What do you imagine when you think of pageants? Many may picture the Miss America contest with its swimsuit competition and the iconic statements of a “world peace” dream. I think of the movie “Miss Congeniality,” a Sandra Bullock classic. I recently had the immense pleasure, however, of talking to two recent graduates of the University of Utah, both young women who participated in multiple pageants. They each had a lot to say regarding the subject. I interviewed Brianna Lyman, a graduate of the Musical Theater Program. She is known in the pageant world for her title of “Miss Tooele City” and is now serving on the committee for Miss Tooele. I also interviewed Jesse Craig, who graduated with a double major in economics and English. She is currently serving as Miss Utah and has recently represented our state in the Miss America Competition.
Why are you involved?
Craig and Lyman joined pageants for different reasons. Craig wanted to work towards becoming Miss Utah because of her mother. Starting pageant life at 15, Craig followed in her mother’s footsteps and definitely stepped up to the challenge. Lyman, on the other hand, took opportunity where it came and worked hard in her hometown to bring a stellar level of professionalism to the forefront of Tooele.
For Craig and Lyman, this system wasn’t easy to compete in — it was difficult, yet, rewarding. It wasn’t just a simple title that they had a random chance of winning. They had to try multiple times to receive their respective crowns, as both faced rejection. But, as Lyman said, these programs helped her to recognize how important “hard-work, dedication and much humility” truly are. She further described how her ability to “take criti[cism]” was one of the most important skills that pageant programs taught her. Craig shared her lifelong truth of how “everything happens for a reason…it took me three years to be where I am.” These pageants take time, dedication and tons of hard work. Craig and Lyman credit many of their own capabilities and admirable character traits to their time in the pageant world.
Why should others participate?
Craig put it plainly when she said she “loves the service.” Most pageants make it a large part of their mission to participate in community service. Their goal is to help improve the world we are living in. Craig explained how she was able to see contestants who are usually called “shallow” become “genuine people” in her eyes. To succeed in these pageants and to make a name for oneself, contestants are expected to work in and for the community. They must have a heart for the world.
Continuing a discussion on why people should participate in pageants, Lyman blatantly said, “If you have any kind of inkling you may be interested in doing something, just go do it.” Pageants are usually based on a simple list of skills, almost always including talent, poise, public speaking, interview skills and community service. Why would you pass up the opportunity to push yourself and grow in these topics? Lyman joined this pageant world because of an inkling, and she’s thankful she did. She further went on to explain how although she experienced a lot of rejection, all of the hard work eventually paid off and her self-esteem was rewarded for the sacrifice.
What is the relationship between the #MeToo movement and pageants?
One of the most interesting aspects of these interviews was hearing the two different opinions regarding the Me Too movement. Both Lyman and Craig agreed on all aspects of how important these pageants are, whether it be for boosting confidence, creating work ethic or the immense volunteer opportunities. In regard to the connections between the Me Too movement and pageants, however, they held somewhat opposing views.
As a pageant participant, Lyman has considered the Miss America pageant and what it would take to work towards the goal of becoming Miss Utah and possibly Miss America. Even recently, Lyman had a situation where collaboration with the Miss America organization was a possibility for her, but she didn’t take it. Why not? It leads back to her platform of opposing “the sexual objectification of women in media.” Lyman felt she couldn’t “just state her platform after walking around in a swimsuit.” Granted, she did express immense joy when discussing all of the recent changes the Miss America Organization has imposed. She said it’s “a great step forward.” Between changing requirements and ending the swimsuit contest, Lyman said, “if they had made the changes earlier on… I would have probably done it.” The Miss America Organization has been responding to the Me Too movement and has chosen to actively make changes to help support the feminist movement.
However, many people, like Craig, see a different side to Miss America and all it has to offer. She bluntly said, “If I wear a swimsuit on stage, it’s my choice…I don’t find it objectifying, but empowering.” Craig chooses, of her own pride in her body and person, to be on the stage and to speak in front of the crowds. It’s not because she is objectified or forced to be up there, she says. She has worked hard to be where she is and finds it rewarding to share how she has grown and also her pride in herself. She finds the real power of a woman is when she can own her femininity and let her light shine for the world.
What are you up to now?
Both women recently graduated from the U this past spring. Lyman is happily married and enjoying life working at the U of U Redwood Clinic as a medical receptionist. Excitingly enough, she was recently cast in the Hale Center Theater’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Be sure to check out the show and give your support to this U alumna.
Craig is still serving for the Miss Utah Organization as Miss Utah. This year brings multiple service projects, such as Utah’s Week of Service, public speaking and much more before she passes her title down to the next recipient. Craig is also working towards taking her LSAT come March, and I’m sure all good thoughts sent her way would be much appreciated. She hopes to attend law school with the goal of focusing on family and privacy law.
What advice do you have for students at the U?
Craig said, “Get involved! I loved my experience at the U because I got involved.” College is a time to find a group of people to share life experiences within the years to come. While you’re at it, don’t forget to savor the little moments. Lyman quietly recollected, “It goes by quickly…enjoy everything…step back, and really think about it.”