Editorial: Pageants can be a positive for girls and women

The value of pageants is something that has been debated up and down.

Those who support them will point to a number of skills that young women learn. For example, public speaking is something that many people struggle with.

Glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking, impacts roughly 74 percent of people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. For women, that number jumps up to 75 percent. Roughly 5.3 million Americans suffer from a social phobia, and 3.2 million have fears of public or crowded spaces. It ranks as a higher fear than illness, flying, terrorism and even death itself.

Pageants give young women a chance to face this fear head-on through interviews on stage. Lynn Garrick, the pageant director for Miss NASH, notes this importance.

"They can build confidence, learn how to present themselves in front of people and it helps with interview skills immensely," she said. "That transcends through their entire life. When you're looking for a job or even in college, there's plenty of interviews you have to go through."

It is also a trait that Donna Leopard, the Miss Fox Creek pageant director, believes is vital as a life skill.

"Pageants provide valuable life-learning experiences; girls get practice participating in interviews, speaking in front of an audience and performance," she said. "Girls have to know current political and social events and controversies and be able to defend their beliefs. They are required to research politics and social issues and form intelligent views about what is happening in the world and community around them - girls learn to work as a team to produce a professional-looking production, and yet work independently to achieve a goal."

Naysayers of pageants point to the idea that pageants can lead to negative experiences. Some also say it reinforces negative stereotypes as to just what "beauty" is in today's society. A poll on Debate.org currently sits with 65 percent voting that pageants are harmful to women.

Also, because of the reality shows revolving around beauty pageants that are airing on television these days, such as "Honey Boo Boo" and "Toddlers and Tiaras," the perception of those who participate in pageants is reflected in a much harsher light.

Garrick believes that the majority of the negativity comes from those who have never been a part of pageants.

"I think some negative stereotypes have been put forth by shows and things like 'Honey Boo Boo,'" Garrick said. "My daughter has competed in pageants since she was in the seventh grade. She's always walked away with new friends, and it has been, for the most part, a positive experience. Honestly, until you have actually participated, you don't know what you can get out of it.

"It's an assertion that Leopard also backs up."I would say the naysayers probably have never been in a pageant," she said. "Depending upon the system, especially the Miss America Scholarship Competition, (pageants) celebrate women for what they are and can be: beautiful, intelligent, talented, motivated, informed women. Some pageants, like Miss America, celebrate what the feminist movement has worked to earn for women over so many years - the celebration of the woman in all her glory and for all her talents, abilities and accomplishments.

"Though there may be some flubs in pageants - like what we saw with Caitlin Upton, the 2007 Miss Teen South Carolina - we should commend the young women who have the courage to step on the stage. For three-fourths of women, the idea of public speaking is one that elicits anxiousness. For high school students - teenagers - to face this fear head on is commendable.