I remember as a little girl watching the Miss America Pageant with my grandmother every year. We would get dressed up in our “ball gowns” and her fur coats. We’d put out mini cakes and a full tea party. She and I would “ooh” and “aah” over the beautiful gowns and lovely hairdos. We admired their talents. We even discussed the intelligent responses to the questions posed. My grandmother would comment on how well-rounded these young ladies were and how I could grow up to be like any one of them.

Flash forward 30 years. One night, I stumbled across the infamous 2015 Miss Universe. I reminisced for a moment and thought of my grandmother. I quickly realized that she would be appalled by the swimsuit competition. Moreover, the only categories highlighted in the 2 hour program was swimsuit and ball gown. So, the message conveyed is no longer, “well rounded, intelligent, talented women are vital to our society.” It is this: “Looks are everything. A perfect body is everything.” Not to mention, it’s very clear that all of these lean, thin bodies are in competition with each other.

My 3 year old daughter saw only a few minutes of the evening gown portion. Rather than admiring the beautiful dresses, she immediately ran to my closet, brought out my highest heels and began swinging her hips as she pranced around the house. While she was absolutely adorable and innocent, my insides began to scream!!! NOOOOO! She should NOT be parading around like a little sexpot! I don’t want her to compare herself to anyone! Certainly not the ultra thin, “perfect” bodies that are half naked (even in ball gowns) on TV. I want her to be her own kind of beautiful.

The other thing I noticed during the show was that although it was called “Miss Universe,” international diversity was NOT shown or embraced. While all of the women were beautiful, they all sort of looked the same… Westernized Barbies. And of course there was no variety of body type. Background, talent, and intelligence were not even mentioned.

Now, let me share with you my personal experience… I once competed in a local level of Miss America. I was 19 at the time and hopeful to receive a small scholarship for college. At the time, I aspired to be a music teacher. I had not been in any pageants previously. So I was probably far too naive to be “competing.” The “experienced” pageant girls had fake hair,  gel bra inserts, fake teeth, eating disorders, and spent endless hours in the gym. I was on an unfair playing ground.

It was a valuable experience. But one that was painful. As a size 8, I was made to feel like the “fat one.” Although we were told that interview and talent counted for the majority of our score, it really came down to swimsuit. I was confident and poised, but I wore a one piece suit. And I didn’t win. I don’t share this experience as a sore loser. Rather as a cautionary tale. I remember feeling scrutinized for every jiggle, dimple and normalcy of my body. I might as well have been an animal on display at the zoo. A polar bear perhaps.

This experience led to years of body-shaming and comparison. The shouting voice in my head, “She looks better in a swimsuit than you do,” and “If you only had toned arms like her or a flat stomach like her…” In my mind I was constantly making a patchwork of “perfect” body parts to compare myself to. Thoughts like this have plagued me and so many others for years. About 5 minutes into watching the pageant, those voices were back with a vengeance, berating me for having flaws of any sort.

Pageants are gross. There are so many beautiful, strong, intelligent women who will never get on a stage, platform or runway. Rather than comparing ourselves to one another and feeling in competition with each other, we should embrace our differences and see the wonder and strength in diversity. God created each of us to be individuals not copy cats. He made us to compliment each other, not compete with one another. I’d rather seek unity than perfection.

This is why my daughter (and son) will not be allowed to watch pageants ever again. The fake, cookie cutter idea of perfect is not reality. That ideal is not who we should be comparing ourselves to and it’s certainly not the standard our Creator uses. We are so much more than something pretty to prance on a stage for the world.

Don’t fall for the lie. Be more. See more.

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