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Friday, January 11, 2013

what i learned from inside the miss america competition

Saturday, January 12th at 9pm EST.

Whenever I hear Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" there is only one thing I think of--the choreography behind this song that we practiced over and over again for the opening of the competition for the local chapter of the Miss America competition. It's funny how a song can bring you right back to a time.

During college I didn't know which direction I wanted to go in. Lawyer! News Anchor! Travel Reporter! It was almost too much. There were too many choices. It was like choosing Butter Crunch when I also wanted Strawberry and Maple Walnut (true). I wanted to do them all. One night at a benefactor dinner at my university however I met a philanthropist who told me "Try everything. Dip your toes in the water and go local." And so I did. 

I was a traffic reporter in the air!

I learned TV at our local PBS station!

I handled live animals at the animal sanctuary!

I learned publicity working for the Special Olympics!

I was a wedding planner!

I was a paralegal!

And one summer I worked as an assistant to the coordinator for our area's Miss America competition. When I took the job, to be honest, I rolled my eyes at the thought of working on something so silly but when I left, I had a new respect for these women who were so smart, healthy, driven and yes, lovely. 

Here is what I learned

  • Wearing a cocktail length dress? A swimsuit and heels? The rule is anytime you show your ankle, wear nude colored pumps (like these from L.K. Bennett). Catherine, the future Queen of England knows this trick. Nude heels elongate your legs and eyes are brought up to your face where you want them. 

  • No time to read the entire paper (or the entire New York Times website)? I still follow this trick: Read the front page (or at least the headlines) of each newspaper section (or read headlines from each section of the USA Today website--even the sections you have no interest in.) This will keep you on top of current events.

  • If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. Walk into a room with confidence. Fake it if you have to and the confidence will come.  Walk slowly with purpose, shoulders back and head up. 

  • Make people like you instantly by turning your smile on just for them. This is how. Make eye contact, then take your smile from zero to full (and real!) smile in three seconds. People will think the smile is just for them and they will like you immediately. (Try this. It works. You may attract too much attention but it does work!)

  • Be kind to each other. OK, yes, you may be in an office situation where it's survival of the fittest but it doesn't mean that you have to sideswipe someone else's career in favor of yours. Whether in the rehearsal space, make-up room or onstage, all I ever saw was women supporting each other, sharing their tips, clothing and ideas. Now, go share that nugget of information you were withholding from your co-workers. Share credit. It's OK to support each other.

  • Before a big interview think of a time when you were happy, confident, when you conquered something. Got it? Now go in and breathe slowly. When you are asked a question pause for a beat (even if you know the answer) then reply. Whatever you do, don't say "Um, like or you know." If you are interviewing with more than one person, look from one person to another for a second. Make eye contact.

  • Scuff the bottom of new shoes on asphalt before wearing them. 

  • It's true. Hemorrhoid cream can reduce under eye circles. Vaseline rubbed across your teeth can make your smile glisten. 

  • Yes, there is such a thing as butt glue. It keeps your swimsuit from riding up. No, it's not as uncomfortable as it sounds. 

  • Whatever you do, do not duct tape your breasts together to get enhanced cleavage (a typical trick women can use for a backless dress.) You have not known pain until you have to rip this tape off. DO NOT DO THIS.

  • Learn an instrument. Trust me. Just learn an instrument.  It will come in handy at some point in your life, even if it's just telling your future boss "I can play the Ukrainian Bandura" when he asks about your unusual talents.

That brief amount of time I spent inside the Miss America organization alongside these extraordinary women who worked so hard to dedicate themselves to being their absolute best was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I still wear nude heels. I still read the first page of every section of a newspaper (online or USA Today if I'm on a plane.) I still practice the slow smile. I still pause for a moment before I answer an important question. And I like to think that across this incredible country of ours there are thousands of lawyers, doctors, moms, teachers, publicists, wives, judges and managers who still scuff their new shoes on asphalt and who kindly share what they know with each other all because of their experience in the Miss America organization.

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