Pageants are more than a beauty contest

IRVINE, CA-I don’t know what it’s like to be a size 3 and worry about my weight. I don’t have a clue how clumsy at times it could be for a 5-foot-9, 12-year-old girl to walk around school almost a foot taller than her class peers.

I will probably never get all the fussing my daughter does about little things that affect her skin. Sometimes because of her height  and skin blemishes my daughter quietly battles self-esteem issues.

She scrambles about her room at times to find the right clothes to wear. This is not unusual. Like a lot of girls and young women, feeling good about herself is an antidote towards success for my princess. That formula is a recipe that even beauty pageants contestants adhere to.   

As  I canvased about the Hilton Irvine/Orange County Airport Hotel in Irvine, California, a marathon flurry of makeup, revised hairdos and eloquent evening gowns was in action. Looking good dominated the scene at the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant.

Rushing in and out of the dressing room unto the stage or into a private room for a photo shoot, it was a mad dash for a moment of peer acceptance for these young ladies. To them, the perceived artificial layer of a beauty pageant such as the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant, is actually the right dose of confidence buildup and a self-esteem solution.    

Twenty-seven-year-old beauty Maricris Lapaix, who took home the crown as the 2017 Miss Orange County California Pageant winner, said  beauty pageants in general gives women something to be self-assured about. 

Maricris Lapaix is full of emotion after being named the 2017 Miss Orange County California Pageant winner on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline
Maricris Lapaix is full of emotion after being named the 2017 Miss Orange County California Pageant winner on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“I’m an athlete and I’m very competitive,” said Lapaix. “I wanted the opportunity to compete in nice gowns and swimsuits. It really is a big confidence-builder because I think girls probably compare themselves to others. So every time I go into competition, I sort of challenge myself to focus on what I’m bringing to the table and being happy with who I am.”                    

But to a lot of people, beauty pageants are just a bunch of pomp and circumstance. Some see it as an exercise in the superficial, a glamour ritual taken right out of a fairy tale book. Contestants participating in the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant defy that logic.

Beauty pageants are an inward struggle for survival for some. For others, it’s a punctuation of achievement.  Their backgrounds are all different. Some are high school students. Some are riding the crest of getting a college education. Business owners are in the flow. Entrepreneurs do their thing on the runway.

There’s a lot more to this beauty pageant thing than looking cute. Sure, that is the main attraction to these events. But when the lights go down, when the crowd stops clapping, when the pats on the back disappear, who is there for that young woman who doesn’t believe in herself and wrestles constantly with her self-appointed battle of the bulge?

Who whispers into the ear of the individual suffering from depression? Who is in the corner speaking life to the woman overcoming a disability? Five things stood out to me as I attended and covered the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant.

Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant participant Jackie Perez says confidence comes from within. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline
Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant participant Jackie Perez says confidence comes from within. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Confidence. Inspiration. Leadership. Entrepreneurship. Charity. These attributes are why beauty pageants are alive.

For anyone thinking beauty pageants are nothing more than a dog-and-pony show of sexism and chauvinistic ideology, I would suggest to you to please sit down and have a conversation with a contestant or two.

If you do, you’ll find that there is a whole more to these young ladies than strutting the runway in evening gowns and hitting the stage in bikini swimsuits. What you’ll discover is a treasure trove of strong, idealistic achievers.

For Garden Grove, California resident Karla Betancourt, the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant gives her the chance to pursue a lifelong dream.

“I’ve always wanted to be a model. I’ve always wanted to be Miss Universe,” Betancourt said.

Beauty pageants have been a topic of debate for years. Many people see them as public nuances, nothing more than a shade back to the era when women’s rights were widely thought to be constricted to just the bedroom, the kitchen and domestic catering.

On the flip side of that coin, others view beauty pageants as as a liberating avenue for young women looking to make their mark on the world. It is a platform where they don’t have to worry about having their voices being muted.

Sitting and listening to some of the Miss Orange County/Miss Orange County Teen California Pageant contestants share their passion about their charity work and what they’ve had to overcome to be where they are today, is enough to make you want to run through a brick wall.

These are not individuals sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. They are motivators. They are educators. They are the now and the go-getters of the future. Jackie Perez is one of them. She has participated in more than a handful of beauty pageants. Win or lose, Perez says her confidence in this arena comes from within.

“It comes from within yourself,” Perez said. “You don’t always win, so you kind of have to be within yourself to pick yourself up and and build that confidence because if you believe it, then everyone else will believe it.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1076 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.