Crown Clichés: Miss America Misconceptions

For a long time, I could not see myself winning Miss Idaho. I would view former state and national titleholders on social media effortlessly bounce around from classrooms to boardrooms to red carpets while painting the consistent aura of poise and confidence. At the time, these girls seemed, for lack of a better word, unreal. Although the crown is silver, social media makes it easy to equate being state titleholders to being the golden girls F. Scott Fitzgerald brought to life In his novels. However, my friends, that is a tale of two realities. If history is a myth shaped by the tongues of conquerors, then success in pageantry is a myth shaped by the Instagram posts of winners. After much self reflection and analyzation, I have chosen four pageant stereotypes to debunk, or as I call it: MythBusters, Miss America Edition.

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1. To win, you must be an extrovert. This statement could not be any more fictitious, and yet, it is also one that is not brought up enough. Yes, Miss Idaho does appear on the news, mingle with strangers at events, and speak to students at school assemblies. The job description itself implies the need for a gregarious nature. However, I am naturally not loquacious. Many of my Miss America sisters are also ambiverts or introverts. Fulfilling the duties of Miss Idaho pushes me out of my comfort zone, one of the many edifications I’ve procured from competing in the Miss America Organization. In the pageant world, it is easy to associate shyness with weakness and an outgoing disposition as superiority. However, I believe a true leader relies more on listening than speaking. You do not need to be the loudest or bubbliest person in a room to stand out, so why not be true to yourself, no matter where that lies on the Myers-Briggs scale.

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2. Pageant girls love dressing up. When you see titleholders at events or appearances, our hair is perfectly coiffed, every fat roll is strategically tucked away into the embellished folds of an elaborate evening gown, and our crowns appear as accessories never meant to be removed. However despite illusions, pageant girls are neither paragons of perfection nor the apotheosis of femininity. In truth, I loathe caking my face in layers of foundation and fake eyelashes almost as much as I detest jamming my feet into a pair of high heels. My aversion to stilettos has nothing to do with me being tall. I have always regarded high heels as the only 17th century instrument of torture still permitted in the modern world, and after traipsing across the Miss America stage every night of competition in a pair of five-inch black heels, I stand by that statement.

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While Miss America started as a beauty pageant in 1921, contestants are no longer judged on their outward appearance. So, throw your stereotypes of beauty and pageantry out the window, because Miss America today is a woman with no set requirements on how a titleholder should look or dress.

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3. Your views must align with public opinion. In a private interview with five judges, it is only human nature to forgo your unpopular opinion on some political, personal, or social matter in favor of a less contentious answer. After all, the judgments dictated by those five people are the only things separating you from winning. While as Miss Idaho, I try to refrain from making personal comments on controversial issues, in my own private competition interviews, I never shy away from expressing my true feeling about anything. Remember, people do not have to agree with you to respect you. In the Miss America Organization, your voice matters; never be afraid to use it.

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4. Being a titleholder is easy. If you asked me what’s harder, a year in school at UC Davis or a year serving as Miss Idaho, without a second of hesitation, my answer would be being Miss Idaho. Being a college student is challenging to matters of the mind. Being Miss Idaho challenges everything. In school, your education comes first. As Miss Idaho, being Nina takes second priority. While I’m not studying in the library on a continuous, unforgiving loop, the mental and emotional demands from being a representative and servant to my community is no easy role. Is it worth it? One-hundred percent. Just know there is more to appearances than meets the crown.


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18 Memories from 2018

2018 was a year filled with so many unforgettable moments. There is no way I could fit every special interaction, trip, or experience into one succinct write-up. In conjunction with 2018 coming to a close, here are eighteen of my favorite memories from this year in random order.

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1. I won Miss Idaho on June 9th , and on June 12th , I flew back to UC Davis to take my finals. Something I will never forget is walking into my Chinese 06 final and having all my friends jumping up and down in congratulations. Instead of using the final moments before the test to study, my classmates went around trying on my crown and sash. Even my professor checked out my new accessory before administering the test, and now I will never be able to think about college finals the same.

2. Steel Pier Slingshot: I love rollercoasters. After a week and a half of rehearsals and long days at Miss America, nothing sounded nicer than being thrown into the sky from the benign confines of an open ball. Miss Utah and I hopped into the Steel Pier Slingshot and were flung into the Atlantic City skyline at 100 miles per hour screaming. I’ve got to say, at 225 feet in the air, all the stress and exhaustion from Miss America week faded away. I returned to the ground feeling lighter and stress-free. All the screaming ended up giving me a hoarse voice the next day for my private interview with the judges, but the sense of euphoria I experienced as a human slingshot was undoubtedly worth it.

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3. My First Marriage Proposal: During my second parade as Miss Idaho, the Eagle Fun Days Parade, one father pushed his son from the crowd in front of my parade car and shouted, “Marry my son!”. The poor kid was so embarrassed and tried to run away, but his father mercilessly continued to shove him towards the middle of the road. I said yes, but sadly my car kept driving, so needless to say, I don’t think it’s going to work out.

4. When I think of all my expectations for my year as Miss Idaho, having a nail product named after me was definitely not on the list. Red Aspen named one of their new nail dashes, “Nina on Cloud 9” in honor of my placement at Miss America. Red Aspen’s mission is to inspire women to stand up, stand out, and stand together by uniting passion with purpose. They name all their products after inspirational women, and I am so honored to be considered one of them.

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5. As Miss Idaho, I have autographed many things: hats, foreheads, phone cases, footballs. The most memorable thing I have signed was an ice skate. At the ice skating rink in Sun Valley, a group of children all wanted me to autograph their skates. I was surprised considering I spent the last thirty minutes stumbling across the ice, yet they still thought I was cool enough to permanently tattoo their ice skates.

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6. A hilarious moment that I can’t help remembering every time I drive my Miss Idaho car happened the night I won Miss Idaho. After the show concluded, I was instructed to drive the Miss Idaho car to my hotel for the night. When I went to sit in the car from Lithia Ford, I knocked my head against the ceiling. I couldn’t fit into the Miss Idaho car, and quickly realized that the vehicle used for the past two Miss Idaho’s wouldn’t work with my 6ft height. Thankfully, Lithia Ford switched cars the following day, and I narrowly avoided a year of driving like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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7. The entire evening of September 9th , finals night at Miss America, is a night I will never forget. One memory that always makes me smile is the time spent backstage before I performed my talent on national television. I was called last into the Top 10 which meant I had a prolonged amount of time to wait backstage before performing. Normally, I am incredibly nervous before playing the piano. However, that night I could not stop smiling as I waited in the dark for my turn on the bright stage. I never thought I would ever be good enough to perform the piano on national television, and the emotions I experienced in that moment are so rare, it is a feeling that will stay with me forever.

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8. Having my name announced as Miss Idaho 2018 was a particularly special moment for me. I may be the 69th Miss Idaho, but I am the 1st Asian American Miss Idaho. This year, I am honored to be a representative for my state and all its constituents.

9. My favorite excursion during Miss America week was undeniably the evening spent at the Linwood Country Club. I got to check an item off my bucket list when I drove a golf cart with Miss Arizona and Miss Connecticut. Speeding along the green with two of my dear friends exceeded my bucket list dreams.

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10. As a state titleholder, I get photographed a lot, but some of my fondest memories happen when I am the one behind the lens. At Miss America, I was notoriously known as the go-to photographer, and nothing makes me happier than capturing moments for other people, especially when those people are my stunning sisters.

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11. Another Miss America memory I will always cherish are the moments that followed my announcements into the Top 15 and Top 10. While the camera caught my stunned reaction and psychotic waving, it failed to capture the slew of screams from my family, director Christi, Miss Idaho board members, and Outstanding Teen, Chloe erupting from the audience. It didn’t matter that I did not win Miss America. These people made me feel like one.

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12. Thanksgiving Day: Holidays are usually about celebrating with friends and family. This year for Thanksgiving, I wanted to do something for families in Idaho and spent the day serving a Thanksgiving lunch for people in need of a meal. For me, this year is about something bigger than myself. I am beyond thankful for the job of Miss Idaho, and I will always remember spending this Thanksgiving doing something for others.

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13. Excluding tennis, sports are not my forte. This year, I unsuccessfully threw the first pitch at the Boise Hawks baseball game. Even though it was a colossal failure, 2018 was the year of trying new things, and at that, I succeeded.

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14. For most people, 21st birthdays are indelible occasions. I turned twenty-one on August 7th and instead of the traditional celebrations, I spent the day volunteering at the Idaho Foodbank’s Picnic in the Park program, shopping for my Miss America wardrobe with my executive director, and attending a Miss Idaho board meeting. It may not have been the 21st birthday I had dreamed about, but being Miss Idaho is a far more rewarding dream.

15. The five days I spent in Sun Valley for the Jazz Festival was hands down the best trip I have had as Miss Idaho thus far. All the memories I acquired there were made possible by my chaperone, De Zborowski. Thank you, De, for making Sun Valley a highlight of 2018.

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16. There are many things I did this year that were new experiences, but standing center field for the Idaho Potato Bowl’s coin toss was a truly unforgettable one. I have never really watched a lot of football, but I am so grateful to the Idaho Potato Commission for letting me experience new things and develop new passions.

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17. All of the visits I make to Boise’s St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital are special moments for me. As an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals, I hope my time there brightens up a child’s hospital days. These visits mean the world to me, and I feel so privileged to get to experience part of theirs.

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18. And finally, being called as the new Miss Idaho is the moment that started the string of incredible events to follow. Not a day goes by where I am not grateful to be your Miss Idaho 2018. Here’s to 2019, making each day as your representative count, and creating memories to last a lifetime.

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All my love,

Nina

Source: Miss Idaho's Memories from 2018

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Pageant

I did not win my very first Miss Idaho local competition. The second local I competed in a few months later, I also lost. Walking into my third local, I was frustrated. I kept wondering what I was doing wrong. Looking back, it wasn’t necessarily the things I was doing wrong that were responsible for the outcome, it was also the things I was not doing right. Local competitions for Miss Idaho 2019 are in full swing. Whether you are a teen or miss contestant, a first-time pageant-goer or a seasoned veteran, hopefully my heuristic journey in pageants will be conducive in your own preparations. Here are five things I wish I knew before competing.

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1. Practice like you have never won and perform like you have never lost. It is so easy to get caught up in the past. However, in the present, last year’s results do not matter. Just because you made the top five one year does not guarantee you a spot next year. Just because someone beat you in the past does not automatically make you her runner up. My first year at Miss Idaho, I was fourth runner up. My second year, I was third runner up. After consistently placing high in the past, I know how easy it is to expect great things. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you put in the work to receive results of a certain caliber. Every time I returned to the Miss Idaho stage, I never focused on last year’s outcome. Instead, I prepared like I had never won and performed like I had never lost.

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2. “Ships don’t sink because of the water around them, they sink because of the water that gets in them.” I felt incredibly confident after my Miss America preliminary performances, so content that on the night before finals, I decided to venture online and find out what other people were saying. To my dismay, I was not on anyone’s Top 15 prediction list. One pageant forum rated my evening gown a five out of ten. Another said my on-stage question answer on trade with China would have been perfect had I not spoken in such a robotic voice. According to the people of the internet, there was not a chance I was going to be making the Top 15 on finals night. So, I believed them.

I never cared too much about social media. I don’t have a Twitter nor had I ever heard of a pageant forum until Miss America. No matter how social media dependent you are, my biggest advice to any pageant goer is to tune out the noise, ignore the online critics or overly vocal friends & family. People are going to have their own opinions. It is your responsibility to not let them affect how you feel. When Gustave Eiffel built the Eiffel Tower in 1889, it was criticized by many of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for being strange and ugly. Now, the Eiffel Tower is the most visited paid monument in the world. If people in your life tell you that you’re not good enough or talented enough, remember that you have the power to prove them right or prove them wrong.

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3. Judges are just people. I remember my first Miss Idaho interview very clearly, because I was stuttering in nervousness for the first three minutes of it. It is natural to feel intimidated by people whose sole purpose is to give you a score, but I have learned to view the judges’ role as evaluating me rather than comparing me to the other candidates. I always enter an interview with the objective to impress the judges. In this moment, the other contestants don’t matter. The fact that one of your judges may be a mayor, published author, or neurosurgeon is irreverent. This is your interview, your moment to shine and prove to five people why you are the best person for the job. The interview phase of competition has always been something I’ve struggled with, but going into an interview unfazed by the looming stress factors is something that has drastically improved my experience during pageants.  

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4. “Too many of us are not living our dreams, because we are living our fears.” To say I was intimidated at my very first local competition is an understatement. I had no idea what I was doing, and it seemed like everyone else was in their element. After my first local, I never wanted to compete again. I couldn’t help but feel like a new kid in a school I had no right attending. Back then, I wish I had realized that everyone must start somewhere, and those who do have more experience than you are usually more than happy to share their knowledge. Some of my closest friends have come from competing in pageants, and some of my greatest “ah-ha” moments came from the help of other pageant contestants. Competing for the first time is new and scary, but I promise in the long run, you will be grateful to have taken a risk. There is a difference between competing against girls and competing with them. Never hesitate to reach out to me or other pageant girls in your area. At the end of the day, pageant girls win a crown because they treat others like queens.

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5. Mistakes are not always a bad thing. The very first local I competed in, I messed up. Halfway through my piano performance, I forgot the notes to my piece. After an awkward five seconds of silence, I picked up my fingers and fumbled through a few measures of music. At the time, I was so upset with myself. However, I am so glad I chose that day to forget my piano music for it has never happened again since. Often times, we learn more from our failures than our successes. Now, I tackle every talent performance with greater awareness and precision. Before performing my talent at Miss America, I listened to the songs “Start Again” by One Republic and “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas to remind myself that failures are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. Remember at the end of the day, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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Shelf Awareness: Miss Idaho’s Guide to Books

I started reading books to lose myself between the pages, and along the way, I ended up finding myself there too. What began as an escape from the world around me transformed into one of my biggest passions. My love for reading stems from my elementary school days. Nothing made me more excited than attending a book fair or visiting my public library. In middle school, my book branch was cut short after being ridiculed by my classmates for my nerdy hobbies. So, I traded my library card for a basketball and tried to fit in by blending in with others. For the next eight years, I never read for fun again. Then in March during my junior year of college, one of my friends dragged me to the library with her and suggested we buddy read a new book she was eyeing. Since then, my life has been a colorful blur of novels, seventy-one to be exact.

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One of my favorite book-related quotes is, “The reader lives a thousand lives, the man who never reads lives only one”. I read all genres of books, because each style offers a different perspective of the world. An ode to a recent series I just finished reading, An Ember in the Ashes, all of us are nothing but glimmers in the great darkness of time. I view books as torches against the night sky, sparks that illuminate a seemingly incomprehensible world. The more you read, the more vivid and perspicuous the world becomes. If you’re a long-time reader or looking to try reading again like myself, here are some of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I hope they inspire you in the ways they inspired me.

Historical Fiction/Fiction:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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“An almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart”, The Song of Achilles is an unforgettable tale of the Greek legend Achilles with a focus on the man rather than the hero. I am a big fan of history, and I think this book best mirrors the plot of Titanic. You know what happens in the Battle of Troy (if not, the expression “Achilles Heel” should be self-explanatory enough), you can feel the disaster of an iceberg approaching, but you don’t know exactly how the ending will play out. When the inevitable battle scene begins, Madeline Miller makes you see Achilles as the mortal warrior rather than the invincible hero and feel the heartache for, in my opinion, one of the greatest love stories of all time- even if it is only historical fiction.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

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I read this book before winning Miss Idaho, and I credit its story for allowing me to decipher the emotions behind my piano performance and share them with the audience. Every Note Played follows an accomplished concert pianist after his diagnosis of ALS (an incurable neurodegenerative disease). This story reminded me to play every note with the knowledge that our abilities are gifts we may not always have the luxury of keeping. Thank you, Jim from Meet AC, for gifting me my own copy of this book at Miss America. The last thing I did backstage before performing my piano piece on national television was read my favorite chapter

Nonfiction:

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

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This book takes place in Idaho! Based on the true story of a girl born into a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, Educated: A Memoir peers into the mind of a self-taught girl who discovers the true meaning and cost of an education. Despite being kept out of school by her parents, Tara Westover went on to earn her Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani

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I read this book in preparation for Miss America. It quickly became one of the most insightful pieces I’ve ever read and a real asset in my private interview with the Miss America judges. The Death of Truth analyzes the historical undoing of America’s free press and the danger fake news poses to our future.


Fantasy:


The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

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“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

“True strength isn’t about sovereignty. It’s about knowing when you need help and having courage to accept it.”

“It all seemed so important in the night, but when the sun rose and you were gone, the light didn’t shine as bright.”

An Arabian Night’s inspired tale, The Wrath and the Dawn is by far my favorite fantasy novel and the enabler of my quote obsession.


Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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Also by Renee Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist is a take on modern day Mulan set in a fantasy version of Japan.


The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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The Cruel Prince is probably the most “fantasy” out of the bunch, but I binge read this book in one day. Dark, wicked, and suspenseful, this book oozes with the perils of power in an atmosphere of terror. Even if you don’t like fantasy, I encourage you to give this one a try.


Young Adult:

This is arguably my favorite genre. Just know that you are never too old for a little young adult. To preface this, I am painfully single and unapologetically enjoy reading cheesy love stories. That being said, don’t worry. If you are not a hopeless romantic like myself, I have also included some of my favorite young adult stories that do not possess the “cheese factor”.



The Selection by Kiera Cass

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This was the book that rekindled my love for reading. I describe it as Miss America meets The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. Thirty-five girls in a dystopian, caste system land compete for the chance of a lifetime: to marry Prince Maxon and become Queen. There’s glitz and glam, blood and mystery, and most of all, a total of five books in the series that all leave you wanting more.


They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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“No one goes on, but what we leave behind keeps us alive for someone else.”

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist, that’s all” - Oscar Wilde

If you’ve ever wanted to read a book that reminds you of your mortality, this is the one for you. In this dystopian land, people are given a twenty-four-hour notice before they die. In They Both Die at the End, two strangers set to die on the same day connect and have the adventure of a lifetime. This book is the only one I feel comfortable giving a spoiler to, because surprise, they really do both die at the end.


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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I love this book for two reasons. One: Peter Kavinsky, and Two: it is one of the few YA books (and movies) with an Asian protagonist. Lara Jean in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is exactly the kind of girl I was in high school, and I have watched the Netflix movie more times than I would like to admit. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a beautiful coming of age novel with characters that you will fall madly in love with (I repeat: Peter Kavinsky).


Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

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This is a refreshing young adult book that does not shy away from discussing mental health. The main character Maguire battles coping with PTSD, anxiety, and an awful streak of bad luck as she navigates high school and of course, a swoon worthy romance with tennis prodigy, Jordy.


The Lies About Truth by Courtney C. Stevens

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“Sometimes the journey to let someone love you is the journey to loving yourself”

Sometimes stories about loss and death just don’t quite make the mark in Young Adult books. The Lies About Truth is an exception. In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you. After surviving a car accident that killed one of her friends, Sadie struggles to embrace her future while trapped in her past. Sadie still wears the crippling scars and physical disabilities that follow the car accident. The Lies About Truth rings true to the saying, “the worst lies we give are the ones we tell ourselves”.















To Sash or Save: The Cost of Winning a Crown


In an organization that bolsters helping women with the financial means to pursue higher education, it is ironic that Miss America also unintentionally encourages an unhealthy, exorbitant expenditure in the categories necessary to win money in the first place. Perhaps the allure of winning scholarship money is eclipsed by fulfilling childhood dreams of being Miss America or the glistening opportunity of winning a crown. However, Miss America is first and foremost a scholarship organization- the largest scholarship provider for young women in the country. With that in mind, it is somewhat shocking how young women spend thousands of dollars each year to compete in a pageant only to walk away with, most commonly, a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and (hopefully) a sparkly new crown. According to an online study, pageant contestants spend on average between $2,475 and $15,000 on gowns, wardrobe, hair & makeup, shoes, and coaching before even stepping foot on a stage. Yes, a few girls win enough money to graduate college debt free, but the majority rarely break even to justify the money spent with the scholarships won. While the cost of competing in a pageant varies for each state and pageant system, logistically speaking, is the amount of money spent on a pageant proportional to the outcome?

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When I was a senior in high school, my mom took me to Ypsilon Dresses in Salt Lake City, Utah to find a dress for my very first local competition, Miss Meridian. Miss Meridian was only a week away, and I still could not find a dress long enough for my six-foot frame. I serendipitously stumbled upon a light pink Jovani evening gown that was the first (and only) dress I had found that afforded me the luxury of wearing high heels. At that point, the price did not matter. The gown cost $500 which at the time, seemed like a lot of money to spend on one wardrobe item. However, after competing at Miss Idaho for three years and then Miss America, I have come to realize that $500 is nothing compared to the cost of custom and couture dresses some girls spend on one frock. A myriad of contestant’s evening gowns cost more than my fall quarter tuition at UC Davis. With the competitive misconception that “new and expensive” gives you an edge in the competition, it is no wonder women invest a copious amount of money into an evening gown with the hopes that it will be their winning ticket to the crown. Kudos to the girls who have the ability and desire to spend that kind of money in pageantry, however for the others like myself who are already riddled with student loans and debt, know that you do not have to break the bank to capture a crown.


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The same light pink evening gown I bought my senior year of high school was the same evening gown I wore as a rising senior in college when I won Miss Idaho. Three years, eight competitions, one dress. While my light pink dress has definitely lost its luster, it is proof that you can be successful in pageants on a budget. Furthermore, it attests that dresses don’t win pageants, but the girls wearing them do. I have lost more times than I won wearing my light pink evening gown. Each year at Miss Idaho, my dress stayed the same. It was the girl wearing the dress who changed. Instead of investing more money every year in a new dress, I invested time in upgrading myself. Never discount your capabilities because your bank account dips lower than your dreams. To this day, I am still relieved to have found a dress that didn’t end at my ankles, but most of all, I am grateful I chose to wear that same dress throughout my entire Miss Idaho pageant career. Call it fate or my lucky dress, I call it the best five-hundred dollars I ever spent.

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