Monday, August 17, 2015

"We Rise By Lifting Others"

       One week from today I leave for my senior year at High Point University.  As each season comes to a close, I find myself reminiscing on how my life has changed since the one before.  Yes, summer is ending (admitting it is the first step), but with summer’s end brings a new pageant season.  As we move closer and closer to completing our Miss New Jersey Class of 2016, I am reminded of how brilliant each girl truly is.  I have attended all but one local thus far, and am lucky to witness girls’ dreams coming true.  And the girls whose dreams have not yet come to fruition (I say YET because I am positive they will quite soon) are making such leaps and bounds of self-improvement and growth.  Isn’t that why we all compete in the Miss America Organization?  The person I was before I began competing is not the person I am today.  I hope that each contestant who enters the MAO comes out better for her experience. 

       The reason I am rambling on about how amazing my fellow contestants are is because it has come to my attention that they are not getting this kind of recognition elsewhere in the cybersphere.  For many years I have known about the dark Internet abyss known as “the boards.”  If you are aware of them, please, by all means, stay away!  If you have been lucky enough to remain unaware of their presence, here’s an overview: “the boards” are an online forum wherein anyone can anonymously share their opinions and have a discussion about a certain message board’s topic of interest.  There are message boards devoted to pageantry where people talk about contestants, pageants, and anything having to do with the “pageant world.”
       If this is the first you are hearing of the pageant message boards, you may think “what a lovely idea, we can all support the girls and give each other updates!”  At least, that’s what I first thought.  I assume that this was the original intention- to share news such as where a pageant is being held and who is competing or to mention how awesome girls are doing.  Maybe I’m being naive.  Whatever the original intention of the boards, they have become a place for petty gossip and downright hate.  When I was crowned Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen, I heard mention of the boards and as a curious 15 year-old, decided to check them out.  What I read were comments that attacked my physical appearance and questioned why I won the pageant.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that people would say such nasty things about a girl 15 years old, and I don’t think I will ever truly understand the mindset of people who anonymously spread hate through the internet. 
This picture is from the night I was crowned Miss NJOT in 2009- I was ridiculed online for my bangs amongst other things. After reading those comments, I stopped wearing my bangs down and would always wonder what people thought of how I looked.
These pictures are from the night I was crowned Miss Seashore Line last month.  It took me quite some time to realize that I didn't care what anyone said on the Internet or elsewhere- I wear my hair the way I want and feel comfortable in my own skin- just like EVERY girl, pageant contestant or not, should (bye, haters).

       No matter how beautiful, good-hearted, intelligent, and funny my pageant friends are, I am sure they have experienced similar occurrences.  Someone I have known since we were little girls tap dancing to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” also happens to be my fellow contestant.  She has shown such resilience and determination competing for local pageants.  Danielle Barger is a phenomenal tap dancer with a heart of gold.  She works hard to do what she loves and deserves every single “Miss Congeniality” title she wins (which is a lot!).  How can someone so loved by her fellow contestants be shown such hate from an anonymous Internet contributor? 

       A role model of mine, who I’m grateful to now call a dear friend, has been very open about her battle with body image and internet hate, otherwise known as cyber-bullying.  Anna Negron is a woman filled with more passion and love than I thought any person could carry.  The way she makes everyone in the room feel important is really quite beautiful.  So why does a person with such deep inner beauty have to face hateful comments about her outer appearance?  If Anna is changing the world with her charisma, philanthropy, and her unbelievable talent, who could find it in their heart to criticize her? 

       I’m not sure that there are viable answers to all of these questions.  I am sure, however, that bringing someone else down will not make you feel better about yourself.  Saying horrible things about another contestant will not make whichever contestant you prefer any more or less awesome (because I’m sure she’s awesome, too). 
       As we face a new pageant season, let us all remember to think before we speak, and just as importantly, think before we TYPE.  If your comment demeans anyone, it should not be made public.  This includes a comment meant to defend someone else- if your comment meant to make someone feel good reads, “You’re an amazing competitor and a genuine person- not like all the other fake girls” there is still a problem.  Next time, try “You’re an amazing competitor and a genuine person- and that’s all that matters!”  Let us remember that the Miss America Organization exists to empower women and to give women endless opportunity.  Let’s lift one another up without bringing anyone else down in the process and show that while “the boards” exist, they do not impact the love contestants have for each other and the good things they do for their communities. 

       I hope that as I continue competing in this organization, we can rise above the stereotype that pageants girls are bullies and that “the boards” will seize to criticize anyone who is mentioned.  Cyber-bullying is a problem that exists at all ages and affects people more profoundly than most realize.  I vow to try to make “A World of Difference” with my platform and to educate children about the dangers of the cybersphere.  Only when we realize just how insignificant others’ hateful comments are can we truly see how worthy we are of a life filled with courage and integrity.