The Miss America Effect

For my 21st birthday, my dad gifted me a book titled “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People”. As I was reading this book in preparation for Miss America, I came across an interesting phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the statue of a woman he carved. Pygmalion desperately wanted his sculpture to be real. One day the marble became flesh, and Pygmalion’s archetype woman was born. The legend of Pygmalion transposes to modern times and insinuates that great expectations lead to great results. As I was digesting this new information, I began to wonder what my personal expectations were for the Miss America Competition, and I can assure you, the thought of making Top 10 did not even exist in my wildest dreams.


Rather than expecting awards or accolades, my Pygmalion Effect was personal, not professional. I entered Miss America with the notion that this would be my last competition, my final chance to showcase the years of hard work, perseverance, and personal growth procured since my very first local in 2015. The weeks before I left for Atlantic City, I studied. I fervently read books, reflected on my past experiences, learned from influential people in the Idaho community, and formulated an idea of what being Miss America would mean to me. Visually speaking, Miss America prep mirrored studying for the most challenging test of my life. Instead of fifty multiple-choice Macroeconomics questions or a grueling ten-page paper on infrastructure in the developing world, this was a test of self-actualization, a battle of my past’s ability to shape my present. My biggest takeaway: hard work is shown from the inside out.

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This was a new revelation for me considering I spent the last three years polishing my personal appearance, perfecting my evening gown walk, and practicing my public speaking skills. While those areas of preparation did help me succeed in the past, I knew that being Miss America requires skills that aren’t always displayed on stage. When I was called into the Top 15 and then the Top 10, I was astonished. After all, placement was not a priority for me. However, by focusing on performing my best, I was unknowingly setting myself up for success.


My Miss America outcome was not achieved alone. Thank you to my Miss Idaho board & volunteers for always believing in me, my family for always supporting me (my mom and sister created the majority of my “Show Us Your Shoes” Parade costume), and my sponsors for their unparalleled generosity. Allison’s Dresses, Regalia, Dillard’s, Stewart’s Gem Shop, Red Aspen, Rachel at Love Nails, Lash Divas, NanaMacs Boutique, and Marbella at Paradigm Salon all helped me shine on stage.


Perhaps the Pygmalion Effect can be described in a more specific sense and draw causation between positive, personal expectations and external success. Competing at Miss America has taught me that when you prioritize your personal success, you can find reward and satisfaction manifest to other areas of your life, and you don’t need to be on a stage to achieve it. Thank you to my dad for gifting me the most valuable birthday present I have ever received. I did not just learn “The Science of Succeeding with People”, I discovered the science of succeeding with myself, or as I now call it, the Miss America Effect.


The Keys to Success

88 keys lay before me, 88 doors never unlocked until my freshman year of high school. Seven years ago, I had my very first piano lesson. Before then, I thought music was meant to be played like a checklist, each note and measure building up to the inevitable return to silence. I never knew that music is meant to be savored, notes melodically stringing together like veins in the human body. Each vein in our body is essential, carrying blood towards our heart. Similarly, I found each key on the piano vital, transporting soul from our hearts and through our ears. The moment I touched my first key, middle C, on the piano, I knew I had found my key to music.

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Bono once said, “Music can change the world because it can change people”. Since my first piano lesson, music has changed me. While the keys on the piano are black and white, playing the piano allowed me to share the spectrum of creativity, emotion, and humanity I had not found the courage to voice. So many things in our lives are out of our control, yet I found comfort in the feelings that piano creates. More so, I found expression in the seemingly endless variations of styles, key signatures and techniques.

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Perhaps my unconventional journey with music can also change the world. With the increasing number of six-year-old piano prodigies on YouTube and the toxic, competitive environment we live in today, it is easy to believe that mastery has a cutoff age. However, I am proof that the place you start does not determine how far you can go. There are only 88 keys on the piano, keys that are open to everyone, but only connect to those who invest passion, diligence and perseverance. Of the many lessons the piano has taught me, the greatest one is this: “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put the passing time to the best possible use.” –Earl Nightingale

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Nina's Miss America Milestones

Miss America Milestones

My Miss Idaho experience has had its fair share of obstacles, yet at the same time it has also been filled with many memorable milestones. Some milestones are significant like placing in the Top 5 at Miss Idaho or perfecting my talent piece. Others, like the slow intrinsic evolution marking the person I have now become, are more subtle. These are the milestones that have defined my life. 


When I started competing in the Miss Idaho Organization my senior year of high school, I was blindly ambitious and only loved what I assumed would make me successful. Now, I see with purpose. This clarity instilled in me over the last four years has made me a kinder friend, a more passionate scholar, a devout servant to my community, and ultimately, a more authentic version of myself.

Each year competing at Miss Idaho, I gained something different. My first year as Miss Nampa, I found confidence. Growing up with eczema, I always hated the skin I was in. Walking on stage in a swimsuit changed everything for me. It forced me to embrace the flaws I tried so hard to conceal as a teen, but most of all, it altered my lifestyle.

I was always a runner, but every mile I ran left me further out of tune with my body. I would use my 6ft height as an excuse for not being able to touch my toes. Now, after three years of stretching and strength-based exercises, I can do the splits. Most of all, my outlook on fitness has evolved. Working out is not punishing your body for what you ate, rather it is celebrating your body for what it can do. My year as Miss Nampa left me healthier, happier, and more confident.


My second year competing as Miss Treasure Valley was a test of endurance and personal strength. Being an out-of-state college student miles away from home took a toll on my mental health. Yet while faced with uncertainty and anxiety, I found a crutch through the Miss Idaho Organization. In my third year competing as Miss Pocatello, I finally realized being Miss Idaho goes beyond the State competition. Simply put, being a local titleholder prepared me for the job of being Miss Idaho.

Looking back, though being a local titleholder did not prepare me for 4am wake up calls or hours of traveling in a car, it did prepare me to be the kind of person who is excited to wake up before the sun does and spend hours driving to an appearance knowing that I am making an impact. By being a local titleholder or Miss Idaho, I know I may not be able to change the world, but I can change someone’s world just like this organization has changed my own. I no longer look at service as a task I must complete. Rather, it is an opportunity I want to experience, an opportunity to share joy, hope, creativity, and strength.

This entire chapter of my life can be summed up as one incredible life changing experience. I started to compete because I liked winning, and pageants were the jet fuel to my competitive engine. Over time, winning meant more than just receiving awards or recognition for I found true success in the form of self-betterment. Every local competition I entered, every local title I lost, and every friendship I formed at Miss Idaho made me more successful. While I did not “win” every moment in my Miss Idaho experience, I won the battle that matters most: the battle within. Today I can say that I am compassionate, confident, thoughtful, determined, and resilient. Four years ago, I was none of those things. Four years from now, I know I will be all those qualities and more. I know I will be my best self, and I owe it all to the Miss America Organization.