“What is beauty to you?”
Here is the irony. Two judges at the 1st round of a beauty pageant asked me this question.
Yet, I had no idea what to say.
As I sat there with a blank mind, I engaged in a brief eye staring contest with the judges and played thumb war with my hands, not knowing what to say.
But just as my left thumb was about to become victor in the one minute war against my right, my mind clicked.
I recalled the time when I first entered the orientation session.
There were ten other contestants, all beautiful and all intimidating.
They wore glittering dresses and layers of makeup.
Meanwhile, I stood in my dirty sneakers and bare face with a forced smile.
We picked our contestant numbers randomly. I got number 9.
From that point on, I was referred to by the number 9 rather than my name.
I thought that was bizarre and quite frankly, terrible.
I felt like I was being objectified. Could it get any worse?
The first rehearsal was terrible.
I am not and will never be a dancer.
As I looked like an octopus struggling to learn the steps to the group dance, the other contestants leaped around the room like butterflies.
I could see our trainer cringe, while she carefully observed my clumsy steps.
“Number 9, you need to stretch out your arms more!”
“Number 9, you need to kneel on this beat!”
“Number 9, are you alright?!”
I could see everyone’s eyes follow my fall down to the cold ground.
My ankle turned, my heels clumped, my mouth opened up for a slight gasp.
The next second, I was on the ground, splat.
Until that point, I had experienced the stereotypes of a beauty pageant.
Objectification, hurt emotions, and physical injuries.
The once 10 pairs of intimidating eyes transformed into warm faces.
I did not experience the typical fights portrayed in media regarding beauty pageants.
Our identities grew and we began to refer to each other by names.
We encouraged each other through group chats and social media.
We shouted words of good luck as our arms wiggled with weakness during our two minute planks. Moreover, we became a united team that shared our love for matcha ice cream and brunch.
On the day of the pageant, I stood on stage for two hours.
I recalled the moment I wanted this whole episode to be over.
There was a time when I was frightened of potentially experiencing the stigma of beauty pageants the media portrayed.
Now, I didn’t want to lose a single second.
“What is beauty to you?”
As cheesy as this may sound, beauty cannot be defined.
In fact, it exists in every aspect of our lives, regardless of how society may define it.
As contestant number nine of a beauty pageant, I can definitively say that beauty is not always found in the expected, but must also be sought for in the unexpected.
Up to this point in this article, I have repeated the word “beauty” eleven times as homage to our team of eleven contestants. I believe this random coincidence can be beautiful.
My point is that anything, literally anything, can define beauty and that it is our job to realize this.