A Pageant Contestant in Notts

Illustrations: Evie Warren
Thursday 11 May 2023
reading time: min, words

Forget what you think you know about pageants - our Pageant Contestant in Notts is here to tell you they’re not all they seem… 


I grew up as a relatively shy, uncompetitive child from County Durham - before moving to Nottingham for university. In many ways, I was the last person you would guess would go on to compete in pageants. Nonetheless, I fell into them because, for me, it represented something more meaningful than a sparkly crown or a beautiful gown. It became my own personal challenge and experiment to show myself that I could make a difference in my community, become successful by being myself, and not have to change who I was to win a pageant crown.

So, in May 2018 - at age fifteen - I came across the Miss Teen Great Britain website and applied with a picture of me and my dog. I had my hair in a messy bun and some pink pyjamas on to serve as my first test of their ‘empowerment’ claims. To my surprise, I got through to the grand finale that year, and I competed again in 2019 before winning the title in 2021. It was the catalyst that sparked the biggest transformation in my life - not just the year I won, but in those years leading up to holding the national crown.

A typical day of any pageant girl is certainly not limited to one thing. It could consist of photoshoots, appearances, attending or hosting charity events, a lot of travelling, campaign planning, dress designing, walk coaching, interview practice and posting on social media, to name but only a few. Pageants today are not solely judged on appearance, but rather on how you are able to empower others, your own self-presentation, and your work with charities - all delivered in a job-style interview. 

At a competition, contestants will participate in an interview to show off this work, and then go through onstage rounds, fashionwear, evening wear and other optional side awards (with a fitness, talent or spokesmodel focus, depending on the competition). It most certainly involves a lot of hard work and organisation: often, contestants are preparing for nearly a year before they go on stage.

During my year as Miss Teen Great Britain, I got the opportunity to travel to one of America's top independent summer camps for ten weeks, working with the younger generation and using my title to be a role model. I was responsible for groups of young girls, empowering them and almost raising them as my own for a whole summer. Owning a crown is a tool for reaching goals and boosting your CV - a main reason I have been given academic and social opportunities throughout my teenage years. 

I’ve also been given opportunities such as walking in the 2023 National Prom Show, hosting my own mental health podcast/livestream interview series, and illustrating three children’s books around mental health, some of which are held in libraries and sold on Amazon. My mental health campaign was born from struggling with OCD and emetophobia when I was a younger teen, and it is so special to me that through this platform I can help others going through the same thing.

There is no winning in society for teenage girls, but the community of pageantry forces you to yell your achievements from the rooftops

This work is at the epicentre of what it means to be a pageant girl; the crown is a symbol of your impact in the community and a token to give you the opportunity to be seen by charitable organisations and the wider public. In terms of my future pageant plans, I currently hold the title of International Junior Miss Nottingham, and if I win the national title of International Junior Miss UK, I will then get to compete for the international title in Florida amongst some incredibly successful women. Winning International Junior Miss and competing on a global stage has always been a huge dream of mine, as this title is called the ‘crown of opportunities’ - which I know to be true from my years in pageantry.

However, the field is often written in rose-tinted glasses by pageant girls. I, myself, have come to understand that with anything worth having, it is likely going to contain some sacrifice or struggle. Just like sports, there’s always a person rooting against you, there will be someone with the ‘better’ dress or have a ‘better’ coach - and that can be a difficult pill to swallow. But in a world that is inherently competitive, I've come to learn that it's all about how you brand yourself regardless of other successes, and it’s about being able to appreciate, admire and empower other women for their achievements and amazing qualities without having to question or compare them to my own. 

Pageants are not for everyone, pageants do not empower everyone, and not everyone will win a pageant. So, although I am such an advocate for the positive impacts of pageants, I won’t deny sometimes it may feel tough and it isn’t a hobby that is going to suit everyone. Only one girl may win, but it’s important to focus on what else is to gain from competing rather than solely the crown.

The media sometimes seems determined to portray pageants as a killer of self-esteem and some people have branded it as a form of evil but in a pretty bow. But I believe that, in a world defined by celebrating men’s achievements and hailing their judgements, the need for pageants in society to promote women’s voices without having to lose their femininity is powerful and necessary. Possessing stereotypical feminine qualities is often semantically associated with weakness or powerlessness, often meaning women must strip these qualities to be taken seriously or to be successful. 

Pageants change this narrative; being a woman and enjoying ‘feminine’ things is a powerful tool and is not a deficit. And, as a teenage girl and a pageant lover, it became an outlet for me to express my interests without being branded as ‘cringe’. There is no winning in society for teenage girls, but the community of pageantry forces you to yell your achievements from the rooftops, succeed without being ‘too much’, and exist without being overshadowed.

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