What I Learned from the Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant
Mrs. Mississippi Pageant 2016 Series
Pageant photos by: http://zachharrisonphotography.pass.us/mrstnmrsms
The 2016 Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant has come and gone. Most of you already know that I didn’t win the state title. No crown for this queen. However, I surely didn’t leave Corinth, MS empty handed. I won a few awards, learned a lot about myself and pageants, and gained several new friends in the process.
To say that the weekend was “an experience” does it no justice. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous, so anxious, so pressured for that long of a duration in my entire life — 48 grueling hours of beauty pageant goodness. Never having been in a beauty pageant, I didn’t know what to expect and felt guarded with myself almost the entire time, especially around the judges. Despite being told to relax and “be myself,” I had other seasoned pageant professionals telling me to only be myself “kinda” which left me wondering what part of myself is okay to bring to the table and what part is best left on the Gulf Coast.Confidence is Fleeting
People often ask how I am so confident, and I honestly don’t know. It seems like something I was born with, but truthfully I haven’t spent enough time reflecting on the times I’m not confident to fully understand the difference. I believe success breeds success, so maybe my successes make me confident. When there is a general comfort in my surroundings and a knowingness of my purpose, I feel in control and limitless. But when I’m in a new setting with new people and new expectations, my confidence wains. The ladies I met this weekend would probably be surprised to hear this, but I struggled with my confidence all weekend. Several people told me I was the most confident woman on that stage. I guess I’m a great actress too!
There were so many emotional ups and downs this weekend. I arrived on a high and quickly fell to the depths of second-guessing-ville when I showed up at orientation in a comfortable sweater dress, winter boots, light makeup, and freshly combed hair. A good portion of the other contestants looked like they were ready for the stage with their perfectly quaffed hair, polished makeup, and 6 inch heels. I felt ill-prepared for mistakenly assuming the specified “smart casual” wardrobe meant anything less than “cocktail finest.” I felt out of my league already.
During orientation the director, Delayna Bridges, told us humorous stories about past pageants including her own wins and losses. It was quite entertaining and refreshing to hear her firsthand experience in such an authentic way. (It took her 7 tries to win a state title!) It was then when she gave us the most important piece of advice I heard throughout the entire Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant experience. Her advice is applicable to almost anything in life. A pageant is a mind game. She said, “Ladies, stop looking around this room and sizing up your competition. This competition is NOT between you and them. It’s between your two ears only.”
Beauty isn’t Everything
Winning isn’t about being the prettiest. Every women in that room was beautiful. It’s really hard to say that one was “more beautiful” than another. Everyone had redeeming qualities and a few flaws. The winners were really just the ladies who were the most comfortable being themselves, which is difficult given the circumstances. It makes me think of this thing in football called the “home field advantage.” Being at ease in the surroundings can quite literally change the game. I guess the trick is to cultivate that anywhere you go. Thinking back each of the state winners were better at that than the rest of us. One had no problem going for a second helping of pizza when the general consensus was that pizza was “bad news” before a pageant. The other lady seemed like she was there just for fun. I wanted to be just like her and take myself less seriously.
Another thing I learned was an age-old truth we are all guilty of forgetting: don’t judge a book by its cover. For real, though. I looked around that orientation room and attempted to size up each woman in it despite the director’s warning against it. When I say that my initial impression was wrong, I mean it was DEAD wrong. Each lady in that room had her own hidden intention for doing the pageant and it was far deeper than a spray tan. Each lady was fighting a hidden battle too. One had a scar right down her chest from open heart surgery she had as a child. Another had swollen ankles. One lady had a sudden (and tumultuous) visit from aunt flow during the pageant, another was worried sick she’d brought the wrong clothes. Some of the women were concerned about family at home. A few ladies had indigestion. Most of the ladies had battled weight and won. Every contestant made it all look perfect on the outside. Maybe that’s why we’re always so quick to judge others. A pretty face and polished hair can camouflage the challenges within.
Fitting In is My Challenge
Like a college sorority, the Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant brought out the ultimate challenge in me: fitting into a group. A friend once said that I’m a little of a lot… a little glam and a little hippie. I’ve got some Marilyn Monroe in me, but Rosa Parks and Amelia Earhart are in there too. I love questions and chaos almost as much as I love dresses and red lipsticks. In high school I was a cheerleader, but I was never in the “popular” group. I was president of the Students Against Violating the Earth (SAVE) club, but I wasn’t one of those tree hugging kids. I wasn’t a prep, smart kid, skater, dork, goth, redneck, or band geek. I had friends in each group and freely roamed between them yet I never fit perfectly into any of them. I always stood alone, a very spirited party of one. And as I stood there with those beautiful women during the pageant, I couldn’t help but worry whether or not I truly belonged there either.
My Interview Sucked
Going into the pageant, I was most concerned about cellulite in my swimsuit and least concerned about my time with the judges in the interview. That was a mistake. While I may be great with people and fantastic in the spotlight, turns out that being judged under pressure doesn’t bring out my finest words. I left the interview feeling completely defeated. I wanted the judges to hear this:
If you weren’t in the pageant world, would you know who the current Mrs. Mississippi is? Probably not. If I am selected to represent this title, that will change. I will make sure every person from Gulfport to Greenville knows not only who I am, but what organization I stand for. Don’t believe me? Just Google Mrs. Mississippi America right this minute and see whose smiling face pops up! (ok… you can do this now, but do come back to hear the rest of my speech!) My team and I are web geeks and marketing geniuses. Our goal is to give Mississippi a cool, fresh, real, modern, feminine image and encourage more people to take another look at our beautiful state. I will make this organization proud to have me host femininity events and produce fun music tourism videos while sporting the crown. And next year, the number of fabulous women gracing this stage will double, triple even. It’s the power of social media and shear passion.
Sounds good, right!?!?! Yeah, well, that’s not what the judges heard. What they heard sounds more like:
Blah, blah, blah, hi, blah, ummm, blah, yeah, blah, blah, blah..
I stumbled on the most basic questions and deflected my natural conversation style to not appear too confident. One judge asked me to speak in Portuguese; another asked about my experience with yoga. The third judge asked how I would incorporate the title into my daily life. My answers were weak and heartless. I came back with what my pageant buds called the “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” I spent the rest of the evening rethinking better answers and over-analyzing those 12 minutes. I should have taught the judge some Portuguese… I should have mentioned the train ride with the Governor with the Gulf Coast title. It was one of the first times in life I was happy to say, “Hey, at least I’m pretty! That accounts for something here, right?”
Pageants Aren’t for the Weak
Being in pageants is not for the weak woman, that’s for sure. Each woman who graced that stage has super confidence and a strong core. The less ideal each woman seemed for pageantry, the more courage she had in my opinion. Which made me wonder how many people thought I was the most courageous of them all showing up fresh faced and in tennis shoes to rehearsals. Didn’t you get the always-wear-makeup-and-do-your-hair memo, Jaimee? Was I viewed as legitimate competition or just a joke? Despite my naiveté and exaggerated blog posts, I really was in the pageant to win the title. I wanted so badly to represent all modern, married women in this state. That is until the pageant started.
The Show was Easy, but I was Tired
When the Michael Jackson music began to play across the coliseum speakers, my fatigue set in. It was then I realized that having the state title would be cool, but I could still promote Mississippi without it. In fact, I could probably do a better job without the oversight of the Mrs America organization which has it’s own agenda that might not meet my own. And if 48 hours of pressure was already wearing on my delicate spirit, what would a week of rehearsals and dinners and PJ parties with 50 of the nation’s most beautiful women do to me? Sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, actually. I decided to let go and have fun on stage. Losing wouldn’t be that bad either!
The opening number was smooth. My introduction was strong. Speaking is always my favorite because God blessed me with a deep, strong voice. That awareness gives me confidence in my life’s purpose. If God didn’t want me to talk, he wouldn’t have given me such a big mouth!
I felt sexy in swimsuit. This was a surprise since it had been my concern the entire time. When I slipped into the suit and got butt glued up, I looked in the mirror and said dang girl.. you lookin’ hot! Looking back there were a few things I might change about the swimsuit itself, but worrying about my body shouldn’t have been one of them.
The evening gown portion was interesting. I tried to vary my smile up so I wasn’t so darn plastered happy the entire time. To me my gown was very stately so I wanted a little less teeth and a little more eyes. My face didn’t quite cooperate with my brain. The damn evening gown kept being caught under my feet too, but I played it off just fine (or at least I think I did). Overall, I was still pleased with my performance. At least I took a risk.
When it was time for onstage questions, I purposely reframed from listening to what was going on with other contestants. I knew my question would be different, so there was nothing to do to prepare other than calm down. I prayed to God for the right words during the onstage question and felt great ultimately with the outcome. The judges asked me how I would use the title to better Mississippi’s image… or something like that. And I said something that felt strong. Not sure if I answered the question perfectly, but I definitely let the lioness roar rattle the coliseum walls. The words that came out were God’s part of the deal, and I honestly don’t remember them. Overall, I felt like a winner.
Mrs. Congeniality 2016
As you know, I didn’t win. A sweet, beautiful lady from Tupelo, Ashely Buse, is the new Mrs. Mississippi 2016. She was stunning and worked hard for the title. All of the winners deserved their titles. I received three of my very own. I won Top Ads Sells, Director’s Choice, and the most precious award I’ve ever received in my entire life — Mrs. Congeniality Mississippi 2016!
When my name was called, I was completely surprised. Shocked, actually. It wasn’t an award I prepared for. I didn’t get a spray tan or false eyelashes to win best personality. I even did a double fist pump in my evening gown when I walked up to take my picture. (My dad later told me that it made him chuckle.) I might not have have shown the judges a perfectly poised confident package of beauty queenliness, but I definitely let all of the queens I met last weekend know that I was fully there with them, celebrating all of our joint femininity and vulnerability. Even though my confidence wavered, my spirit didn’t. Each lady got a glimpse of the real me, a bubbly, energetic, passionate, caring, daring, fun, free personality.
It’s when I feel caged that I get sick, which is how I spent the next 48 hours – fatigued, dehydrated and nauseous – regurgitating the stress and self-consciousness one flush at a time. Now that I’m back to myself I can clearly see that Delayna, the Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant director, was totally right! The pageant was between my two ears the entire time. Or maybe it was just between my legs. My period flowed today like a freight train and I thought perhaps my emotions were higher than usual. Perhaps they messed with my brain a little too. It’s all part of the journey of life, though. And maybe it’s all for the best. I’ve learned that confidence doesn’t just come from life’s big wins. It comes from reflecting on great challenges too. And hell, I may not be the prettiest woman in Mississippi, but I’m damn sure the friendliest. And that’s a pretty cool title too!
To all my fellow queens…
It was such a pleasure getting to know each of you. Congrats to the title winners: Dawn Williamson (TN) and Ashley Buse (MS). Both of you ladies fully embody the titles you represent. Job well done. To all of the other beauties: Jada (skittles), Virginia (funny faces), Brittney (BTL), Kayla (onstage question), Dawn (those eyes), Tiffany (SASH), Trinity (Mrs. Tennessee US Universal 2016), Stephanie (transformation goddess), Nicole (tan in a can), Hope (shoes!), Susan (our sons), Meghan (that dress though), Thu (blog enthusiast), and Misty (I voted for you!), I hope you feel proud of your weekend and find confidence in your successes. Each of you showed me a side of yourself that I’m not sure you show everyone. I hope I helped each of you to feel more at ease being you too. I’m truly honored to have been part of this group.
Special thanks to the pageant staff including the Director, Delayna Bridges, Caitlin Jadofsky, and the hilarous Keri McMillin (Mrs. Mississippi 2010). Despite my personal struggle, the pageant was well-run and very professional. Meeting Mrs. Mississippi 2015, Chelsey Crum, and Mrs. Tennessee 2015, Cheryl Brehm, was an enriching experience too. Little “calm” Lila is surely going to walk this stage one day and Cheryl, the cold/hot shower trick really worked… at least in between my ears.
And finally to my “Band of Merry Women” – Melissa, Jodie, Autumn, and Madison – seeing you gals on Saturday was a breath of fresh Coastal air. I’m not sure what everyone else thought about my exciting entourage. I’m pretty sure they HEARD you! I couldn’t do any of this craziness without you, but of course, you all already know this. Cue Music!
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Were you a Mrs. Mississippi America Beauty Pageant contestant? Have you ever been in any beauty pageant? What was your experience like? Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.