Unapologetically Authentic

My first year competing in Miss Alabama USA, I went in with great expectations. I had lost 30 lbs and had a rockin’ body, I knew how smart I was and that I would give an amazing interview, I had a great walk, I had great stage presence, and my wardrobe was to die for. What else did I need? I walked into registration in a tight but classy dress with a fur vest, makeup and hair perfectly in place, and my head held high. I had prepared myself for this moment. No matter how much any pageant girl denies it, registration is vitally important because it’s where you get the first in-person glimpse of your competition; it’s where you size everyone up. I bought my photography package, I met with the videographer, I spoke with the director and thanked her for all of her hard work to make the pageant happen, and I got my banner. I looked around at all of the girls, and knew my chances were high because I had done everything I could possibly do to be the best that I could be. In my mind, and even aloud to my mother, I compared myself to the other contestants, explaining the edge each contestant had over the others. I came to the conclusion that in my own mind that I was in the top 10, but that I really stood a great chance to WIN! I felt great. I was nervous, I was excited, I was ready for this challenge, and I was going to leave no stone unturned. Pageant weekend had kicked off, and I had my game face on. I made friends, but was careful not to lose site of the goal at hand: winning Miss AL USA 2014.

I competed in swimsuit and evening gown, and I took in feedback after prelims about how great I did and what I could improve on. It seemed that I had “nailed it”. Going into interview the next morning, I was confident and was completely myself. I was articulate, intelligent, poised, and personable. I knew the judges loved me. That night, it was time for finals. I started doing my hair and makeup, and put my ear buds in to focus. Of course, I listened to the most cheesy inspirational music which included “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus because this was going to be my moment. “I could almost see it. That dream I’m dreaming!” Funny, but I actually went through this process!! Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at myself. At the end of the night, I was called into the top 5. I nailed my onstage question and though the crown was mine. They called 4th runner-up and I was still standing, then they called 3rd runner-up and I heard my name. My jaw dropped a little and I was confused. I was so discouraged. I had worked so hard, and I had done everything I could, but I still fell short. I decided to give myself some time to think, and to decide if I would return the next year.

I took the beginning of 2014 as a time to make myself happy. I did what I wanted, I ate what I wanted, I laughed a lot, I worked a lot, and I took care of myself for once. What’s important here is that I took care of myself and paid attention to what I wanted in life. I pressed put the brakes on trying to be perfect. May 2014 rolled around, and I decide to compete in Miss AL USA once again. I began my prep. I started working out more often, but I stayed focused on other things that mattered in my life outside of the pageant. I met with the genius designer Gionni Straccia to design the evening gown of my dreams, and I continued on with my life. Competing in Miss Alabama USA this year was different. It felt different and I didn’t know why. It felt different because the pageant was not my life. It did not define me, and I did not need it. I didn’t need the title of Miss Alabama USA 2015. I knew that I was intelligent and articulate. I knew that I had successfully founded my own non-profit organization and had raised over $50,000 for Children’s Hospital of Alabama. I knew that I had a great job in sales and marketing that many people my age would kill for. I knew how blessed I was, and that while winning the pageant would help me in a lot of ways, that I would be absolutely fine without the crown. I realized that I didn’t NEED the pageant. My life had direction without it. To even escalate matters, my wonderful boyfriend of 3 years asked me to marry him in October, about a month before the pageant. I was happy and I was in control of my own life.

When I walked into registration in November 2014 for the Miss Alabama 2015 pageant, I went through the same procedure I had the year before. I made sure my hair and makeup was in place, and I walked in with my head held high. The difference was, I found myself looking around and I wasn’t comparing myself to my competition. I realized that none of us were better or worse than the others, but that we were all very different. I realized that we all had different things to offer, but that there were so many people there that could learn from me, and so many people there that I could learn from. On that day, I discovered what confidence is. Confidence is walking into a room and not thinking you’re better than anyone, but not having to even think about who is better. It’s walking into a room and knowing that comparing yourself to anyone else is a waste of time. Pageant night rolled around and I wore my amazing swimsuit, and my drop-dead-gorgeous dress. The following morning, I executed my interview with poise, passion, and finesse. Finals night, I was calm and I wondered if one of the girls had slipped a sedative into my water bottle (just kidding). But honestly, I was strangely calm. I made it into the top 5, and saw the crown and banner sitting on the table. I looked at it then looked at the stage, and I thought to myself “that crown is about to be on my head. I’m about to have the biggest opportunity of my life.” I walked out on stage for the top 5 question. The question was: “What can we do to increase the voter turn out for 18-25 year olds?”. I had a great response. It was something I didn’t even think about. I blurted out something like, “Knowledge is power. We need to let our young adults know that our votes count; that we have the power to support legislation we agree with; that we hold the future of this country in their hands if we make our voices heard.” I walked off stage- “Nailed it.”. All of my friends backstage were cheering. “You have this!!! You did it!!! Jenna!!!!” They called out the top 5. I was thinking: Fourth runner-up…not me!!! Third runner-up…not me!!!! Oh my gosh this is mine!!! Second runner-up….me….” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I would be a fantastic Miss AL USA. Heck, call me cocky, but I think I could win Miss USA. I don’t think I could win Miss USA because I think I’m just so much more beautiful than everyone else; I think I could win Miss USA because I know my value. I know that a crown or the lack of a crown does not define me. It does not make me any more or less valuable. I could win Miss USA because Miss USA is “Confidently Beautiful.” Miss USA is well spoken, she is a role model, and she is a strong and independent woman. I know that I meet all of those requirements. I was never meant to be Miss Alabama USA, but I was meant to compete in Miss Alabama USA to learn some of the most important lessons anyone can learn: always know your value, never compare yourself to anyone, and always be unapologetically authentic.

~Jenna Elizabeth King

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