Backstage at a Beauty Pageant

In the last hundred years beauty pageants have become a centre piece of American culture, embodying the American spirit and offering life-changing scholarships for many of its winners. In recent years this passion for pageants has taken Britain by storm, with new pageants popping up every year. So what is the appeal of these beauty contests and will they have the staying power here as do they do overseas?

To many Britons the term pageant is alien and most refer to the film “Miss Congeniality,” which humour plays heavily on preconceived stereotypes of its contestants. However after recently attending a pageant myself I can confirm that is far from the truth. The girls I met during my time as a contestant were generally down to earth, friendly and extremely helpful offering advice to those less experienced and even spare dresses for those unable to obtain the right attire before the show. What differs these pageant girls from the rest the world is a shared interest in glamming up, wearing gorgeous clothes and presenting themselves with up-most grace, one of the appeals of the competition is being able to surround themselves with like-minded individuals.

The competition itself demands a lot from its entrants. To attend the pageant each girl must pay an entry fee, which can paid by themselves or funded by a sponsor, this encourages girls to build skills both in communication and self promotion. A big empathise of this particular competition was to raise money for their partner charities, several girls put in a lot of effort and dedication to raise staggering amounts for those less fortunate, and here you thought it was all about being a pretty face. Organization is a major factor in all pageants girls lives, not only do they have to find the right outfits, they must arrange transport and accommodation, negotiate marketing with sponsors and maintain an effortless smile at all times. The effort put in by these girls blew me away and you could tell that everyone of them weren’t there for the crown but simply for a love of the pageant world.

Community is strong within pageants, despite the girls never meeting before friendships were quickly formed and the whole group was in unison. Though there were obvious cliques all were quick to aide those in need and to include more inverted contestants. Hair tools, mirrors and make-up were lent freely with no concern to getting the upper-hand, several girls aided in doing hair and one girl took me under her wing to guide me through my first pageant. In fact it was she who won “Miss Congeniality” a title awarded to the kindest girl as voted by the other contestants, a worthy winner with genuine personality.

The show itself consisted of three rounds, jeans, party dress and evening dress. In each round girls were instructed to walk up and down the stage with elegance posing at certain points. In the final round each girl was also asked two questions about themselves to give the judges a taste of their personalties beyond their appearance. Based on their presentation they were then narrowed down by the judges to twelve finalists including the three girls who had won the titles “Miss Congeniality”, “Miss Charity” and “Miss People’s choice” respectively. These final twelve then gave an impromptu speech of why they were a worthy winner before the four runners up and the winner were announced.

Backstage the air of comradeship stayed strong even amongst the disappointed, including myself, who hadn’t got through. Losers were gracious and the winners were congratulated with hugs and best wishes for the grand final being held later this year.

In all my experience has been both rewarding and an eye opener against my poorly judged concepts of what the pageant world is like. I had a lot of fun throughout the day and met some great people and though I don’t fit entirely into the pageant world I can see its appeal. Its an fantastic opportunity for people to meet and teaches important life lessons. The future of pageants in Britain is bright and with its awareness growing each year along with its popularity it may very well become a fixture in modern British culture.

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Oxford Cambridge Boat Race 2011

London Life Coach & Relationship Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about the 2011 Boat Race. Follow Sloan Life Coach on Twitter @SloanSW_London and visit

Oxford won the toss and choose Surrey station, the official safer option despite the last four Boat Races having been won on Middlesex. Once umpire Rob Clegg dropped his red flag, the 157th Boat Race was under way.

Cambridge had a stroke rate of 47 against Oxford at 46 although a minute later Oxford were still rating a good 39 with Cambridge just behind at 38. Oxford veered off course slightly when approaching Fulham football ground only to be warned twice by the umpire but they maintained the advantage, and made it to the Mile in 3 mins 49 secs, one second ahead of our Cambridge crew.

Oxford lead the way by one length at St Paul’s School boathouse but broke clear at the top of Chiswick Eyot, still rating 34. Cambridge attempted to raise the rate by a pip and their cox Liz Box steered a nice tight on the corner trying to claw back the deficit.

By Chiswick Steps, Oxford looking increasingly confident as they took the advantage. Cambridge gave a gallant final push as the final Middlesex bend was in their favour but Oxford held them off, crossing the finish line in 17 mins 32 secs to Cambridge’s 17 mins 44 seconds.

Heartfelt commiseration go to the valiant effort from our Cambridge team.

What a race! In my capacity as a sports performance psychology consultant, I have had the pleasure to work with rowers helping them develop mental fitness to better handle the competitive pressure enabling them to put every stroke of practice to good use when race day finally arrives.

Last Saturday, I was asked repeatedly “What happened?”. Sitting in a local Cambridge pub, watching the aghast faces as the Oxford crew not only took the lead but left Cambridge painfully rowing in their puddles, I found myself explaining the psychology detriments of being favourite to win.

It is no surprise to most of you that we (Cambridge) were almost gloating from the onset of the race that we would not only win, but win our 2nd year in a row. It was a them against us mentality. However, the true challenge in rowing is the competition between the crew and every stroke of the race course, the 9 team mates and the clock, and most importantly each individual and the little voice inside shouting about the pain, the distance, the effort.

Success in rowing is all about the crew’s mental ability not only to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt, but their ability to master the limits that others impose upon them.

Both teams undoubtedly trained to the best of their abilities physically and kudos to both of them, that course is a tough one. Once Oxford had such a lead, the Cambridge crew’s bodies and minds must have been screaming for mercy. It is in that moment that you either stay with the discomfort or you push beyond any limits imaginable, up the power, lengthen those strokes and bring the boat home.

The best way to win is to get comfortable being uncomfortable – this is true in life as much as it is in sport.

Winners build their success on their failures, so no doubt next year Oxford better watch out as Cambridge will be training harder and smarter this year to regain their title.