I can already hear you now. And yes, I am aware how out of left field that sounds. After all, no-one pictures the girl who loves volcano boarding, saltwater hair, and living in villages entering a pageant.
But there it is. I, Hilary Billings, world traveler, adventurer, and part-time lion tamer decided to compete in the Miss Nevada United States pageant.
Lost? That’s okay. Let me explain.
Over the course of the last year (though I can’t tell you why or how), my path crossed with a multitude of pageant queens and delegates. In fact, one of my now best friends is a former Miss Nevada America and Miss Nevada USA queen. Not only was she beautiful, but she was driven, kind-hearted, giving, witty and—could it be?—smart.
In fact, the more women I met who were part of the pageant circuit, the more flummoxed I was. Why are these girls nothing like I thought pageant women were supposed to be? And then I started wondering…
What would it be like to be in a pageant?
How would I do?
Would I ever want to be a title-holder and use the system as a method to travel, share my platforms, and connect with people?
And the more questions I asked, the more curious I became. And one thing became very clear.
The thought of being a part of a pageant terrified me. It was so unusual, so foreign, so uncomfortable, just picturing myself on stage in a bikini made me want to pass out. I had NO idea how I would handle a situation like that. And I was terrified of showing my body to a panel of judges.
Because even though I got my degree in body image, I’ve had my fair share of body image issues.
Last summer, over Fourth of July, I was in this freak accident. I was at a friend’s family party and we were just starting our firework show. But the first firework malfunctioned. It blew up, and a piece of debris traveled 30 feet in the wrong direction, hitting me in the chest and stomach. I’m lucky my clothes didn’t catch on fire.
I suffered second-degree burns, but the emotional scars ran deeper. I wrestled with my self-image. How could I be considered beautiful and feminine with these scars? And what kind of hypocrite did it make me that I couldn’t just ‘get over it’ when I’d been educated on helping other women with their self-confidence?
This pageant not only gave me the perfect opportunity to work on my confidence, but also show other burn victims that you don’t have to be ‘flawless’ to feel beautiful and go out there and strut your stuff.
And that’s why I did it.
Life’s all about once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It’s about finding a way to reach your goal, even if it means pursuing avenues you never previously considered. It’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone, trying something new, and having an adventure.
It seemed all too clear that regardless of the outcome, this would be an amazing growing experience. And my goals in life to inspire, motivate, and support others along their journeys is something that fits well with the core values of the organization. I felt we could all benefit.
So I became the Sandra Bullock of the pageant world… navigating my way through the dress acquisition, opening number rehearsals, and meeting my competition all-the-while staying true to me and my cause. I anticipated it being difficult, even unpleasant. And I expected my fellow competitors to answer questions like this.
What I didn’t expect was to enjoy the journey so much. I did not expect to admire and be inspired by my competition. As it turns out the reasoning for my fellow competitors signing up is no different from why any normal girl does anything— everyone just wants to grow and reach out. They were beautiful and smart. And I ate a GIANT slice of humble pie (turns out it’s low in calories ;).
Sunday night I stood in front of a Las Vegas crowd, holding hands with my competitors, thanking myself and the universe for allowing me to have this opportunity. I was leaving this competition a better person, having had a new adventure, and with a new found respect for pageantry and what it does for young women.
Then something unexpected happened.
I was crowned.
So now a new adventure emerges. I go to Washington DC this July to compete for The Miss United States title, ironically one year from my freak accident that got this ball rolling, representing burn victims and adventurers everywhere.
After my crowning, my director just looked at me and smiled. Hugging me, she whispered congratulations in my ear and then laughed to herself. “And to think this all started because of a blog.”