For the non-pageant aficionado reading this, let me explain. For over 72 years, the Miss USA pageant has been an incredible outlet for women to refine their skills and capitalize on opportunities to propel them forward in life. However, this opportunity was never open to married women. For years, women with their eyes on the Miss USA stage put engagements and marriages on hold in order to live their dreams and seize the opportunity of competing on the big stage. I found myself in this very position in April 2022. I was at a fork in the road: marriage or pageants?
My Pageant Journey
Almost 30 years ago, my mom stood in the top three at Miss USA. Little did she know that this would not only impact her life, but it would transform her future daughter’s life. My mom was my initial inspiration for jumping into the pageant world because being Miss North Carolina USA brought her exceptional opportunities. It launched her career in television news. It catapulted her into the National Speakers Association. It provided her with a vast network of successful women.
I decided I wanted to have those same opportunities, so I competed in my first pageant at age 16. I placed in the top five, and from then on, I was hooked. Not only was I mesmerized by the glamor of the pageant world, but I was intrigued by the significant personal growth that comes with preparing for the competition.
If toddlers and tiaras are your first thought when you hear the word pageant, think again. Think Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, Hannah Brown, Demi-Leigh Tebow, and Olivia Culpo. What do all of these women have in common? They competed in pageants. For these women and many alike, the pageant industry is a launching pad for careers in the entertainment and media industries. Not only did their connections and exposure help them start their careers, but the skills they learned sustained them.
If you’ve seen the chick-flick Miss Congeniality, you may have developed a certain perception of pageants. While there are some accurate depictions of the pageant world in this heart-warming comedy, it’s important to note what can be gained from preparing for and competing in a pageant. I have learned how to sell myself, how to carry myself with poise and presence, how to do my makeup, how to dress, how to compete, how to be friends with competitors, how to maintain a physically fit body in a healthy way, how to be an effective communicator, how to speak on controversial topics, how to connect with people, how to serve my community, how to promote myself on social media, how to win with humility, and how to fail with grace. In short, I learned how to embrace my femininity. Pageants are a microcosm of the real world, and that is why so many women leave the pageant world better equipped for their lives.
How a Changed Rule Changed My Life
Fast forward through seven years of competing, and I had just placed third runner-up at the 2022 Miss Maine USA pageant. A few weeks later, my then-boyfriend proposed. Was I going to compete for Miss Maine USA one more time with hopes of making it to Miss USA or move forward with wedding planning? We came to an agreement: We would set a wedding date, and I would compete one more time. If I won the pageant, we would move our wedding, since being married during my reign would not be allowed.
But to our surprise, the stars aligned. In the summer of 2022, the Miss Universe Organization incited a major rule change that now allowed married women and mothers to compete in the Miss Universe Organization, which included Miss USA and its state pageants. This meant if I won the Miss Maine USA 2023 pageant that fall, I could still get married during my reign.
I won Miss Maine USA on November 20, 2022. I got married on April 29, 2023, and I competed at Miss USA in September 2023 as the first married woman in history. Since becoming Miss Maine USA, I have had some remarkable opportunities. Aside from competing at Miss USA, I have worked events across New England, appeared at an NBA game, spent the day at a former president’s home, modeled for a major fashion brand at the Atlanta Apparel Market, delivered educational presentations about Alzheimer’s Disease, emceed special events, lobbied for Alzheimer’s Disease funding and research on Capitol Hill, and spoke to groups of young people about what it means to live impactful and purposeful lives.
Take Your Pick: Career Woman or Married Woman
This may seem insignificant or frivolous to someone uninterested in pageants, but really it speaks to something much greater. It is said that women are now choosing to marry later because their twenties are filled with pursuits like higher education and careers. It’s wonderful that women are working toward their goals, but what does that have to do with marriage? Are they mutually exclusive? Our culture leads us to believe that marriage might inhibit women from those pursuits, but I have found that to be false.
While pursuing two graduate degrees and being Miss Maine USA, I married my husband. Marrying him has enriched me in the most impactful ways. There is a newfound confidence that comes from committing to a lifelong partner. His support and unconditional love have made me a better woman in all facets of my life. Waking up every day knowing you have a responsibility to serve and care for another person breeds purpose, fulfillment, and maturity. Am I saying that women need to get married to be successful? No. I am saying that there are many women like me who want to do both. We want to pursue the callings in our lives, and we want to marry the people we love.
While this rule change has driven business to the pageant as more women are eligible to compete, I am not sure if the Miss USA organization and staff are looking for a national representative like me. I did not advance into the group of top 20 semi-finalists on the final night of the competition. Even though they were not interested in utilizing someone like me, I hope my story might encourage women with similar desires. Don’t believe the lie that you must wait to achieve certain dreams before you get married. If anything, marriage has only made my dreams grow bigger.
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