UK women find that pageant is about more than looks

By Juliann Vachon

Eight young women, dressed in bright red tops and black pants, hustled around a dressing room cluttered with sparkling gowns, high-heels, curling irons, jewelry, lotion and lipstick.

It was less than 30 minutes to showtime Saturday evening, and the contestants for the 2008 Miss Lexington Scholarship Pageant were ready for their chance to battle it out for the crown, scholarships and the opportunity to compete in the Miss Kentucky competition this summer.

It is no secret that physical appearance plays an important role in winning a pageant, said the 2008 winner, Dana Elliott, but many do not see what lies beneath the makeup, the hairspray and the handy “butt glue,” used to hold the swimsuit in place and avoid any embarrassing slips.

Contestants have to be dedicated and balance between normal life and competing, Elliott said. And looks only get a contestant so far.

“It’s not just a beauty pageant where you come in and you fix your hair and you look pretty. These girls are substantial,” said Elliott, a UK graduate. “I think that it’s important for people to understand that it’s not always about walking out in your swimsuit and having a perfect body. You have to have validity in your person.”

As Miss Lexington 2008, Elliott received a $4,000 scholarship, which she will apply toward student loans, on top of other prizes, and she will advance to the Miss Kentucky pageant at the Singletary Center for the Arts in July.

Four other contestants in this year’s pageant also had UK ties — one plans to start at the university this summer and three are currently taking classes. For all of them, the pageant coupled with their school and work lives was challenging but rewarding.

Katisha Pickrell, an elementary education sophomore, said balancing pageant preparation with 18 hours of classes and work was tiring. Most mornings started at 6:30 a.m. with a visit to the gym, followed by classes and then homework. On the weekends, Pickrell works at Miss Priss, a prom and pageant boutique.

But the time was well worth it. Aspects of the competition, like personal interviews with the judges, are helpful, Pickrell said.

“I’m actually applying to the elementary education program in about a week and I have an interview there that is about 15 minutes long,” Pickrell said. “I feel a whole lot more confident knowing that I can go in and have a discussion with these people and really just stand up tall and not be afraid to talk with them.”

Pickrell was the first runner-up and walked away with $1,200 in scholarships.

The Metropolitan Woman’s Club has sponsored the Miss Lexington Scholarship Pageant for 48 years. Club members were on hand throughout the day providing food and helping the girls with whatever they needed.

“We love working with the girls,” said Sharon Haggard, a club member. “This pageant teaches young women to get out there and strive for a goal.”

Brooke Schafer, an agricultural biotechnology junior at UK, had never competed in a pageant and entered the Miss Lexington pageant to experience something new in her life.

“I was really looking for something to take me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “What a heck of a way to do it, getting glammed up and walking out there in front of everyone.”

Schafer said she selected the Miss Lexington competition as her first pageant because of the emphasis on scholarship and the organization’s willingness to “appreciate curves.” While unfamiliar and apprehensive at first to jump into the pageant world, Schafer said her mother provided the needed push to enter, and she is glad she took the step.

“My views on this whole process have definitely changed,” Schafer said. “You’ve seen how smart these girls are. It’s not nearly the cookie-cutter image some make it out to be.”

Because Schafer sold the most ads for the competition, she walked away with the advertising award, which includes a $200 scholarship from the Metropolitan Woman’s Club.

Even without a crown, making connections and building skills and confidence has made the pageant experience worth it for many of the Miss Lexington contestants.

“I think a lot of people just assume we’re really caddy and all we want is the crown, we’re just in it for that,” Pickrell said. “But being able to walk across a stage and sing to hundreds of people and speak in front of them and go into an interview and not fall apart, I’ve just gotten so much out of it.”