That's right. I, a plus-plus sized woman, entered a beauty pageant and it was an amazing experience.
Now, let me set a few things straight. I don't know much about pageants, but when I think of a beauty pageant I usually think of Miss America or Miss Universe where every single contestant is usually thin, long haired, cookie cutter, picture perfect, gorgeous women gliding this huge, brightly lit stage in expensive sparkling gowns and high "break a leg" heels.
There's nothing wrong with those pageants. Those women are not only beautiful but also very smart and talented, but let's face it, the average sized american woman doesn't fit that box, and when you're a big girl like me, then you DEFINITELY don't fit that box.
And from my understanding, there are lots of other different pageants in the world for all walks of life, for plus sized girls to drag queens and beyond. Which is great, but in my case, the beauty pageant I entered wasn't specifically for any particular "type" of person. It was for everyone that ever felt like they may not fit that "cookie cutter" pageant I mentioned before.
Let me start from the beginning because this is beyond just me
Enter Sarah Claxton. She is a beautiful East Tennessee based tattooed model that has over 100K followers, has been published more times than I can count for publications such as Inked Magazine and Ladies of Metal, is an entrepreneur and owns her own clothing company, Envied Clothing, and is one of the nicest most caring human beings I have the honor of calling a close friend.
Last year, she reached out to the Miss Tennessee pageant board to discuss how to enter herself in the pageant and whether or not she would be welcomed being heavily tattooed. She said that they told her, of course, she would be welcomed but only if she covered her tattoos.
So after some consideration she said "thanks but no thanks" to Miss Tennessee because why would she want to be a part of something that wouldn't allow her to be 100% true to who she is. Tattoos and all.
So she decided to create her own pageant and took to Facebook to see if that would even be anything anyone would even be interested in, and the answer was "well yea, duh!"
Sarah then decided to partner with the owner of Southern Belle Events, Melissa Merrick, and create Knoxville's FIRST Alternative Beauty Pageant and Miss Inked Pageant and opened registration to anyone that wanted to be a part of it.
Now Miss Inked was a tattoo contest that required you to be at least 60% tattooed and I didn't have any business being in it because I don't have that many tattoos.
But Miss Alternative Knoxville wasn't about the tattoos you did or didn't have. Nor was it about fitting a certain mold. It was more about how authentically beautiful you are, both inside and out no matter what you looked like, as a person and it was opened to everyone.
Like I said before, I originally wasn't going to enter the pageant because, even though it was meant for everyone, I still felt like it wasn't meant for me because I am not that "alternative" I guess you can say and because I'm such a plus sized girl. My friends thought otherwise and encouraged me to do it anyway.
And guess who claimed that final spot out of 35 applicants??
Yep, that's right. Me!!
Ok, you're in, but how do you not compare yourself to everyone else?
After completing registration, I was added into the contestant Facebook group with the other 34 (which quickly dropped to 23) contestants, plus judges, and event coordinators.
The contestants were all gorgeous women from all walks of life. Some were thin, some plus sized, lots of tattoos, not so many tattoos, wild neon colored hair, partially shaved heads, boho chic to vampire goth, and then me with my long brunette hair, a couple of tattoos, big bubbly personality and an even bigger butt!
Some of the group members I had never met before, some I've been Facebook friends with for months/years, and several I can consider my best friends. All amazing in their own way.
But no matter how much I knew or didn't know these women, when you are being judged and competing against someone in this type of fashion, how do you not compare yourself?
Well for one thing, it's really hard. Especially when the only interactions you have are through social media, and we all know that social media isn't always the most authentic.
The months leading up to pageant day, I would go back and forth and think "what have I signed myself up for?" or I'd joke around and say "I truly wish everyone the best of luck and I'm going to be cheering for whoever wins, but honestly, that crown is mine" and it was true, I've learned to live my life with such a grateful heart that, even though I really wanted that crown ( I mean, did you see it!? GORGEOUS!), I really was rooting for everyone too.
Deep down in my knowing of all knowings, I knew that this pageant was bigger than just me and it was where I was meant to be and that I was on the right path, but even then I started to become more and more anxious the closer it got here.
The day before I was so anxious and nervous, I was ready to throw up every time I thought about what the next day would bring. I was at my day job and was having a particularly crazy day because I kept being pulled away from my desk to cover other areas more often than normal and that was stressing me out on top of thinking of the pageant. Let's just say that definitely wasn't helping my nerves.
That night I decided after meeting friends (and fellow contestants- Mallory and Jennifer) for drinks to go home, quickly pack my bags, and take some Dreamz and I fell asleep so fast and slept so good.
The next morning, I woke up really early with a calmness like "today is going to be a great day, I've got this". I took a nice long hot shower, shaved everything that needed shavin', washed everything that needed washin', and just let the water wash away my fears.
After my shower, I sat down at my makeup table and as I was drying my hair, I became so emotional I couldn't stop crying. I had to keep reapplying my skin prep because I just had tears streaming down my face.
I was overwhelmed with how proud I was to be a part of something so awesome and how proud I was for everyone involved taking a leap of faith and stepping out of their comfort zone, and then I began to think how much I wished people that are no longer with me could be there to cheer for me.
I had to take some Bliss to calm my nerves so that I could get my hair curled and head to the venue to finish getting ready. Thank God for my assistant, Kayla. She was awesome at being there for anything I needed and helped keep me organized and in check.
Alright let's do this
It's show time, we're all in line ready to hit the stage. You can feel the excitement and the anxiety backstage. Everyone's so nervous, Schylar, Rachel and I were all the last in the line up and we would look at each other and say "we're excited!" as a way to redirect the fear and anxiety of going out on stage.
The part of me actually being on stage is a blur, but right before I went on I took a deep breath and told myself "just be you". So as soon as I walked out from behind the curtain, I threw my hands in the air and I decided to just be the big beautiful vivacious woman that I am. I made my way to the end of the runway, winked at the judges and then turned and sashayed and slayed my way back off the stage.
After all the catwalking in our evening gowns and first round interviews were complete, the Top 10 girls were announced and...
HOLY SHIT!!! I made it!
Ok, next up, round 2 interviews on your life goals. Let's do this. I randomly draw a question out of a sparkly black top hat.
"If you had one wish, what would it be and why?"
That's the question I was asked, and I don't exactly remember my answer word for word, but without skipping a beat I said "I would truly wish everyone would find self love, because when you can love yourself then you can love others and that's the key to happiness"
I know that can seem kinda cheesy on the "I just want world peace" scale, but afterwards I really thought about it, and it's true. Sure, I'm human, so I would also wish for money or love or whatnot, but deep down truly, I wish everyone could feel self love.
And the winner is....
Ok, so all 10 remaining finalists finish their one randomly drawn life goals question and we all go back stage to allow the judges time for final scoring. I look to my "lineup buddy" and new friend, Rachel, and she has tears in her eyes and is trembling from the adrenaline and anxiety of it all and I looked at her and said something along the line of "you did it! We're almost done and you are deserving to be here! Don't cry yet!" and then gave her a hug. Just happy to be where we were in that moment.
Little did we know, my closest friend, Mallory, would take 2nd runner up, and she would take first runner up...
and I would be crowned the 2019 Miss Alternative Knoxville beauty queen.
I cried then too.
then I went back and I hugged my friends and everyone else that was a part of this too.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of congratulations, celebration, and stunned "I did it".
Some self reflection
First off, CONGRATULATIONS to Courtney Brown for winning Miss Inked Knoxville.
Secondly, I am so grateful!! I decided to go on that stage and just be myself and something the judges saw that day found me- the little girl that was made fun of for being kinda weird and always fat, that was bullied via name calling and at one point even had spit-soaked sunflower seeds thrown on top of her head in middle school, the girl that has been told on more than one occasion how she's pretty for a big girl, that she was too fat for this or that she didn't deserve respect because of how thick her hips are, that was looked in the eye and told "God, I would kill for you to be skinny because you are just so pretty"- Yes me, that girl!!
The judges found me worthy of a crown and title.
And on that day, I never doubted that worth for a moment.
I am so proud of all of these gorgeous women that stood next to me on that stage. Even in our fears and tears, every single one of us was worthy of shining our lights on that stage.
And even if you aren't in some beauty pageant, you are worthy to shine too. Please don't forget that.
Until next time. XOXO