Since I was a little girl, I watched beauty pageants on television. I was named after the first Black woman to win Miss Universe, Janelle (Penny) Commissiong. She was also the first woman from Trinidad and Tobago (where my family was born and raised) to win the title. Who knew that 39 years later the woman named after her would compete in her first pageant?

A couple of friends told me about the Ms. Full-Figured North Carolina Pageant. I didn’t know there were pageants for women my size; therefore, I figured I would give it a shot. I auditioned and was selected to participate. As excited as I was, I had no clue what I needed to do next. My best friend assisted and suggested I work with a former colleague who was also a pageant coach. Everything was falling into place except for one thing…I needed financial support.

The bestie and pageant coach suggested creating a crowdfunding page. I was hesitant at first, because I’ve seen people abuse crowdfunding sites, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was going to take their money and run. I never realized how expensive participating in a pageant would be; now I understand why delegates sought sponsors. Once my platform was created, which focused on five tenets geared to empower and support the holistic development of women, my page was created. I posted on my Facebook page and in many of the Facebook groups I was a member of; I also shared with friends and family. In less than 24 hours of creating the site, I received my first donation of $250. My mouth dropped. Others followed suit, making donations as low as $5 and I had more people donate $100 or more; one person more than once. I couldn’t believe it. People I didn’t even know donated. I also received sponsorships for nails and make up (thank you Moni Brodie for not only making sure my face looked good, but being my assistant backstage during the pageant).

I also acquired the assistance of two stylists that would ensure I was dressed like a Queen. I hate shopping and have NO fashion sense whatsoever, so their expertise was crucial. It was definitely a challenge at times as there were certain rules regarding attire that had to be followed, but in the end it all worked out. The biggest problem I experienced was with my evening gown. I was notified one week before the pageant that my evening gown had to be changed because the original one that was made was not up to par (basically it was UGLY). I had not seen the dress; I provided my vision and left it up to the stylists so I trusted their judgement. However, I was freaking out. I asked to see a picture of the new evening gown; it was completely different that what I envisioned (even the color was different), but it was beautiful so my mind was at ease. But now there was another problem; the gown was being made in another state and needed to get to me in time for the pageant and if alterations needed to be made we needed to work quickly.

My evening gown arrived three days before the pageant; thank goodness the alterations were minor. I had a hair snafu as I didn’t have a stylist to do my hair the morning of the pageant. All the stress of the pageant and wanting to win broke me down; I cried uncontrollably. One of my stylists curled my hair and Moni made sure I was ready for the stage. The pageant was two days; day one was the press party which consisted of swimwear, talent, and Q&A. day two consisted of the Ms. Photogenic competition, speech, and evening gown. Day one…I rocked it! My response to Q&A was strong, my swimwear was tight (I fought with my stylists regarding my swimwear as there were differences of opinion), and I felt good going into day two. I said to myself “I may actually have a chance to win the crown.”

Day two rolls around and it was a VERY emotional day for the delegates. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sisterhood that formed amongst us. I am competitive, but it was great to be able to connect with so many beautiful women from different walks of life. No drama or hatred whatsoever; I knew I had a new group of sisters. I did my speech, danced, walked in my evening gown, and the wait for the results began.

I was hoping I did well enough to make it on the Royal Court (which consisted of the winners, first and second runners up, and the winners of Ms. Photogenic, Swimwear, and Talent competitions). Additional awards were given out as well, but those awards were not part of the Royal Court; those awards were announced first. I was a co-winner for the Ms. Social Media Award and Ms. Rising Star. I was happy and was wondering if I would win anything else. And I did. I won Ms. Photogenic (winner receives a crown and sash with the title). Now…would I win the main title. Unfortunately, I was first runner-up, but I was extremely happy for the winner and I was happy that I did so well. I was able to share my platform with a larger group…it was a great night for me. However a few days later, once I realized how close I was to winning the title and what the deciding factor was, I was upset with myself. It was something so simple (my speech was too long). This is the first time I am sharing this, but that haunted me for a long time. However, it didn’t deter me from participating in another pageant. I was back at it five months later. I wasn’t expecting to win that one, but I could have done better. I was exhausted. After the second pageant, I decided I would work behind the scenes and no longer compete.

Well…now I’m competing in another one…LOL. I am the current Ms. North Carolina Woman American Beauties Plus and will be competing for the National title later this year. I am excited and looking forward to getting back on the stage! No matter the outcome, I will become part of another sisterhood that takes pride in showing that beauty comes in all sizes. The women I’ve met during my pageant journeys have been amazing!

If I can compete in a beauty pageant, so can you! There are many to choose from; do a Google search and research the different pageant systems. Determine why you want to compete, your platform, and who you want to serve. You can create a crowdfunding site, or just ask for financial support. Develop relationships with local businesses; especially those you visit frequently and ask for their support. Create a budget, and stick to it. Surprisingly, there are ways to pageant on a budget; I learned that the second time around. Practice walking in your pageant attire, especially your evening gown. The last thing you want to do is stumble in front of the judges. Take the time to really get to know the other delegates; those connections are beneficial. And finally, SMILE! Pageantry is not like runway modeling; you are not there to “give face”. Show those pearly whites until your face hurts!

Pageantry really is fun, but you get what you put into it. Preparation can be stressful and tiring, but stepping out of your comfort zone and becoming a part of a new sisterhood are priceless. Feel free to email me at info@janellesimmons.com if you have questions.

Much love!

-The Curvy Doc

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