I Love My... Pageant Tiara

gina
Gina Marinelli is the editorial assistant at Refinery29. Before that, she interned for Refinery29, and before that, she just read it every day.
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I signed up for my first pageant on a whim and entirely voluntarily (I was of legal age, this is not an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras). I knew nothing about posing in evening gowns or answering hypothetical questions pulled from fishbowls or butt glue (yes, it's a real thing). I did however, have lots of performance experience from years of school plays and dance recitals, a bit of curiosity, and a dress hanging in my closet that fit the occasion.
"With only a couple weeks to prepare, I placed as first runner-up my first time out of the gate. I can vouch that it wasn’t all big hair and even bigger plastered-on smiles. I entered a local branch of the Miss America pageant system which actually required its contestants to write essays, speak intelligently, and have some kind of talent. It was fun! And — big picture — it earned me scholarship money.
Still a newbie, I placed as first runner-up again a few months later in a second local pageant. But this time, upon hanging up my hot pink gown for the year, I found out that I would actually have to uphold my runner-up duties. I was going to succeed the crown from the original winner — not due to any Vanessa Williams-style scandals; she’d just won a bigger title.
"I was crowned Miss Empire Rose 2007. A four-point, rhinestone-encrusted, mega-blinged tiara pinned to the top of my head made it official.
"Sharing that I’m a former 'beauty queen' (P.S. I don’t really care for that phrase) is not exactly the first thing I tell people about myself — just ask a couple of my fellow coworkers who found out about my little sparkly secret by way of the internet. It’s more the 'about-me' fun fact I share when I get to know people, or something that my Facebook friends can find if they use the new timeline feature. I’m certainly not ashamed or embarrassed, but I do understand that there can be a stigma attached — a stigma that I prefer neither to encourage nor disregard. Nevertheless, my pageant past is a small piece of who I am, and a special one at that — involving both good memories and some tough lessons that had nothing to do with beauty.
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"Years after having passed the title to the next girl, it just comes down to the crown. As a lover of all things big and sparkly, I must say, it still makes for the best accessory — but just for my bookcase. It came housed in a baby-blue, satin-lined, engraved wooden box, however I keep it placed on top and sitting comfortably next to a stack of books, DVDs, and picture frames in my bedroom.
"While the crown is only a symbol of something I’ve accomplished, it was never about being the ideal pageant girl. I can look at it and be reminded of how I learned to set my hair in hot rollers, use duct tape as a bra (Ask any pageant girl: It hurts, but it definitely works, in a bind.), and got a few moments to shine on stage. I never considered myself to be the kind of girl who fit the pageant mold, yet the crown serves as a reminder that at one point I could at least bend, if not break it just a smidge.
"Full disclosure: I did compete in one more pageant after handing over my one-and-only title. I didn’t win. I didn’t place as a runner-up. But, I did take home a scholarship for an essay I wrote on my personal pageant platform: Go Green. It’s no crystal headpiece, but it felt just as good."
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