This past week I had the pleasure of speaking to over 350 JROTC cadets at Leavenworth High School. Here is how it began;
I walked in wearing my military uniform, nothing out of the ordinary for a group of students who see this on a daily basis. I asked them what opinions came to their mind when I stood before them in uniform, and as I expected they looked at me with expressions of confusion. They simply said I was a woman in uniform.
As an icebreaker, I then pulled out my crown and sash and my “glammed up” pageant headshot. Every reaction was the same; gasps, whispers, astonishment. I asked the students if their opinion of me changed any after seeing that I’m not just a woman in uniform. I asked them if they ever imagined putting the two together, a beauty queen and a soldier. When they said no, I asked why. The responses I received are as follows;
“Soldiers don’t mind getting dirty. Beauty queens care if they break a nail.”
“Beauty queens are full of themselves. ”
“Beauty queens are stuck up.”
There were many more, but you get the gist of it. After they gave their feedback I picked out a few students and labeled them. I pointed at a guy and told him he was a jock. I pointed at a girl and called her a cheerleader. And lastly, I told another guy that he was a band geek. After doing so (and getting a few glares from these students), I asked how they felt. They all said the same thing; stereotyped and labeled. As if simultaneously, the lightbulbs went off in their heads and they understood the point I was soon to make.
I backtracked to tell the students my story, where I came from and how I got here. I was a ghost in high school. I had no friends, no life, no confidence. I spent lunch period in the library, alone with my love for books. The characters in these pages being the only people I could relate to.
I took a leap out of my comfort zone one day and joined my school’s rifle team. Quickly escalating to the number one shot, I earned the nickname “Annie Oakley” and found where I belonged…in a man’s world. On that range is where I found myself and my confidence. I was never interested in the petty drama that followed most girls around in high school, so being around men on this range was relieving. No drama, just pure camaraderie and competition.
A year later, I joined the Army National Guard while still in high school. Getting shipped off to basic training was a fear come true….and I loved every minute of it. When one got in trouble, we all suffered for it. When one went down, we all went down. It was a band of brothers, unity and camaraderie at its finest. This is what I live for.
As I finished telling the students of my hard exterior, I softened it up a bit. How did a solider get into the pageant world? I said that God’s mission for me here on earth is to help people. To motivate, encourage, empower. The pageant world seemed best fit to catalyze my success in fulfilling God’s mission. It would allow me to speak to groups of people and share my platform.
As a final question, I asked them if their perception of a beauty queen was still the same….and they all said no. They said I broke the mold of what they assumed a beauty queen was like. My mission for this speech was a success. If I could just make ONE person think differently and stop stereotyping, I’ve done my part.
I left them with the lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” song. “If you want to make the world a better place, you better look at yourself and make a change.”
Make a change in yourself, people! Stop stereotyping, stop assuming, stop labeling!
-Your Miss Outdoor Girl…