I've been sharing my pageant story on the blog, and this is the final part of the story! I cannot thank you enough for sending me your emails, comments and thoughts on this! It's a journey I never expected to take, and it's been fun to share my experience with you; hopefully you'll find something in it that speaks truth to where you're at, regardless of whether or not you'll ever step foot on stage ;)
...and now, the moment you've all been waiting for!
I'd pretty much given up on the whole pageant thing, and life picked back up as usual...I was finishing classes, involved at work, and busy with life's routine. Deep down I wondered if I'd followed that path for a reason, hoping that the training wouldn't have been for nothing.
One day a friend sent me a book on giving, and as I was reading up about the author, it mentioned that his wife was a former pageant titleholder. Curious to find out little more about this system, I researched the pageant and found out that it was run in a completely different way than some of the others, and that there was one coming up in about 3 weeks. My first reaction was to get really excited, and to jump right in, but experience told me that I should probably take a step back and think about it first. After some prayer and consideration, I felt that it was a good idea to pursue, so I registered. This time, I wasn't naive to the process, so I chose to compete without a coach.
The preparation process began once again, although, different from the first. A visit to the hairstylist to get my hair back to it's natural color, a search for the evening gown, and rehearsing on my own time for the on-stage interview were scheduled in between work and other projects. Instead of an over-the-top bejeweled and feathered gown, mine was a simple piece, mermaid-style in a deep purple, adorned with only a diamond brooch. This time I was going to compete as myself, and regardless of how I did, I could walk away knowing I'd stayed true to who I was.
I awoke early the morning of the competition, a mix of excitement and a strange sense of total peace. After a morning rehearsal, I began to get ready in the hotel room, and started thinking about all the lessons I'd learned throughout this process...the training, the decisions, the experience of it all, and how much it had taught me about who I was and what mattered most. That training was paying off.
Hair and makeup were complete, and it was time to begin; I slipped into my first outfit, took a deep breath and made my way backstage. The lights came up and the music started, and each girl sauntered across the stage in perfect timing. Walk walk, twirl, pose...hand on hip, flash a smile. "This is fun! Good thing I've had all that training, I thought." I completed the modeling and on-stage interview, talking as myself, confident and poised. Finally it was time for the evening gown competition, and as I stepped onto the stage, I felt the strongest sense of joy, not because I was finally competing, or because I liked my dress, but because in that moment I truly felt beautiful in being me. I wasn't wearing hair extensions or some thousand dollar gown, but I realized in that moment that beauty isn't about having the outward image of perfection, but rather finding that confidence within, and radiating it on the outside. The music slowed, the lights shined, and the shimmering purple fabric trailed behind me as I swept across the stage with a genuine smile upon my face. "Yes! Totally nailed it. Regardless of what happens now, I can walk away happy with how things turned out."
The judges took a moment to send in their scores, and after a brief intermission, it was time for the crowning moment. What a sight it must have been to see a stage filled with girls in glittering gowns of all colors and styles, each waiting in anticipation to hear their name called. We waited for what seemed like forever, but finally the finalists were called and congratulated...and then they announced, "And your new Miss Liberty is...Candice!" I had won! The former titleholder slipped the sash around me, and pinned the crown to my head. Grasping the flower bouquet, I took my first steps as the new winner, and waved to the audience while cameras flashed across the room. What a journey! I couldn't believe that it was actually happening, and that the scenario I'd replayed over and over in my mind was a reality. Perhaps the circumstances were somewhat different than first imagined, but at this point, that didn't matter anymore.
My family and I celebrated together after the photos finished, and as I made my way backstage to collect my things, two of the judges approached me. "I just wanted to tell you how impressed we were with you. Fabulous job tonight!" 'Oh thank you!, I replied' "We really loved how your personality and true beauty were so evident. We see a lot of girls in beautiful gowns that look like the dress is wearing them, but you were different; what we saw was the beautiful girl wearing the dress, and that is what made it a unanimous decision, you were so poised, intelligent, confident and lovely. I just wanted to congratulate you again." I thanked them once again, their words meaning far more to me than they even knew. "How interesting, I thought, that when I decided to compete as myself, not as a Barbie doll of a person that conformed to be like someone else, that's when I felt most beautiful, and won." You see, I learned that true beauty causes others to take notice because it's not what's on the outside that counts, but rather, what is radiating from within. I looked at that girl behind the mirror when I returned to my hotel room that evening, and this time, Candice smiled back at me.