A Pageant Dropout’s Guide to Love

I’m a Pageant Dropout.

By that, I mean – I competed in an international beauty pageant, and it was a disaster. It felt like the end of the world…but it wasn’t. My mistakes taught me a lot about love. So here’s what I learned the hard way, in the hopes that you don’t have to.

Like any doomed love affair, this one started with the best intentions.

On paper, it looked like just another casting call. I showed up at the gate, expecting to enter a studio and read a few lines. Instead, a maid buzzed me into a fancy mansion. It was filled with fine china, gilded chairs, and giant antique lamps that probably cost more than my college tuition. Before I knew it, I was sitting in front of a glamorous woman. She looked beautiful, rich. Famous. I wanted to know everything about her.

Instead, she wanted to know all about me.

I stumbled through the conversation, heart pounding like a middle school crush.

“You’re so interesting!” the woman said. “I’d love to have you.”

My heart glowed. Never mind that she was putting me in a beauty pageant I knew nothing about…there was an Emmy award on the desk behind her. This must be it.

I had never really liked pageants. In fact, I remember loathing them on a deep level for…pretty much my whole life. But this might be my only chance at a happy ending. Who was I to refuse?

There would be dozens of graceful bikini models competing for the crown. I was a nerdy, awkward comedian from Alaska. I was not pageant material, by any means. The odds were against me. But I would do anything to make the judges love me most.

I spent the next few months changing everything about myself. I changed what I ate, how I dressed, how I did my hair and makeup. I altered the way I spoke, moved, and laughed. I practically killed myself at the gym for 3+ hours a day, and consumed no more than a thousand calories daily. I became unrecognizable.

Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Mom’s Body Critiques Bum You Out

Not everyone is lucky to have a family that’s self-affirming in all the ways. Here’s why you should ignore their body image comments, so it doesn’t affect how you feel about yourself.

The insecurity is real. A UK study showed that 91% of women are unhappy with an aspect of their bodies. Things like Instagram, fashion ads, and the overall pervasive idea that the best thing a woman can be is beautiful, doesn’t help. We get enough crap from society about our body image, but what about when the comments come from the people we love most?

I have a mother who loves me and who has my best interest at heart, and I know this. My mom is also African, traditional, and has very clear-cut ideas about what is classically beautiful and what isn’t — and some of the ways I have fallen short of that.

Her intentions are never malicious, just honest. Maybe you too have too-honest folks, or extended family who won’t stop making snide remarks around the Thanksgiving table every year. If you find yourself getting overly frustrated with their tactlessness, here are some things to realize:

Their comments reflect more on their insecurities than yours.

your mother criticizing you is not about you

You could be totally fine with your cellulite, or spindly legs, or toneless arms. But when you have relatives that have similar features, they might not be so lucky. While grappling with their own missing body image, they shoot you down in the process.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had when I first buzzed my head in high school, a beauty decision my mom did not approve of. She said, verbatim, “Only really beautiful women can be beautiful without hair. But for average women like us, our hair is our beauty.”

This wasn’t an insult per se,. but we’d all hope our mothers, if no one else, to find us beautiful. Or at least I did. I was bummed to hear that my mom didn’t see herself as beautiful either, when she had always been beautiful to me.

Sometimes family is a reflection of our biggest worries. If you know you have that one aunt who hates her complexion while you love yours, don’t let her insecurities plant seeds in your head.

The era and place in which they grew up is different from yours

don't let your family criticize the way you look

The ultimate proof of female beauty’s subjectivity is how it changes with every generation. Over the past 100 years in the United States, Americans have gone from praising a thin, boyish figure (1920s), a plump, intensely hourglass figure (1950s) to big boobs, big butts and a thigh gap (now). And that’s only within the the Western world.

If you have family who grew up with a different culture, their views of what’s beautiful may be even more skewed.

In West Africa they like their women with curves. They like their women with ample hips and thighs. Solidly built. Well, that’s not my body at all. I am thin with a narrow figure, and I have almost always been.

A trip to the motherland isn’t complete without the obligatory comments about how I need to gain weight, and that maybe it’ll help mbe get a boyfriend if I eat more.

I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy; in the Western world being thin is a beauty privilege. I don’t have job offers rescinded, or have to worry about finding places that carry my size, or being berated by randoms on the street about my body. But I also believe that if you can’t say something nice about someone’s body image, no matter their size, then you shouldn’t say anything.

Understanding that your family’s beauty standards can differ due generational and cultural gaps is something that can take the sting from comments that make you self- conscious.

Their comments may reflect their own upbringing

your mother criticizing your looks isn't about you

People model their behavior after what they learned early on. The family you were raised with is your introduction to socialization. And unfortunately, not everyone grows up hearing sentiments that are bathed in sweetness.

While my parents are not cruel, they are honest in the only way they know how to be. I don’t fault them for it. But I know that I also have the ability to say, “You can feel however you want about my ____, but I like it just fine.” That shuts unyielding commenters up pretty quickly.

You are the number one person in charge of how you feel about yourself. Just because people love you, doesn’t always mean they know how to show it in soft ways.

For some, honesty is love. If you’re around family members who put you down so much that your mental health plummets, stay as far away from those folks as possible. Family can be toxic, too.

If you liked this article, try reading…: How Burlesque Let Me Claim My Body Image, I’m Embracing Vanity. Here’s Why You Should Too, or WHY Do You Weigh Yourself?

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