Last week, a post popped up on my Facebook page with words that were all too familiar for those of us who have stepped on a sparkly stage. I didn't know Meg before I read her post, but immediately reached out to connect because she voiced another perspective to the journey beyond the crown that my journey isn't able to touch on.
The story she tells is one every former pageant girl knows all too well - some a little more than others.
Very very few women who step into the sparkly arena win on their first try, and that means the rest of us get to learn a lot more lessons along the way. Sometimes, the things we learned don't dawn on us till years down the road, and I think that's what struck so deeply with Meg's words.
It's an ode to the journey, giving credit for what's good and space for what's healing.
I asked Meg if I could share her letter on my blog - when you read it, you'll understand why.
So - without further ado, please give some lovely blog love to, "A Letter From A Former Pageant Girl," by Meg McGuire Conder.
"It's pageant season, y'all.
For many of you reading this, that will mean very little to you. And that's okay. I'm writing this to the ones for whom it means a whole lot -
My pageant journey was relatively short-lived compared to some. It began in late high school and really didn't take off until I was in college, looking for a way to exercise years of piano lessons, a compassion for community service, and a subtle competitive spirit my lack of athleticism had never let me flex.
It was never about competing against the other contestants but rather against my own self. Prelim after prelim. Practice, tweak, repeat, curating a package to prove I was ready for the job. And, of course, there were the scholarships. I graduated debt-free, and I owe a hefty portion of that to the three years I competed - a privilege I'll never be able to fully express my gratitude for, especially in light of recent events.
Each year since I finished competing, I've spectated through the flood of photos on my timeline, applauding from the audience or side stage.
Crowning moments and confetti. Another young woman watching all her efforts accumulate into this glittery moment under the lights. And each year since, I have celebrated these women. And I celebrate the ones cheering behind her - the ones who, like me, will never wear that crown.
But full disclosure, this time of year s always a weird one for me. I have lots of feelings, many of them comprised of sweet nostalgia and jubilant memories with phenomenal, driven women I call friends, accompanied by thankfulness for the village of supporters who rallied around me and the things I learned.
But there's also a sadness there - a sadness I don't think anyone ever felt like it was okay to talk about.
A disappointment that felt ungrateful even though I was so full of gratitude.
An ache that mimicked grief in a way I couldn't ever quite put words to.
You pour your whole self into something - and then it's just... over.
I felt it every year when the curtains closed, the confetti settled, and it was time to pack up our garment bags and go home. And while it's dulled with time, its essence still lingers, oftentimes manifesting as regret.
I wish I'd practiced more.
I wish I'd been more disciplined.
I wish I'd performed better.
I wish I hadn't said that.
I wish I had never read those forum comments.
I wish I had measured up.
I wish I could do it all again. I'd do it so differently.
I have a feeling I'm not alone.
And I know those who go on to win at the next level are not immune to this.
So I want you to know, whoever you are, you're not the only one navigating the complexities of holding gratitude and regret at the same time.
Feeling both proud and insecure.
Celebrating your very womanhood yet fighting the thoughts and comments that led you to be unkind to your own body.
Mourning what you lacked and yet fearing that you've somehow peaked - that this past life of trying to custom tailor your best self was actually the best you'll ever be.
But I also want you to know, whoever you are, that there is a whole, big, beautiful life ahead.
I now realize that hidden in all those "I wishes" is a self-awareness of the growth that has taken place in these past years. In this growth, I have become far more sure of myself in a lot of ways. I was so young then. I am so young now.
Every day, I am learning what it means to be me beyond a performance because that's not what life is.
I don't have to be validated by a panel or a forum or applause in any form to be sure of me, my passion, and my purpose. There is a greater Authority for that.
That is such a liberating thing.
If pageantry has been part of your story, or you've participated in any kind of competitive activity, I hope you can find that same freedom in knowing that you're not what you do or used to do, that you can love the things you love just because you love them -
beyond the competition, beyond the short-term validation, beyond the performance. Just do them because they bring you joy and because you've been gifted with something wonderful.
Because you are something wonderful.
It requires some unlearning.
I'm still unlearning, too."
- Meg McGuire Conder