Pageants and Micah

Thank you Dawn Araujo-Hawkins for this reflection on Micah 6:8. Dawn is a staff writer based at the Global Sisters Report headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. Before coming to Global Sisters Report, she was a freelance religion reporter and had also worked as the editorial assistant at Sojourners magazine. She has a journalism degree from Ball State University and a master’s in religion from Cincinnati Christian University

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

People are sometimes surprised to learn that I was once a pageant girl. To a good portion of the people I’ve known (outside of the pageant world, that is) beauty pageants are associated with an inherent vapidity and that I — a social justice-loving feminist and seminary-educated journalist — just do not possess.

pageant 1

Dawn right after placing first-runner up at Miss Ohio International in 2011.

“It’s a good thing you’ve moved past that stage,” they’ll say, laughing and rolling their eyes. I always get the feeling that what I’m supposed to do next is disavow my shameful past, to slam pageants as this archaic culture I was lucky to escape.

But here’s the thing: I still love pageants.

Not only that, I attribute the vast majority of my personal and professional growth to pageants. It is with the utmost certainty that I say I would not be the journalist or activist I am today if my 9-year-old self had not decided she wanted to be Miss Indiana.

Ruth asked me to reflect on what pageants taught me about the prophet Micah’s exhortation to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God. I told my sister (also a pageant girl) about this, and we both had the same reaction: what didn’t pageants teach us about justice, mercy, and humility? I could probably write a book about this, but Ruth also asked me to be brief, so here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of how pageants have informed what Micah 6:8 means to me.

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The first time Dawn and her sister won pageants at the same time. Dawn was Miss Indiana American Coed 2006, and her sister was National American Miss Indiana Teen 2006.


Act Justly

As a young girl, I don’t think anything overtly tested my sense of integrity like pageants. Now, I know I just sang the glory of pageants, so it might sound like I’m backtracking here, but bear with me. I promise I’m not changing my tune.

The essential purpose of a pageant is for an organization to pick someone to be its public face. The organization says these are our values, and then women and girls who think they epitomize those values partake in a variety of competitions to prove they are, indeed, what the organization wants. Pretty simple.

However, in some instances, a woman just wants to win a crown, so she will lie about all kinds of things just to seem like the “right” girl. One of the most conspicuous (albeit largely benign) examples of this is when contestants take a few weeks of voice or dance lessons just so they can do a pageant with a talent competition. In more dramatic instances, women fabricate paperwork or outright lie about life experiences.

I learned early on that I was not interested in pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to win a crown. I remember that even as a 15-year-old, I refused to give politically correct answers in pageant interviews — once schooling a panel of judges on #blackgirlmagic when they had wanted to me bemoan my own identity.

Having to routinely stand up for what I believed in as an adolescent — even when it meant risking my chances of success — primed me for social justice advocacy as an adult. Any time I’ve led a protest or joined in an act of civil disobedience, I’ve drawn on my pageant experiences.

Love Kindness

Pageants get a lot of flack for pitting women against each other, which is true in a sense. I mean, women in the WNBA also compete against each other, but there’s something different about a competition as subjective as a pageant; the competition feels more personal — but that’s why I think pageants are such an amazing example of mercy and kindness.

Contrary to the stereotypes, pageant girls are some of the most kind and caring people on the planet. Case in point: when my sister had a kidney transplant in 2005, pageant girls were among the first to call and visit her in the hospital. Ten years later, when my sister needed a second transplant, pageant girls we hadn’t seen in years were among the first to get tested as matches.

pageant 3

Picture taken at a fundraiser for the National Kidney Foundation in 2006 with Brittany Luther, Miss Carmel Indiana American Teen 2006.

I’ve certainly met catty and mean girls at pageants, but they are the exception to the rule. In my experience, most pageant girls genuinely root for and support each other.  That’s why at the end of televised pageants, you usually see all the contestants run up to the winner to hug and congratulate her — the woman who just realized their dream. Pageants are a supportive family, and being a part of that teaches you a lot about loving others.

 Walk Humbly

Pageants are also a crash course in humility. For one thing, no matter how good you are, you don’t always win. There’s a saying in the pageant world that on a different night, with a different panel of judges, the results could have been different — and it’s true. By the time I was 19, I had won five Miss Indiana titles, but I could never assume that any given crown was mine to take. I always had to practice. I always had more to learn. I always had to grow. In fact, the few times I did get cocky and start to believe I knew everything there was to know about pageants, I lost. Badly.

Yet even winning a pageant can be an ego check. Becoming Miss Pageant Winner means you instantly become the public face of an organization. Now, for better or for worse, everything you say, tweet, wear, or even listen to on Spotify can be scrutinized as a reflection of the organization you represent, so you constantly have to be thinking about others and not just yourself.

(I also learned you can also still fall off the stage as a pageant winner, but that’s a story of humility for another time and place.)

Pageants are strange in that you must be filled with humility while simultaneously exuding queenly confidence. But I like to think that’s a microcosm of sorts for the dichotomy of humanity; we are made in the image of a supremely holy God and yet we are sinners in need of mercy and grace. It’s a tricky line for anyone to walk, but pageant girls have extra practice.

So that, in less than 1,000 words (boom!) is what I’ve got about pageants and Micah.

Of course, pageants are not for everyone; my experience was amazingly beneficial, but that’s me. There are also lots of pageants out in the world, and not every pageant is suitable for every person. I don’t want to imply that pageants are a necessity to a girl’s development, but I do want to suggest that they can be if you let them. They can teach you a lot about God and about yourself.

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Dawn (left) as Miss Indiana National American Miss 2008 and her sister (right) as Indiana’s Teen 2008, visiting the Indiana State House to meet the governor.

You can read another written piece by Dawn by clicking here: Feeling inappropriate in yet another time of tragedy. 
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3 Responses to Pageants and Micah

  1. Jean Hershey Fitch says:

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Jan G-B says:

    Great piece! You have enlightened me!

  3. Bob Carlson says:

    Thanks you Dawn. A very thoughtful and instructive piece! I’m moved by your self awareness! Blessings on you!

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