Former beauty queen and current Glitter Guide contributor, Brittany Viklund, is here today with an inside look at some of her experiences while competing in pageants.
I was 18 when I competed and won my very first “beauty queen” title, Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005. I had never even watched a pageant on TV before that moment. As a senior in high school, I experienced what lives below the sparkly tiara and what beauty queens are actually up to in their day-to-day lives. I loved it, all of it. Traveling across the state and interacting with people, fundraising for various charities and discovering so much about myself along the way. I loved it so much that when I was 23, a recent college graduate and pre-K teacher living in rural New Mexico through my work with Teach For America, I decided I wanted to compete again, and ultimately claimed the title of Miss New Mexico USA 2011. When I competed at Miss Teen USA, I landed a spot in the top 10 and at Miss USA, I was selected via the public to be in the Miss USA 2011 top 16. Through all of this, I learned a lot about women, about myself and also gained skills that would carry over into all of my life’s aspirations. I am now seven years removed from my pageant days, and yet who I am today still has veins that connect to my experiences as a beauty queen. These are my confessions.
I didn’t always think that anyone could be a beauty queen, but now I know, all women are beauty queens. I competed alongside doctors, entrepreneurs, students, writers, world-renowned video game competitors (for real, and she was awesome!), actresses and models, estheticians, social workers, real estate agents, nurses, biologists, athletes, other teachers just like myself and so many other women doing remarkable things with their talents and hearts. A beauty queen is a modern woman, with a personal goal for herself just like anyone else. The dentist who is also training for a marathon is no different from the small-business owner competing for Miss USA: They both have their minds set on personal growth and working toward a goal that they believe will bring their best self forward.
I let a group of 4 year olds choose the color of my evening gown. Like anything, there is always more than meets the eye. If you were to see me in my evening gown at Miss USA, you would see long flowing blond extensions, a big wide smile and sparkly earrings dangling to my collarbone. What was not so apparent? The color of my evening gown was chosen by my pre-K students when I taught them a math lesson about graphing; my most-treasured accessory was the writing on my sash that read “New Mexico” because I have never known a place I loved more; and I was absolutely TERRIFIED of slipping on the bottom of my sheer mermaid-flair evening gown, so every step where I didn’t fall face-first felt like the greatest victory of my life in that moment. We all offer so much more than what we think we see in one another, we all have many more depths, even beauty queens.
I firmly believe that any goal a woman has is worthy of my support. Just because one woman may not dream about being a “beauty queen,” that doesn’t make it any less real of a goal for another woman. I love this quote from Ani DiFranco “My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it’s very open-ended: Every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.” I have received a lot of flak from other women, which has been disheartening at times, but it has strengthened my understanding that every women deserves to be supported in whatever goal she sets out to achieve and that my role as a fellow female is to encourage that.
I really do want world peace, just like everyone else. There is a lot of humor around this stereotype, and while I do enjoy it, there is also so much truth to it. The women I met through the pageant circuit were normal, kind-hearted people who wanted to leave their mark and make the world a brighter place (as corny as that sounds). Many of the women who find themselves competing for a title are doing so to expand their voice. They want to connect with people, share their stories of overcoming adversity, raise money in profound ways for charities they care deeply about and show the next generation of girls how they too can make any of their dreams a reality. They just so happen to like getting dressed up, too.
I spent the majority of my preparation energy focused on nailing the interview, but I also used butt glue to keep my bikini bottoms in place. From butt glue to pushing oneself to formulate a concise answer to the question, “What do you believe can help level the playing field for women today?”—pageant gals have a knack for ensuring they are set up to be their best selves in any situation (the butt glue just makes sure we have nothing to worry about beyond exuding self-love and confidence).
The sisterhood runs DEEP. Writing this comes on the coattails of returning from one of my best friend’s funerals. She was in my wedding, she was a mother, a nurse, a role model and she was also Miss New Mexico USA 2002. I gathered to celebrate her life with several other pageant sisters who knew and adored her too, and it reaffirmed that all of this is more than a crown; it’s a deeply rooted sisterhood. You might think (rightfully so) that because we compete together, we are in competition with one another, but the opposite is actually true. Because we share these experiences, we share something unique. No matter where our individual lives take us, I feel an automatic connection to a newly crowned beauty queen just beginning her journey or to a former beauty queen in her 50s. We have walked through experiences that changed our lives in ways we anticipated, but also in ways we didn’t expect.
I no longer own a single sequined item. I may have once existed in only sparkle, satin and a push-up bra, but now, on any given day, you can find me in leggings, a worn-in Glossier sweatshirt, a sports bra and whatever my two babies ate for lunch that day smeared somewhere on my shoulder. I’m still the same person I was in all that sparkle, maybe with a bit more sense-of-self. And I still want world peace.
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Brittany is a lover of routines, books, simple joys and anything creative. With a degree in marketing and advertising, she worked in early childhood education for 7 years before pursuing her creative work full-time as an illustrator, blogger, photographer and becoming a mother.