Do you remember the feeling of seeing a rectangle box under the Christmas tree? That tall beautiful medley of cardboard and plastic could only mean one thing: a new Barbie doll. After 25 minutes and a combination of scissors, tweezers, hands, and teeth, there I sat: a seven-year-old Indian-American girl stoking her beautiful blonde hair and I remember thinking to myself that she was perfect.
My entire life I was convinced that the perfect woman looked exactly like Barbie, and I had every reason to believe so. The actresses on television, models on the runways, and beauty queens in Miss America were just that: tall, blonde, and skinny, and that’s where it hit me: by only crowing a certain "Barbie-like" image we as a society are deeming that others outside of that very small population are inferior in terms of beauty. So I made it my mission, to become part of the solution, and start with the problem.
Service is where I come from and it is where I intend to go. My dream is to work in a field with I can promote female empowerment and confidence in young women. My greatest intellectual endeavor could be my academic success in my short time during my undergraduate career, or intellectual can be defined as creative, something that made a difference in the lives of young women. My voluntary work with young girls throughout the community on public speaking, stage presence, and interview skills has encouraged me to develop my own program in conjunction with Girl Talk peer mentoring program. I collaborate with young female community leaders and titleholders to develop a mentoring program focused on diversity in middle school girls. These girls are paired with mentors to create a safe and secure place to discuss issues that affect them, like cyber bulling, Internet safety, communicating with parents, and self-image. I started working with teen girls at the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter for all four years of high school where I conducted Girl’s Groups, interactive activities that engage the residents and encourage them to talk about their issues that affect them and communicate with other residents. I truly believe that peer to peer mentoring is the best way to reach out to community residents and help them to do things they didn’t think were possible and realize all of the doors that are open to us.
I got involved with pageantry two years ago and have participated in four pageants since. With three titles to my name I have made it my mission to speak out about my platform and talk to young girls about what it really means to be “beautiful.” I understand the irony in promoting “Beauty Without Barriers” in a beauty pageant, but the pageants that I participate in and coach other young women for are scholarship organizations that require women to be poised, elegant, talented, and well-spoken. I have personally seen the difference pageants can make in a young woman’s self-confidence and her ability to present herself in interviews and in front of large audiences.
While “Toddlers and Tiaras” is still infecting televisions all over the world, pageant girls are fighting to keep the reputation of pageantry positive. I have always loved to get dressed up and was born with competitive bones in my body, but my mother was against pageants from the start. On my nineteenth birthday, the only thing I asked for was support in the Miss India Georgia pageant that summer. My mother bit her tongue the entire summer, although occasionally I heard a “waste of time” under her breath. However, come show time my mom stood by my side through hair, makeup, and dressed me for quick changes. I could not have done it without her and the moment they called my name I looked directly at her and saw a tear run down her face. Even my own mother, the ultimate pageant skeptic, is a true believer in the confidence and character that pageantry builds.
Months later I interviewed for summer internships and was lucky enough to get two amazing offers, both complimenting me on my excellent interview skills. I credit much of my quick thinking and ability to express myself to pageants. Additionally, other hidden benefits of competing in are poise and the ability to command attention when speaking. When I work as a coach the first thing I do is make sure that my girls set a goal for themselves, and “winning” is not an option. The girls must focus on other benefits of pageantry like stage presence, meeting new people, improving interview skills, poise & grace, etc.
I will not deny that some pageants are nothing more than a group of outsiders judging someone on their physical beauty, but most pageants are much more than just that. With talent, interview, platforms, and question-answer segments, pageants are moving away from aesthetics and forcing contestants to be well-spoken, knowledgeable, and graceful young ladies who are passionate about a purpose.
Last June I competed in a pageant that was specifically designed for women under 5’5 tall thus giving an equal opportunity for young women to become role models and promote their platforms. I was crowned the first ever Miss USA Petite and given the ability to speak out against the phenomenon of “beauty.”
Even with my seven inch crown, I still bear no resemblance to Barbie, but I do have the platform and the opportunity to speak to young women about what it really means to be “beautiful” and comfortable in your own skin. “Beauty without Barriers” is a program I have successful begun to develop with the help of other successful young women. The peer mentoring group pairs local, state, and national beauty queens with middle school girls to talk about important issues like body image, bullying, and cyber safety. My goal is to promote female empowerment at the young age and help young girls feel comfortable and “beautiful” no matter what shape, size, or color they are.
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