I have to tell you what happened at this year’s Miss Virginia USA pageant….
I’m still fresh off my return flight from my old stomping grounds of Blacksburg, Virginia, where I was blessed to host the 2016 Miss Virginia USA and Miss Virginia Teen USA pageants. My 10th year hosting! Proof that a healthy relationship grows deeper with time, and carries with it the potential to deliver beyond expectation.
With days of rehearsals, loads of wardrobe prep and hours of mentoring young women to walk down a path I once strutted myself, I poured myself into an annual process that with each year brings me so much joy, nostalgia, and well, for the first time–a room full of teary eyes.
Before I tell you what happened. I want to flash back to last year’s pageant.
The last time I flew in to co-host and mentor the sweet contestants of Miss Virginia USA, I was a different human being. Do you ever take a moment to time travel to your earlier self? Even if just a month back, a week, even yesterday? I love doing that, to give myself a pretty pat on the back for the progress made, while also taking responsibility for some of the not-so-great habits I displayed once upon a time.
During last year’s pageant, I spent so much time carefully selecting my wardrobe, getting my hair and makeup seamless and making sure my image was…well, perfect. See the common theme there? ME. I barely had time to notice the fears, anxieties and worries of the lovely young ladies I was sent to mentor, the darling faces who were vying for a crown I am so honored to have been awarded in years’ past.
But this year….
…this year my focus was on something different. Not my wardrobe (in fact, I wore yoga pants and a baseball cap to rehearsals), not on whether my exterior image was up to par. This year my focus was on the girls and how I could be of service to them during their precious process.
After a group lunch one day, I had a moment to talk to the ladies. I opened up and revealed some personal stories about my own vulnerabilities. I told the room packed with gorgeous girls about my struggles to make ends meet early on in my career, about my turbulent ride towards self-love and acceptance and about my continuing struggle to accept myself and my own unique beauty. It wasn’t easy, but it felt amazing.
I wanted to break down the picture-perfect facade this time around. I wanted these ladies to have an all-access pass to my inner essence, something I’d never fully revealed in the pageant world. I was so passionate and raw and exposed. I caught a glimpse around the room mid-story and noticed eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t believe how touched these beautiful souls were.
I went on to praise the very system that had been the biggest stepping stone in my career, the Miss Universe Organization. I gave credit where credit was due. Not only to an organization, but to the people, the heartbeat of what makes the Miss Virginia USA pageant so different from all the rest. I shone the spotlight on the Executive Director, Kim Nicewonder, who once believed in me enough to let a young, scared and inexperienced 21-year-old host her show. Did I mention the show she entrusted me with airs live? That was 10 years ago. Not only did this woman believe in my talents then, she continues to shower me with endless love, support and an ongoing friendship that I will forever hold near to my heart.
There were handfuls of other powerful moments of genuine connection throughout the weekend — from several of the girls coming up to me individually asking for personal advice, to praying with the girls as a unified group on the final night of the competition prior to their dismissal to begin hair & make-up.
The real show stopper came after the pageant.
After the new Miss Virginia USA and Miss Virginia Teen USA had been crowned, one of the contestants who had made the top 5 revealed that she believed in herself because of me.
Those words hit me so hard my eyes immediately filled with tears. My soul felt full. And my heart so deeply touched. To have left a mark on someone’s life with my own vulnerability was life-changing.
To be blessed with the handful of opportunities to give back to so many young women in the very arena where so much of my own beauty therapy came from was synchronous, and really magical.
Long after the lashes, hair extensions and perfectly beaded gowns have been taken off, these are the moments I cherish most. The moments that will live with me until the day I die. The moments that no one can predict, because they come from stepping out of a comfort zone of the seemingly “perfect.” That young girl may never know what her words and truth mean to me. While I may have encouraged her to believe in herself, she has encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight! To keep shouting Beauty Therapy from the rooftops.
I walked away from this year’s pageant with a renewed sense of purpose. A resolve to continue empowering women of all ages to connect to their deeply beautiful essence, beneath all the glitter and rose gold. And I’m so grateful to have you, my beauties, to share these touching tales with. I truly hope they will continue to inspire YOU to step into more of your own internal, potentially life-altering beauty!
Shine on, beauties!
Enjoy my candid photo diary from the beautiful weekend 🙂
A special thank you to Proms, Pageants & Pretty Things, Henri’s Cloud Nine, Sherri Jessee, Rick Myers Photography, Kristel Wittensoldner, Michael Copon, Frank Beamer, Kimberly Nicewonder, KPJ Productions & the Miss Virginia USA Organization.