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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Ugly Truth About Beauty Pageants

When I was 22 years old I moved to St Thomas, a US Virgin Island, for a year.  I had finished my BA in Psychobiology from UC Santa Cruz in 3 years and did an internship at Cornell University for a year and I wanted to take time to "find myself" before jumping into graduate school.  I had decided that conventional medical school was not for me because I was turned off by the toxic medications and their "side-effects" as well as all the politics around medicine and how impersonal and uncaring the practice of conventional medicine has become, with insurance companies dictating how much time doctors are allotted to spend with patients.  That  combined with my bad experience volunteering as a nurse's assistant, pushed me away from wanting to be an MD.  On top of that, I was never good at standardized test-taking and the MCAT was not my friend.  I didn't want to be part of that money-centered business and I also wanted to choose a career path which I would enjoy the journey.  Since I didn't know what to do, I took some time to figure it out.

I considered getting an MBA and going into biotechnology.  So I took some business, accounting, and computer courses at the University of The Virgin Islands and applied to a few top schools.   Luckily, I didn't get in to any of them probably because my GMAT scores were not impressive enough.  I say luckily because if I didn't get rejected then I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now, which I am so lucky to be doing.  But I digress....

While I was there, besides taking classes, I also waited tables at the Hard Rock Cafe, worked part time in a retail store and also at another fine dining restaurant called Agave Terrace.  I made enough to pay my bills and my tuition.  During my final month there I got scuba certified I went island hopping all over the Caribbean for a month with my step-brother.

While living in St Thomas, my boyfriend at the time encouraged me to enter a beauty contest which was being held at the restaurant adjacent to where we worked.  I hadn't really considered it but he was motivated by the FREE trip to Las Vegas for the winner to attend the international pageant.  Well, he talked me into competing and I entered the pageant.

The pageant was well attended by all the locals and I became the undisputed winner of the title.  Following the initial pageant which included only women from St Thomas, I had to compete in a second pageant against women from St John and St Croix, the other 2 US Virgin Islands.  Following that victory, I was awarded the crown, sash and title for MISS HAWAIIAN TROPIC OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS.  I won the trip to Vegas!  Unfortunately the trip was only for one person and my boyfriend did not attend with me, but my parents who live in California met me there and supported me in all the segments of the pageant.  My favorite was the fashion show.  I totally rocked it!

So what's the point of this story, you may be asking yourself.  Well here it comes!  When I got to Vegas, all the contestants were given a Hawaiian Tropic gym bag, filled with sun screen, and other gear and prizes.  In the goodie bag was also a magazine of theirs from the previous year.  As I flipped through the pages I noticed that the girls in the photos were present in the pageant again the following year.  They were using recycled models.  That wasn't so bad.  What really burst my bubble, was very upsetting, albeit eye-opening was when I saw one of their recycled beauties wearing a sash that said MISS HAWAIIAN TROPIC OF ST JOHN.  Wait a minute!?!  I was supposed to be MISS HAWAIIAN TROPIC OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, I won 2 pageants fair and square to earn that title and they just gave away part of my territory, what was going on?  Was this some sort of a mistake?  I asked the girl if she was from St John and she said, "No, I'm from Alabama, they just gave me this sash."  What the what!?!  I was crushed.  My whole illusion of fairness and pageants just crumbled before me.  What to do?  I was demoted to 1/3 of my true title and was now just MISS HAWAIIAN TROPIC OF ST THOMAS.  It wasn't fair.  I guess that was my first real world taste of "life isn't fair."

Then more ugly things were happening all around me.  There were supposed to be 10 finalists.  All of them were pre-picked of course.  However, during the course of the week of pageant events, we noticed Miss Russia was ALL OVER the judges.  And guess what?  That year there was an 11th finalist.  Guess who?  Miss Russia.  Surprise Surprise.

Pictured above is me with the Trumpster himself 
at the HT costume party in Vegas.  I was a pirate.

Another appalling thing that happened was that the 16 year old MISS ISRAEL was being hit on by THE DONALD.  He offered to fly her back on his private jet to New York.  When she told him that she was traveling with her mother, he said that there wasn't room for her mother on the plane.  She declined his invitation.

So my experience of pageants was pretty negative you could say.  I was very naive and then to see all that corruption right before my eyes was heart-breaking and disappointing.  I thought the illusion was real but I learned the ugly truth.

Did I mention that a representative from Playboy magazine was there scouting the girls?  Luckily I didn't make a bad decision that I would regret now that I am a doctor!  There are some things that money can't buy and dignity is one of them!  I also observed that an estimated 80% of the girls in the international Hawaiian Tropic pageant had boob jobs.  Fake body parts should disqualify a contestant in my humble opinion!

Why am I posting this story now, many years after it happened? Good question! I recently learned that, once again, in a different pageant, someone who lives in one state was given a pageant title for another State. That was the trigger. I guess Hawaiian Tropic is not the only corrupt pageant who adopts the dishonest tactics of just giving people sashes when they aren't actually from that place.  Why?  Why participate in a deliberately dishonest scheme?  Is it THAT important to be recognized as a "beauty queen" that you have to LIE about where you're from?  What kind of false representation is that?  Why stand for something that is fake, misleading, phony and unkosher?  How rude and disrespectful is that to the girls who are actually from the state you represent?  As if none of them are pretty enough to be selected.  They need a fake representative for a pageant?  It's outrageous if you ask me.  The pageant does it to look good because they want to fill the spots instead of actually presenting what is true and real and authentic.  So what if you don't have someone from all 50 states?

People will stoop to anything for a shot in the spotlight, for a moment of fame, for the chance to launch their desired money-making modeling career.  But you know what happens when you stack your deck of cards without a solid foundation?  It crumbles.  In the end, nothing stands besides the truth.  People who lie and cheat and steal to get to the top end up miserable.  Especially if they have any shred of a conscience.  That conscience will eat away at their soul and not allow them to enjoy their "success."  They will be depressed insomniacs.  I would never encourage my daughter to do such a thing.  I think it is immoral and disgusting.  Just be real.  And if you don't win the pageant in the State you're from, it wasn't your destiny honey!  Let it go!

The bottom line is I think it comes down to poor self-esteem in these women who are competing with fake sashes.  Beauty pageants are objectifying and degrading towards women.  I can say that because I have been on the inside and it ain't pretty!  Our self-worth should not hang on how HOT we look in a bikini and an evening gown.  Platform?  Give me a break.  If you want to save the world go start a non-profit and do it in humility and grace not with a fake diamond tiara on your head.  Get real.  Do the right thing.  Stop trying to impress others with your lies.  It does just the opposite.  Getting to the top by being untruthful?  Where is the integrity in that?  Yeah, good luck with that.  Karma is a you know what.  Break a leg girl, break a leg.



Post Script: While living in the Virgin Islands, I did an internet search for "natural medicine" and found Bastyr University.  It was what I always wanted but never knew existed: evidence-based natural medicine and it's patient-centered, not profit-centered.  I became a naturopathic doctor and got a master's in acupuncture. Above is a picture from a photoshoot taken while on my first job after school as an acupuncture physician on a cruise ship.  That is why I am glad I didn't get into business school!  I never would have had a 2 year paid "vacation" traveling around the world helping people to heal with natural medicine.  My profession is so rewarding.  I feel it is an honor and a privilege to be part of someone's healing journey.

In terms of beauty, I have divorced myself from society's conventional standards and refuse to dye my premature grey.  Although I am in my 30s and get a lot of slack for sporting my silver locks, I refuse to allow my self-worth to hang on others who judge and think they can dictate how I am supposed to look or feel based on an external superficial unimportant factor such as the color of my hair.  Seriously?  Get a life!  Is that what matters to people?  Someone else's hair color?  I have bigger fish to fry!  I can't be bothered by people's own insecurities projected onto me.  Ha!

I have always been a rebel at heart and I feel that women are beautiful when they are comfortable in their own skin.  My platform?  Simple.  BE YOU.  Failure is a part of life, accept it.  Learn from it, grow, move on.  Don't sell yourself short.  Modeling isn't all that.  I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be remembered for the contributions of my brain, not because of a pretty face or body.  Those exterior things are just the wrapping, what's important is what's inside!

So I stand for people being true to themselves, being honest with others, and being real.  When people see that I have the courage to authentically be me without conforming to society's "norms" by hiding behind dye, it gives them the permission to be themselves in whatever way they were holding back their full light and expression from the world.  By just being myself, I can have the effect of liberating others' freedom of full self-expression.  Now that's way more powerful than a spread in Vogue magazine!  Think about it!