From Steve Harvey's globally broadcasted blunder to Sandra Bullock's performance in "Miss Congeniality," beauty pageants are a big part of popular culture and often carry connotations of unrealistic standards and exclusivity.
However, these UNC students are challenging these preconceived notions.
Rosie Tran (she/her/hers)
Rosie Tran, a senior political science and women’s and gender studies double major, competed in the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas (MVC) cultural pageant when she was 16 years old, and has remained active on the board of the competition.
Tran acknowledged the stereotypes that surround pageants, but said the MVC is actively working to challenge these ideas.
“This year, for the pageant, we’ve been doing a series of workshops regarding pageant stereotypes, Asian-American stereotypes, things like that," Tran said. "There’s a stigma that pageants are for vapid, self-centered people, but I actually disagree. Pageants, especially the ones like Miss America, Miss Universe, even Miss North Carolina, are actually very rigorous and difficult and many of them are scholarship-based.”
Tran said she enjoyed her experience competing in MVC, and loved the emphasis on culture.
“The experience was very positive,” she said, “because the pageant emphasizes itself as a cultural pageant more than a beauty pageant. We do a lot of workshops discussing and talking about the culture that we are a part of and learning more about it. It’s all about showcasing our culture and everyone was very uplifting and empowering and positive.”
Taylor Loyd (she/her/hers)
Taylor Loyd, a first-year student, held the year-long title of Miss Charlotte’s Outstanding Teen in 2019, and has been competing in pageants since she was 13. Loyd said her pageant experience has been crucial to her personal development.
“When I talk to people about pageants, the most important thing that I try to express is that it’s very much, for me at least, a stepping stone to succeed in other areas,” she said. “I really believe that what you put into it is exactly what you get out of it. It’s all about just trying to be the best version of yourself that you can be.”
Growing up, Loyd said she was surrounded by pageant culture, but she did not start competing until she was older.
“My mom and dad are long-time Miss America volunteers,” she said. “They actually met through pageants, so I always grew up around them, but I never competed. My mom didn’t want me to compete as a child."
Loyd said she has always been a performer, and pageants seemed like a natural outlet for her.
"I struggled with self confidence issues for a long time," she said. "As I got older, she finally let me compete, and my confidence has exponentially grown since.”
Loyd described her attraction to pageants as being fueled by wanting to be her best self.
“It feels so good to know that you are the best version of yourself that you’ve ever been,” she said. “This is me at my peak. People are drawn in to competing because it gives you the sense of accomplishment and gives you such a strong incentive to work and be proud of your work.”
Reana Johnson (she/her/hers)
Reana Johnson, a senior communications major, competed in the USA National Miss pageants when she was a child, but more recently competed in the Miss Black and Gold pageant, hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. She, similarly to Tran, has a positive relationship with her pageant history.
“I’m a very bubbly and lively person so I connected with a lot of people,” she said. “So, I’ve never had any negative experiences with pageants.”
Johnson said, in her experience, pageants have been helpful and accommodating to competitors, while also offering a medium for personal development.
“For me, I wrote spoken word about who I had become over my time here at UNC," she said. "It was moving to be able to perform that and share that with the world, and I think vulnerability is power. Every time you are getting on the stage and sharing who you are, I think there’s a lot of power in that.”
However, Johnson said that the pageant world falls short on issues such as race and ability.
“I would definitely say there has been an issue, especially concerning Eurocentric features,” she said. “It’s not just a racial problem, it also includes people’s access and their ability. There’s a lot of things that still need to be broken down, including size, as well. Personally, I didn’t experience any sort of prejudice because most of the people who participated in my pageant looked like me, so there was a cultural safety net that I already felt.”
To correct the inherent biases present in pageant culture, Johnson said it will take continued efforts toward diversity and awareness.
“Because the standard has always been being white, you can’t just take away the standard,” she said. “There has to be active work to correct what has already happened. That’s where there needs to be more work to make sure there’s more places for pageants to reach.”
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