At 14, she had never worn make-up or put on a pair of heels. The Ohio native nearly ran off stage competing in her first pageant.
Now Megan Wisler, senior communications major, considers the world of pageantry her second family.
Chapman, which is nicknamed “the pageant school” among Miss America volunteers because of the number of titleholders it puts out, has seven women competing for this year’s Miss California title out of 55 competitors, said senior Laura Berger, who is Miss Los Angeles County.
Sophomore Shelby Macdonald; juniors Katie Barnum and Jordan Krinke; seniors Noelle Freeman, Wisler and Berger; and ‘10 alumna Rachel Berry, said they participate in pageants to earn scholarship money, become a positive role model and experience personal growth. They accomplish this by volunteering in the community, practicing their talents and remaining informed on current events.
“For every pageant, you have to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally, and with that comes the opportunity to learn who you are as a person and recognize where you want to go in life,” Wisler said.
Miss California is not simply a beauty pageant because there is a talent portion. It is also a non-profit providing the largest amount of educational scholarships for women in the U.S., said Connie Benson, executive director of the Miss Orange County and Miss City of Orange scholarship pageants.
Berger, political science and communication studies double major, thinks that being in pageants has strengthened her talents.
“I got started in pageants because I wanted extra opportunities to perform piano when I was in high school,” Berger said.
Berry has won four titles since 2006 and said she participates in pageants to be a role model for the community. Many pageants are about outward beauty, Berry said, which is not the most important trait to her.
“I make sure the pageants represent what I represent,” Berry said. “I want to represent an organization that has high moral values and emphasizes service and inner character.”
Although sophomore Lauren Curtis, graphic design major, said she respects the women who participate in pageants for their diligence, she would never compete in one herself.
Curtis said pageants seem to focus on less important aspects of women, such as physical appearance and body image.
“I am skeptical of the measures that some often take in terms of diet and outside appearance,” Curtis said. “It should be more focused on the interview portion and less superficial topics.”
Barnum, dance major and Miss City of Orange, did not get involved in pageants for the beauty and charm. She said the negative stigma is often surface level.
“Everyone always notices the glitz and glam of wearing a crown, but people do not take the time to realize what it is the [woman] is actually doing while wearing that crown,” Barnum said.
Titleholders are required to have a platform, such as United Through Reading or the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which they volunteer with and raise money for during their reign.
The Chapman contestants admitted that because tuition is not cheap, scholarship money is frequently a draw to pageants.
Barnum has won about $2,000 in scholarships, which will assist her in pursuing a career in the commercial dance industry. Chapman is partly to thank for her success, she said.
“As a student here, you are required to be driven and well-rounded, sharing many of the same characteristics that titleholders in the Miss America Organization all possess,” Barnum said.
Wisler thinks that having support from family and friends helps during pageants.
“It’s a great thing knowing that there are people behind you, literally cheering for you with glittered signs and air horns,” Wisler said.
Beth Berry, Rachel’s mother, has supported her daughter in pageants, which challenge her to become well rounded and confident, Beth said.
“As her mother, I have played encourager, supporter, cheerleader, taxi driver and critiquer,” Beth Berry said. “The pageants she has been in [help her] develop qualities that are necessary to be healthy role models in today’s society.”
The women said one of the reasons they participate in pageants is to continue Miss America’s reputation of community leaders.
“What we do goes so far beyond rhinestones and hairspray,” Benson said. “I can’t think of one person who, after really getting to know what the program is about, still feels that it’s not a positive thing to be a part of.”