The Miss Illinois USA Experience
The Miss Illinois USA 2012 pageant was an amazing experience of a lifetime. Nothing about it was anything I ever expected and here is why: We all have some kind of dreams in our heart that we think about, but never really tell anyone. We all have different reasons why, but usually it is because of 1 of 2 things: 1. We do not believe it is possible. 2. We fear what people think.
My whole life I was so involved in school, studying, focused on a career, and working hard, having to prove I had a brain and substance, to a world that underestimated me at my smile. The assumption is that life is easy for a girl “like me.” That assumption is wrong. I’ve spent most of my life making it a point to stand for everything that was the opposite of superficial, refusing to be noticed just for appearance, and truly just denying an entire part of me in order to maintain a different part of me. Then I grew up. I began to embrace every attribute and asset that I brought to the table and capitalized on it. I followed my heart and became involved in every honest interest that stemmed from what was truly a part of me. I accepted who I am inside and outside, and took on every ounce of work it requires to be Jennifer Christenson completely. Then, I decided to participate in a pageant… something “very out of the box for a smart girl,” as many have said.
I trained hard twice a day. I had a strict diet that required serious focus and dedication. I dreamed fearlessly and I tried without comparing myself to anyone, only focusing on what I could do to make me a better Jennifer. The process of what goes on pageant weekend is CRAZY!!!! Who would have thought outfit changes could be one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life??!!! At first I thought re-learning how to walk so I could do the “pageant walk” was the hardest thing in the world… Then I thought giving up chocolate was the hardest thing in the world… Then I learned that all the hard little steps were preparation for what was to come pageant weekend… Literally, you run off stage, start taking off shoes and whatever else you can take off while zooming to get to the dressing room, run down a hall, run across the hotel, run up stairs, down another hall, finally make it to the dressing room, put on the next outfit in 2 minutes with the help of chaperones zipping you or gluing your clothes to your body so they don’t move or fall down on stage, run all the way back to the stage, pretend you are not out of breath, smile so long your lips quiver, walk while trying not to trip or fall, stare at the judges and smile, still don’t fall, make sure you are walking to the right place, look for your stage cues, but not too long cuz you don’t want to lose eye contact with the judges, get off stage, run like you’re on fire all over again to change clothes and make it back for your next time on stage in a bikini.. Don’t forget to suck in, shoulders back, smile, have natural flowing arms and hands, pose, and don’t think about how hungry and exhausted you are!!! A lot of girls- including me- pushed lettuce around their plates for the 3 days we were there, and I know they had been doing it for months prior to prepare…for some they have been doing it for years. The most common thing I heard was, “I can’t wait until Sunday at 8pm…I’m going to eat pizza!!!” This might sound laughable, but it’s serious. This pageant required discipline and support. Once upon a time I would have rolled my eyes at a girl eating lettuce, but now I understand. When done properly and in a healthy way, these girls are committing to a goal. I respect that. I respect that these girls found the gumption to stand in front of an audience, be proud of who they are and say, “Here I am!” They open themselves up to judgment, and when it doesn’t work out how they hoped, they build resilience. They try again. Not everyone can do that, and the common misconception about these pageants is that these girls are consumed by all that is fake, superficial, and unrealistic of what a “real” woman is… That is not true. This IS who they REALLY are… They are beautiful, yes, but they are also driven to be their best. Beauty is a part of them they embrace and the only people who should judge should be the ones they signed up to be judged by. They enhance who they are and damn right they should put themselves on a stage after putting in all that work… They earn it.
Poise, class, beauty from the inside-out, health, and dreams is what I found to describe the girls and people from the Miss Illinois USA organization that I met this weekend. Granted, this is a competition and we all know plenty of women can temporarily cover up ugly with lipstick and an insincere smile until the claws come out. Does it have to be that way? No, and it isn’t only that way in pageants, it’s called “Life.” A solid person with values rises above hate and negativity, and good parents teach this to their children… and hopefully remind them as adults. However, the “cattiest” women I encountered this weekend were not the girls against me, it was their mothers! After I won First Runner Up, I had 2 different mothers tell their daughters not to get on an elevator with me… I suppose they were uncomfortable. Perhaps they just do not know that where I placed in a competition has nothing to do with what I believe about embracing everyone as equals. My guess is that my winning spirit would rub off on them and they would be forced all over again to compare themselves and their daughter to me… That must be so tragic for their insecurities… and it is SUCH nonsense! Grow up, Mommies. Stop messing up my peers! This generation is far too important and powerful for you to make a mess out of them with your poor examples. This entire experience was one that should build confidence… sisterhood… endurance… dreams…
We all have 3 parts to us: Mind. Body. Spirit. How we develop each is what determines how fulfilling our life will be. Before I had done this pageant I would have said that it was accepting judgment of superficial qualities. Now I know better. How we look, what we endure, and our ability are all God given attributes. How we maximize and utilize what He gave us is our gift of thanks and honor back to Him. This pageant was a LOT of work and focus…A LOT…and I couldn’t do it if He didn’t make me who I am- inside and out- it all counts. I’m grateful and have the confidence to own it, no matter what anyone believes, doubts, thinks, or assumes. I am proud to be ALL of who I am and will always take a stand to say a woman can be beautiful and intelligent. She can also be beautiful, intelligent, and a good person. It is society that is at fault for forcing so many women to choose which quality they want to be, and I’ve experienced so many scenarios where people tried to marginalize and label me. When I was in the chemistry lab or working in hospitals, people said, “You don’t look like you belong here,” and “You’re going to touch that? You don’t look like the kind of girl who would want to get dirty.. Why don’t you just seal envelopes instead.” The only paper I wanted to pick up was the one my degree was written on, fold it into a paper plane, and fly it into the middle of their forehead… I assumed they would feel just as shocked if I did that as they felt once they heard me speak and out perform them at their own job. Then I was in the TV world and right away it was assumed I was “just a face” like every other blonde who gets by on her looks. I was told “you are too pretty to talk about politics. No one will take you seriously.” I know better, though. America wants someone who is both, so I continue to be me and embark on a path to initiate a revolution in the world and values of multimedia.
I’m very proud of this experience because for the first time I was able to completely be me… How I look, what I think, how hard I work, and what I feel about the world and for the world all came together… and while I was “judged” by a panel, the judgment of anyone else did not phase me one bit. What people think has zero effect on the power of my will and although I have always known I am the only one with the right to define me, I can now also confidently tell you who I am, what I like, and honestly say that every decision I make- no matter what the perception of others may be- is a decision I make for myself and for all of the right reasons. On to the next level and accomplishment of being a better Jennifer… Thank you to everyone who has been with me throughout my journey…