Today we have guest blogger, Candice Cruz, talking all things pageantry! This is a world I have no idea about so
In the spirit of the newly crowned Miss America and pageant season back in full swing, I am honored to be to doing a guest blog post about my life and time in the world of pageantry.
FULL disclaimer: it’s not what you expect.
First off: No, I wasn’t a child in pageants (no Toddlers and Tiaras here). No, I don’t always like the way I look or feel “skinny” or “in shape” enough. No, not all pageant girls are mean or vindictive…quite the opposite actually. Majority of the women you meet are some of the most genuine, intelligent, driven women you will ever encounter. We are not all about shameless self-promotion. We don’t always have our hair and makeup fully done. I don’t just show up at town parades and ribbon cuttings. I am not blonde, 5’10” with perfect hair, skin and an immaculate wardrobe. Yes, I do know where the United States is on a map.
I am constantly met with questions or statements like “You’re in pageants? Like Toddlers & Tiaras?”, “I’ve always heard the girls are dumb and mean… Has anyone ever cut your dress?”, “You’re short though…” “You don’t seem like a pageant girl.” (And what does that look like exactly?) “What’s your talent?”
And who can leave out the infamous “Why do you do pageants? I just don’t understand why you would want to be subjected to walking around in a little bikini and be judged…”
Regardless of how you feel about pageants, I cannot change the way the media portrays a lot of the pageant industry or how you perceive us. What I can say is, I guarantee many of the influential women you look up to in the media and professional positions did a pageant (or many!) in their lifetime.
Just to name a few:
Kathie Lee Gifford
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s rewind about 7.5 years and it will bring you back to my senior year in high school, standing on our football field, waiting for the announcement of who will be Homecoming Queen. To be honest, I don’t remember anything that was announced until I vaguely remember hearing my name!
To give you a little more context about me, I had never won anything like this EVER before. I was always the talkative, overachieving, smart girl involved in everything, but never in a million years did I think I would win the title of “queen,” let alone be voted for this by my peers. It honestly changed the course of my life.
That one little “title” in high school led to one of my favorite teachers in high school telling me I had the opportunity to compete in a scholarship pageant called “Miss America’s Homecoming Queen.”
Fast forward (are you still following this timeline?) and I was named first- runner-up to Miss Kentucky’s Homecoming Queen. I was ecstatic. The winner came up to me afterwards and said, “you were really good at this, you should try competing in pageants.” At the exact same moment, the winner’s mother went up to my mother and said, “she’s really good at this, you guys should try to do pageants.”
Next thing I know, I convinced my mom to let me enter in county fair pageants during the summer in between my senior year of high school and my freshman year at the University of Kentucky. That year, we used my prom gown and my coveted JOVANI gown I saved up to wear for Miss KY’s Homecoming Queen, found me a nice black shift dress for interviews and a discounted lime green one piece bathing suit (as is custom for KY county fair pageants). My mom and I traveled all over the state entering in any pageant I could. That summer I walked away with more 1st runner up titles than I could have imagined.
I officially had the pageant bug.
The adrenaline rush that you get when you are on stage and the dedication you put into being the best version of yourself is intoxicating.
That fall I looked high and low for different pageant systems to get involved in when I stumbled upon Miss Teen Kentucky United States. I quickly submitted my application and waited.
Come January 2010, I received an email saying they cancelled that year’s pageant, however, after going through that year’s applicants they felt I would be the best fit to represent the state at the national pageant.
Next thing I know, that July I was on a plane to Vegas to compete for the title of Miss Teen United States. I was excited, overwhelmed, nervous, and everything in between. I had never been to an official state pageant, let alone a national one
I worked tirelessly with my first pageant coach leading up to the big competition in everything from interview, to wardrobe, to how I walked for every element of competition (there are very different walks for interview vs. intro vs. swimsuit vs. gown), to the dreaded on-stage question, to how to present myself when not on stage.
On July 14, 2010, I was crowned Miss Teen United States 2010 in Las Vegas.
And here we are, September 11, 2017 and I am still competing pageants. Why you may ask (isn’t that the whole point to this LONG blog post!?)? I truly believe it has everything to do with that intoxicating and invigorating adrenaline rush I spoke about at the beginning of this… and so much more.
Since that fateful day on that football field back in Kentucky to taking the stage in Vegas, I have been in over 40+ pageants including Miss Kentucky America, Miss Kentucky USA and Miss California USA. And all the while in between I have made some lifelong friendships, gone to watch my best friend compete for Miss America, supported a friend at Miss USA, watched countless incredible women get their crowning moment, moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams of being an actress and host.
Just last night, a beautiful friend of mine was crowned Miss Montana USA after chasing the crown for 7 YEARS! That is dedication!
If there is one thing for certain, pageant girls have more dedication and tenacity than one could imagine. We’re not just chasing after the crown, we are chasing after the best possible versions of ourselves.
Ultimately, it isn’t about the sparkly hat (which it is a nice bonus!), it’s about what you do with it and what you do with your opportunity. It makes all those long nights and early mornings in the gym, working two jobs to support your passion, long hours in the car driving to charity events and sponsorship meetings, paperwork, coaching sessions, and money worth it.
I am the person I am today because of pageantry. It isn’t always glitter and big hair, but it is a lesson about myself. What am I willing to put myself through to reach my ultimate goal? What criticisms and misunderstandings can I endure in order to continue doing what I love? When is it time to let go, realize that pageants are one aspect of my life, and trust that all of the incredible lessons I have learned along the way will withstand time without physically being on stage?
Because the reality is, there is a time limit on competing and my clock is ticking. What an incredible journey it has been and I am not quite done yet.
As I watched the beautiful Cara Mund from North Dakota get her moment on that stage, I cried like a baby. I don’t know this woman, but what I do know about her is that she is strong, intelligent, persevering, beautiful inside and out, philanthropic, well spoken and just had her dream come true!
So long story not so short…what is it like competing in pageants and how does it influence my life? It is one of the most challenging and most beautiful things I have had the opportunity to be a part of. The world of pageantry can be HARD (for multiple reasons), but when you really, truly find your group of women, your tribe, it is what pageants are truly about: women supporting women.
This is my story. I’m nowhere near saying that pageants are always easy or fun or positive, but I choose to look at the personal journey I have had over the last 8 years and who I am today because of it.
So, to everyone who has been on my journey OR read this entirely long-winded guest blog post, THANK YOU! This is not the last of what I have to say or the end of my journey… I’m just getting started.