Words by Kristin Forsythe
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Holl & Lane. To read the whole issue, pick up our digital pack in our shop.
I have a confession to make. I’m a has-been “beauty queen”. I never considered myself one, though. After all, beauty queens are tall with flawless skin, legs a mile long, gigantic smiles, and perfect speaking skills. I always felt like I had none of those attributes. I’ve even had people act surprised when they find out that I competed in pageants. More than once I’ve heard the phrase “You compete(ed) in pageants?? You don’t seem like the type!” I never quite knew how to take that exclamation. Were they saying I wasn’t pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough? The list goes on and on. Competing in pageants was never something that I broadcasted to people for that exact reason, it always seemed like they wouldn’t understand. I rarely bring up my pageant days but if someone asks me about them I’m more than happy to talk about my experiences and try to dispel some of the stereotypes that run rampant about the industry. When I began competing I believed many of the stereotypes as well but found out that most of them are untrue or it takes a lot of work to get where one is. For example I always
just assumed that pageant girls were naturally fit and tan, with perfect hair and wardrobes. It didn’t take me long to realize that all that comes with plenty of hard work and sacrifice.
The first pageant I competed in was a small fair queen contest in my hometown. I had never really even thought about doing a pageant before that but this one seemed like it could be fun, and I was a senior in high school and wouldn’t be eligible once I graduated. I thought it would be a one and done kind of thing. I don’t think I even really prepared for the pageant. I wore a dress I had worn for homecoming a few years prior, slapped on very little makeup and was just myself. I had a blast meeting the judges for the private interview and even though I was terrified of doing a short speech onstage the adrenaline rush was addicting. To my complete surprise, I placed second runner up! I was hooked. My first thought after the pageant was “I want to do that again!” I went on to enter another very small pageant (there was only one other contestant in my age division) and I won. So far I had no clue what it took to really be successful in the pageant world. That wake up call came the following year when I entered the Miss Ohio USA pageant.
The Miss Ohio USA pageant is part of the Miss USA system. The winner of the pageant goes on to represent Ohio in the Miss USA pageant. Pretty serious stuff for pageant girls! I entered that pageant with very little preparation, an interview outfit from the local mall, a dress that could pass for a bridesmaid’s, and very little knowledge of how to style my hair or apply makeup, but thinking that I had a shot at the title. How naive I was!
The first time the contestants get to see each other in person is during registration on the first night of pageant weekend. When I walked into registration at the Radisson in Columbus I felt like a fish out of water. These girls were insanely beautiful with gorgeous outfits tailored to fit perfectly and they were all so sweet! Registration is a contestant’s first chance to make a great impression on not only pageant staff but other contestants. Competing in pageants is 90% mental. If you walk into a pageant function as a contestant and see other girls that look great, have gorgeous outfits, and carry themselves with confidence your own morale drops like a boulder thrown off a cliff. Clueless to the mental game of pageantry, I came to registration in jeans and a button down. My morale continued to drop throughout the weekend as I discovered that contestants had heavily beaded gowns that cost thousands of dollars, swimsuits made especially for stage competition and coaches to perfect their presentation. “Coaches??? For a pageant???” I thought the idea was insane. Looking back years later, my biggest regret of my pageant career was not hiring a coach sooner. I hired a wonderful coach for my last pageant and was amazed at the difference in how I prepared and competed.
Despite realizing that I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Miss Ohio USA title, I had a great time competing, staying up half the night talking to my roommate and learning more about the pageant world. I went on to compete two more times in that pageant and never placed. I had a great time every year, learned more about myself and how to prepare for a pageant, gained valuable interview skills, and loved cheering on the Ohio representative while watching Miss USA on television.
One of the most important areas of competition is the private interview with a panel of judges. It’s just you in a chair facing a table of 3-7 judges. They can ask you anything from “If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?” (yes, I’ve been asked that) to questions about foreign policy and current events. They also ask questions from your contestant bio that you submit prior to the pageant. This is where you list your hobbies, career goals, and interesting tidbits about yourself. It can be terrifying. In the beginning, I thought I had to be someone I’m not, or give the judges answers they would want to hear. Once I hired a pageant coach that all changed. My coach had been a previous Mrs. Ohio America and was a genius at really picking your brain to find things that are interesting about you that you might otherwise overlook. For example, I love photography and one of my favorite subjects is old forgotten cemeteries. There’s no way I would’ve put that on my bio but my coach convinced me to do otherwise. It paid off because it was something different, and it helped me stand out from other contestants.
Physical fitness is also a huge part of pageant competition. I took for granted that the contestants were just naturally tall, in great shape, tan, and knew how to walk and pose to show off how fabulous they were. Nope. There’s a hell of a lot of work that goes into those few short minutes on stage. As I said before, pageants are 90% mental. It takes discipline to drag your ass out of bed at 4 or 5 a.m. to get a workout in before work or school. Then come home after a long day and do it again. Some girls work out twice a day as the pageant gets closer to try to “lean out” as much as possible. And pageant girls naturally have 6 pack abs? Ha. Those babies were built in the kitchen. Egg whites, grilled chicken breast, tons of veggies and gallons of water built those washboard abs. Taking your own food to social functions and saying no to alcohol and Doritos built those abs. Running and weight lifting were my go-to workouts before a pageant. Alternating three days of running and three days of weights helped me build the best body I’ve ever had. All that hard work paid off when I won the fitness award at my last pageant. That would not have happened without mental and physical discipline and a coach that showed me that if you pose a certain way your shoulders look wider which in turn makes your waist look smaller. It’s all about smoke and mirrors! Not tall like a glamazon model? There’s 5 inch platform heels for that! Pale from all that time spent in the gym? Spray tans are your friend. Some girls even have makeup artists paint abs on them for the swimsuit competition.
Seventeen years and more than twelve pageants later (having lost way more crowns than I won), I wouldn’t change my experiences for anything. My fellow pageant girls are an amazing group of fun-loving, driven, goal oriented go-getters that make the world a better place. Some people think that pageant contestants are shallow airheads and catty bitches. I’ve never ran across either one in my pageant career but even the best of us can get a little crabby when we’ve been eating chicken breasts and working out six days a week for months.
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Kristin Forsythe is a retired pageant queen who works as a Radiologic Technologist for a large health system in Ohio. In her spare time she enjoys hand lettering, hiking and spending time with her husband and their Bernese Mountain Dog.