Going into this journey, I knew that I wanted to remain 100% authentic and unapologetically myself. I promised myself that I would share this opportunity with my community and with the world, never hiding what it really means or what it takes to be a local titleholder. Here you go, the truth behind the crown.
Now, I’ve only been involved with this organization for three years, so I’m no expert on the whole pageant thing. However, my year as a titleholder has taught me a lot. Self-worth, sisterhood, responsibility, respectability, selflessness, personal branding, marketability, perseverance, the list goes on.
Before I go on, it took me quite some time to finally capture a local title and it definitely was not an easy process. In fact, I wrote about my journey up until the crown in a previous article, “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” (there’s my little sales pitch, now go read it before continuing). Moving on…
Our society is obsessed with instant gratification. If we can’t get something quickly, it’s not worth fighting for at all. At least, that’s what it seems like. There are countless methods pitched to us every single day about how we can become rich and famous, skinny, happy, healthy, successful, etc overnight.
I hate to break it to you, but success rarely comes immediately.
During my two years of competing before being Miss Northern Lights, I walked away without a title five times, not even a runner-up. I spent two and a half years pouring everything I had into each competition but still seemed to always fall short. I was frustrated with myself, honestly. However, I realize now that the previous five times were not for me and I had to know that there was a better opportunity that God had planned for me ahead. I am grateful to have had a tough journey because I think it made me appreciate this opportunity even more.
On January 16th, 2016, I learned that delayed gratification is a beautiful lesson. Before this day, I had only a small idea of what this journey would entail. I knew I would be able to compete for the title of Miss Wisconsin, I knew I would commit to a year of service to the community, I knew about the scholarships. What I didn’t know was how many doors would be opened through this opportunity; the kinds of people I would meet. I had no idea that a handful of rhinestones on your head can make your voice 10 times louder.
Rewind to the beginning of last year…
Immediately after the pageant, Katie (my fabulous director) and I met frequently to discuss my goals for the year and how we could start preparing for Miss Wisconsin. At this point, the main priority was to improve EVERYTHING. My paperwork and resume, my platform, my wardrobe, my talent routine, stage presence, knowledge of current events, speaking skills, and interviewing. Most of my time during the first 4-5 months as Miss Northern Lights was preparing to be Miss Wisconsin.
At the same time, I had to start working on my goals as just Jessica. Building onto my platform, starting and marketing my own GEMS program, scheduling appearances, planning events with local officials, and raising money for Children’s Miracle Network (the Miss America Organization’s national platform).
Most people don’t see this part at all, which is why I believe there is such a big misconception about pageant girls. The public only sees the final product of the hard work and preparation, so it’s easy to think that it must only take a pretty face and a pretty penny to pull off the job.
A big part of my mission was to break those stereotypes and misconceptions, which was quite the challenge as one of the only girls in the history of my hometown to ever hold a local Miss America title. Sometimes, people don’t understand and make remarks or simply view you as an airhead Barbie doll, but that’s when you have to step up and do your job. You are not a “beauty queen,” you are an intelligent, confident advocate for the organization, yourself, and your platform.
Quite honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I correct people on the true job of a titleholder in the Miss America Organization.
“So you just have to be skinniest and prettiest one and you win?”
“You basically just sign up, pay money, and they give you a crown, right?”
“You just get to be in parades and stuff.”
No, no, and no. Definitely not. All wrong.
Believe me, when I signed up for my first pageant, part of me thought that if I could fit those molds, it might be that easy. Boy, was I wrong. The more I immersed myself in the organization and what it REALLY is, I learned that it is not an easy job if you want to do it well.
Sometimes people just won’t understand you and won’t care to. Some people will see you at an appearance and only see the crown, but won’t listen to what you have to say. Some people are just stuck on the pageant stereotype (but of course, do your best to change that).
As a representative for a large community, like the central Wisconsin region, you meet a wide variety of people. Sometimes, you will be speaking to a kindergarten class, sometimes you will be performing for residents in a nursing home, and sometimes you’ll be presenting to a Kiwanis Club. The common denominator is always you. Most of the time, people are just eager and excited to see you and know that you took the time out of your day to attend their event. THAT is one of the best parts of the job…feeling appreciated.
Aside from Miss Wisconsin preparation at the beginning, I was getting more involved in the community throughout the year. I sent emails and made phone calls to introduce myself to local organizations, speak to them about my mission, ask for support, or help out at local events.
I had to be independent, responsible, and organized as I scheduled my own appearances. I had to be prepared and professional every time. As a titleholder, first impressions are everything! At each appearance, there were new people who come up to shake my hand and ask what I do. Often enough, this is the only time you will ever meet that person or speak to them, so you have to make an impact every time.
This adds a lot of pressure! People have expectations before they even meet you, so you always have to do your best to exceed those expectations and be the best example and role model during the time you have.
The year is full of many high points, but in the lows of the year (and there are some), it can feel like all the work you are doing is not enough. There have been a handful of times when I asked myself, “Is this worth it?” Sometimes it feels like you are not making the big impact that you hoped to make. As I reflected on this opportunity, I had to remember something… If I can inspire just one person this year, I’ve done my job. You can’t change the whole world in a year, but you can be the fire that sparks change.
At the beginning of the year when I made my list of goals, I wanted to tackle every single one of them by the time I passed on the title. Truth is, I didn’t reach all my goals during the time I had. Another thing I had to remember was that at the end of my year as Miss Northern Lights 2016, I can continue to pursue my unfinished goals.
I can still plan service projects, I can still host GEMS workshops, I can still be a role model. The only difference is that I don’t have rhinestones on my head. Who said you have to wear a crown to make a difference? You’re still the same person, right? Absolutely.
I think this was a pretty humbling realization. Actually, the entire year is full of humbling realizations. The little moments are the ones that make the hard work worth it. Standing next to your MAO sisters and feeling nothing but love and support for each other; connecting with business professionals, directors, and judges who push you to be your best, on and off the stage; noticing the admirable peeks of little eyes at an appearance; meeting the miracle kids you collect CMN donations for. It all comes together. Everything you are working hard for IS worth it. The lessons learned, connections made, and the skills gained truly do stay with you even after it’s all said and done.
A girl did an interview with me recently for her English class and asked, “What is your advice to people who might want to start competing in pageants?”
I say, keep yourself grounded. I don’t care if you contacted 100 people to raise your CMN donations or if your evening gown was paid for by your parents. Remember where you come from and who helped you get to where you are today, because you did not do this on your own. STAY HUMBLE.
I also say that perseverance is a beautiful thing. Keep pushing to be your best, stay focused on the goal at hand, and recognize how to improve. BE ACTIVE in your personal development and never be afraid to reach out to those who can help you. You never know when your time might just be around the corner.
This is a job that requires public attention, but you can never let it get to your head. If you are doing this for the right reasons, this opportunity should mean much more than a sparkly crown and waving in parades.
There is ALWAYS something to improve on. If you can’t think of anything you need to work on to be better, let’s go back to the “humble” point.
During the days when you’re burnt out and tired of planning and preparing, remember why you do this. Remember your passion, your dedication to your platform, and the commitment you made to serve your community.
It’s not about “winning” or “beating the competition” and many girls often see it that way, myself included at the beginning. You’re only competing against your own scores. Focus on being the best version of YOU, not someone else.
Remember that your job is to serve. You are NOT above anyone just because you have a crown on. I always remind myself that the crown will capture peoples’ attention, but your passion, hard work, and your voice is what will capture peoples’ hearts.
Being Miss Northern Lights was the greatest privilege. I keep my crown and sash on my desk as a reminder of the very special moments held with them. All the little hugs, firm handshakes, tears of frustration and of happiness, and smiles of gratitude and honor. Today, I’m back at square one competing for other local titles for another incredible opportunity in the Miss America Organization. There’s still a lot of work to be done and improvements to be made, but I will do everything to better myself before passing my hard work onto God’s hands. I am not guaranteed a spot on the Miss Wisconsin stage again next summer, but I CAN guarantee that this experience has changed me for the better. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I am changed.