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What Is It Like To Compete in a Beauty Pageant?

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Answer by Cynthia Zhang, Title winner of Miss NY Chinese 2010, One of the four Asian Americans representing the U.S. in Miss Chinese International, Part-time model, Published Chinese author

I competed in Miss NY Chinese in 2010 and went on to compete in Miss Chinese International in Hong Kong after being crowned the winner of Miss NY Chinese.
 
How I Became Involved
I joined the pageant because of a commercial that my mother saw on TV. It was back in the summer of my sophomore year in college; I didn't have an internship or a job, so she thought it'd be a good experience for the summer. It was in fact my first time being in NYC. I went into the audition room without any expectations. They asked me to "tell them about myself," asked me to do a catwalk, and asked me to perform my talent. That was it. And then I just waited for two days for them to call me back.
 
When they called me back, I was in the middle of packing to go back to my home in Michigan. They literally said, "You will be in the city for training for the next three months. Come sign the contract tomorrow." Umm... what?
So that's how my journey started.
 
A Few Things You Wouldn't Know About the Pageant World...
I Made Close Friends
Perhaps it was because I was not very competitive, I ended up becoming very close to many of the girls. While some girls spent their pageant days thinking about how to stand out and how to compete against others. My mindset was to try my best and make the best out of it. No pressure whatsoever. Maybe that's not a good thing either...?
Til this day, about three years later, many of my close friends were made from the pageant. I am still very involved in the pageant community. I've been attending many of their events, whether it be judging a competition, being the guest performer, crowning successors, or just sitting in the audience silently observing. Once you are in, you are family.

I even became very close to the girls I met through the international pageant. We don't see each other very often since we came from all over the world, but we now have friends in every single continent. In fact, Miss Melbourne is currently visiting me in New York City! Miss Chicago is working in the city, we live about 15 minutes away!
 
Lots of Hard Work Involved
The pageant was more exhausting and a lot more work than I expected. Most people think we just walk around the blocks and look pretty, but it is more tiring than you think. When I competed in New York, we had hours of training every weekday and had to go to events on the weekend. We trained on how to sit and walk identically to each other, how to speak in public, how to present yourself, etc. Some girls were very competitive and took dance/voice/whatever classes on the side for extra training. The most exhausting part for me was to smile for a long time for pictures. After each event, we had to take group pictures with every person in the room possible: the sponsors, the important people (whoever they were), the makeup/hair crew, the past winners, etc. It was so tiring that by the end of the photo sessions, my entire face was sore and numb from smiling so much. I always told the girls after me to smile with your mouth closed if you get sore.
In Hong Kong, the exhaustion went up to the next level. Due to the tight schedule planned for us, there were many occasions where we had to wake up at 4 a.m. to do our makeup and stay up to 2 a.m. filming in the studio. It is not uncommon to see girls sleeping on top of each other, or next to each other on the floor in the makeup rooms. The weather wasn't very ideal either; we had to film in late fall/early winter in Tianjin, a city in Northern China. We'd film very early or late in the morning in summer clothing, when the temperature was almost below freezing point. Many of us got sick, and by the time we finished filming, no one could feel their fingers and toes.
 
No One is Beautiful Enough
Girls in pageantry are very conscious of their image no matter how beautiful or skinny they are. Many girls didn't eat. It was especially apparent in Hong Kong. Perhaps it was in the Asian culture, but it was okay for people to tell you that you are too tanned (tan represents poorness in Asian countries) or too fat, even when the girls were young and beautiful. I've gotten many comments where people straight up tell me, "You are getting too chubby! Need to watch your figure!" A lot of the girls were so conscious of the swimsuit part of the competition that they stopped eating a few days before the competition. Some were eating, but they dipped everything they ate in hot tea to get rid of the oil, and then dipped in hot water to get rid of the tea taste. It was quite amusing to me. Most girls were obsessed with the topic "losing weight." For a short time period, I began doubting my figure and asking myself whether I should lose weight. I was 5'9'' and 110 lb. Not exactly what you'd call "chubby." Fortunately, I ultimately did not give into the Asian culture, and kept on having my fried chicken at dinner along with a few other contestants coming from North America.
 
Worldly Experience
You get to see a lot more of the world than you would normally when you compete in international pageants. I was fortunate to meet so many different kinds of people at the age of 20. In Hong Kong, I was exposed to people in the entertainment industry, finance, marketing, PR, textiles ... almost every industry possible. I also got to meet many girls from all over the world. Every girl came from a similar but different culture. There were girls from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, America, China ... As a young college student, I definitely experienced a lot more than my peers. It has impacted me positively throughout the rest of my schooling and my career. I am more open to new cultures and people. One significant difference I have noticed is that I'm no longer afraid to talk to people that I have absolutely nothing in common with. I used to actively avoid meeting people without common interests, but now I think it's a pleasure and an opportunity to learn and network with them. It was the pageant that made me realize that you learn the most when you are out of your comfort zone.
 
We Are Not Stupid
When you think of pageant girls, you might think, oh they just look pretty and they are probably not educated. Yes, there are some who focus more on getting into the entertainment industry rather than education. But no, some of us are not stupid at all. There were girls from University of Manchester, University of Melbourne, Northwestern, Princeton, everywhere. If anything, the pageant makes girls become more well-rounded and more successful in life.

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