If you were born in the last five decades, you hopefully remember the movie “MEAN GIRLS,” the classic where we follow Regina George as she reigns as the leader of her clique — “The Plastics.” With her posse of other mean girls in tow, her aim is to have everyone turning on one another, coining the release of the term… “mean girl.” I will save you the play-by-play, but the titled term is one that’s often used to describe girls who are bullies, spread rumors, or make nasty comments — someone who is not highly thought of, to say the least. Once that label has been dealt, it’s hard to get rid of… and unfortunately, I’ve seen it a lot throughout my years in the pageant industry.
It’s not that the industry is actually full of mean girls — it’s a trope that we carry with us from pageant stereotypes and it’s one I think we actively work to dispel. But let’s be real, when you are in an organization where competition is the name of the game and you have young women competing for ONE position during a very formative period of their lives, there’s bound to be emotions that run high, words that are thrown around and a “mean girl energy” that shows its fangs every once in a while.
Mean Girl Energy
I’ve seen people be a part of it, be the victim of it and also decide not to compete because of it — even I’m not immune. Today, let’s lay it all on the table and dive into the mean girl energy vibes.
So first of all, pageants are one of the most complex environments that I've ever been in when it comes to managing social situations. From my experiences in the multiple organizations that I have competed in, it's supposed to be a “sisterhood” (you’ll hear this a lot and it’s true — I’ll touch on that later), but you're also still competing with each other. You have sister queens on the local level, but they're also likely your top competitors. You work with a local director one year that you share everything with — from the excitement of being the new queen but also all the highs and lows of the entire year — but then you switch to somebody else the next year and last year’s local director is now technically your competition. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.
In my opinion, you will serve yourself best if you can set intentional boundaries, build a lot of trust, identify the trustworthy people in your circles, and understand that anything you say or do has the possibility of getting circulated. That can be a really challenging environment to grow — but it IS possible. Pressure creates diamonds, right?
So, let's go back to baby Annika for a minute...
Would you believe me if I told you that I was the mean girl? (I know some of y’all laughed and said YEP!)
If you know my story, you know that I competed for seven years to be Miss Kansas. Not only was I not ready in year number one to become Miss Kansas just from a competition standpoint, I was also not ready from an emotional and personal development standpoint. I kind of had a reputation for being, how do I say this kindly… a jerk. And that was a really difficult reputation to work back from. I said some things about reigning queens, about people who were supposed to be my sister queens, and just some nasty gossip that frankly was not my place and should have never been said. I know that now, but in my early years of being a competitor, I thought that being the proverbial writer of the gossip column was how you connected with people.
Once I started working closely with a mentor, I was confronted by my social gossip habits, how it was impacting me, how other people perceived me, and how it was impacting the people I cared about. I didn't want to be like that. So, it took some hard introspection, some raw upfront critique from mentors that I trusted, and lot of vulnerable situations to flip the narrative of who I was, and to become the kind of Miss Kansas that I wanted to be.
So coming from someone who’s been there — this is the time to level up. How you choose to interact with people will craft how you are perceived and the reputation that follows you around – from the girls backstage to the pageant week volunteers to the board to your own local director. I think that goes a long way in terms of your potential in the organization. So it’s important to handle yourself with grace and poise. When you're genuine about it, rather than just showing up and putting on a show, people will notice and it can be so well received.
Find your close circle of people that you can confide in. Ideally that circle is made up of people outside of the pageant system or people you know you can trust to absorb the raw emotions and not pass along the gossip. The reality is that things are not always going to be easy, and it's important to be able to have those people you trust, lean on and have an open space to share how you are feeling (that’s not the dressing room). Working with mentors like myself and Juven with Crown the Nation and Beyond the Crown can also help you work through the layers of the pageant experience.
Now, let’s talk about this sisterhood. You probably have heard me reference it before, or if you have already been in the pageant world, you’ve experienced what that means. Over the last couple of years, especially as we've shifted so much more to operate in the virtual space, I have seen some really, really incredible symbiosis and collaborations and relationships developing between local titleholders across state lines. I love to see that! I’ve watched national movements unfold with local titleholders creating campaigns together on social media, girls helping each other with mock interviews as they prep for state competitions, and incredible support as the sisterhood advances through their local and state competitions where they have this vibrant fan club by the time they get to nationals — and it’s genuine!
Unfortunately, those same relationships and support don't always exist within the same state, and again, I think it's part of that competition piece. We're sisters, but only to a certain point and then we're competitors, and that is inherently difficult to support somebody and also know that they are your competition, because you could be helping them beat you, right?
At the end of the day, being a state or national titleholder is an experience like no other. Once you step into that year, you want to know who is actually your friend, you want to know who you can trust, and you definitely want to have support — especially from the girls that you competed with — because that year is hard, and those are the people who are going to be able to understand a little bit of what you're going through.
If you have this mean girl energy backstage, put up these walls and you’re not being a kind human, you're really going to isolate yourself and make your year as a state or national titleholder much more difficult than it needs to be. Toxic energy does nobody any good at all, and I’ve been there to be able to say 1) I contributed to it, and that was wrong, and 2) I've experienced it, and it sucks. Agh, the circle of life! There is truly nothing more humbling than growing away from those habits and being able to see things now from a different perspective.
If the only way you could see yourself being able to connect with people is locker room talk, then I'd encourage you to consider and ask yourself, “How does that serve me?” and “What is the perception that other people may have when hearing that?” If that's the only conversational trick in your bag, a great tool is to learn how to ask questions. The most captivating people are often the best listeners. They always seem to be the ones who don't talk about themselves unless asked. They usually end up being great communicators and asking about you. Being able to ask the right questions and learn about other people is a unique and undervalued communication gift that is oftentimes hard to find — plus, you may actually learn something in the process ;)
Mean girl energy is not the vibe. It's just not.
It doesn't look good on anybody, and it impacts so many more individuals, even if it will never get to the judges who make the ultimate decision. But remember when I said that it’s not just about the crown? It goes so much farther beyond the crown. I think the perception of your energy and who you are can translate across a lot of different categories of your life and in competition. It’s just not to your benefit to be unkind. We’re all better when we're all better, and I think that's a really important thing to remember in this very complex world of competition, sisterhood, friendship and personal development. In every other area of life, we are constantly pitted against each other by society, and if we are tearing each other down, none of us are going to succeed. This is the time to drop the “mean girl,” level up, and figure out how to support other women.