to do amazing things for her community.”
People interested in pageantry can reach out to Olson and Scimeca at www. facebook.com/missiowa2014 and www.facebook.com/misspearlcity2015.