Ability Beyond Disability

Autism and Pageantry

We all have our opinions about pageantry, most of us think that it’s nothing but pretty girls parading themselves around on stage and nothing more. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ever since the banishment of the swimsuit competition from Miss America, things have taken a drastic turn and I’m confident that the masses will see pageants in a different light – no longer will we be viewed as brainless Barbie dolls, but real women who strive to make a difference. This is what I as a person with autism have held dear when I threw myself into the exciting world of pageantry.

So many people give me funny looks when I owe it all to pageantry as the thing that brought me out of my shell. I get so many questions from parents and kids my age alike –

“How could you do such a thing?”

“I never thought an autistic person would do a pageant!”

“But you’re so nice, you can’t be a pageant girl!”

Here are my top six reasons as to why pageantry helped me, as a person with autism:

6. Interview skills are a must in the real world

 As we get older we will be subject to job interviews in order to be independent, functioning members of society; this is very important. Pageantry isn’t all glitz and glamour. Sure the dresses and fun performances on stage are nice to look at, but like autism; it is a spectrum. The pageants that I have been involved with are mostly community service based, and always had an interview portion which made up a good percent of the score; it determined whether you won or not basically. Pageantry fosters your interview skills and encourages you to talk about yourself, make eye contact with the judges, smile, etc. It was very hard for me at first, but I made it easier on myself by thinking of the judges as my family or my friends; that’s how I won every interview!

5. Social skills

Let’s face it, an autistic child is not going to learn anything from forced interaction in a social skills group. I know I didn’t, every group I went to seemed like a prison and you know your child is thinking that very same thought! The best thing to do is to know what they like and encourage that, which is what I did with pageantry. In every pageant you are surrounded by girls who always want to talk and make friends with you, which was very hard at first, but being thrown into that environment was very eye opening for me. I had no choice but to socialize and I learned that it wasn’t bad; I loved it. Every child enjoys something and they have to open themselves up to it. However, they will be faced with people that are completely different than them, like me – an introvert surrounded by social butterflies. It’s scary at first, but it’s all part of the journey; outside experience is the best social skills group one can ask for.

4. Hair and makeup, oh my!

This one is more for girls, which is what I’m passionate about since girls aren’t as likely to be diagnosed with autism as boys are. When I first got into pageantry, I never cared about my appearance at all, mainly because I was suffering from severe depression. Pageantry taught me that beauty was important, not in a shallow way as one might think, but in an empowering way. A woman’s appearance is not something that should be looked over or even thought of as a sign of oppression, but it should be embraced and taken care of with grace. It should always be like that because every woman is beautiful. When I first started, I had no idea how to even do my makeup or hair because I have dyspraxia, but after several attempts and lots of helpful friends willing to show me how, I love embracing outer beauty as well!

3. Moving towards happiness

It has been previously stated that I had severe depression, which is why I got into pageants. That is all true and I have no idea where I would be if I never got on that stage. When I was 13, I was ashamed of my autism and thought there was no point of living. After a few failed suicide attempts, I felt disgusted with myself. However, modeling always made me happy. My friend recommended that I do pageants and I had the same thoughts as everyone else – “It’s for dumb people.”

“You won’t catch me wearing a dress.”

Trying something new is always scary for an autistic person, but when I arrived I was shocked to see that everyone welcomed me with open arms, no one was judgmental, snobby, or rude; it seemed like everyone welcomed me home.

2. The language of shoes and dresses

Sometimes people with autism have balance issues, which is something I struggle with. Walking in six inch heels was no easy feat, especially on your first try. I remember going to my first pageant session and falling right on my butt the first time I tried to walk in my first pair of heels! The takeaway from this is that walking in heels constantly can aid you with balance issues and make you feel more confident. After a few months, you’ll be walking like a pro! As for dresses, they’re a complicated sort of animal, especially when the people you’re surrounded by are designers and fashion junkies. As someone who had totally different interests, I felt like an outsider and had no idea how I was supposed to tell the difference between Sherri Hill and Jonathan Kayne. The biggest nightmare was when my fellow pageant contestants asked me – “Who are you wearing?”. My 13 year old self looked at them wide-eyed and full of fear, responding with – “I didn’t kill anyone!”

It was pretty embarrassing.

Even though those certain things might not interest me, I learned that they interest the people I made friends with, so I made a point to learn about the designers and all the fashion labels that were on the clothes I wore. It was challenging, for shoes and dresses have an intricate, yet puzzling language to decode.

1. Lifelong friendship

We live in the age of the Internet and a lot of people love to make their friends through it. Some autistic children find solace through video games and make their friends through that, which isn’t a bad thing. We all have our preferred ways to socialize that can be used for good or for ill. However, pageantry creates friendships that last a lifetime. I still have friends from back when I first started pageants and it’s nice to see them at different pageants. While it is convenient to keep in contact with them through social media, the best part is to see them in person. You know how far you’ve come together and the best feeling is knowing that no matter how old you get, you’ll always be sister queens!

Contact Rachel

You can reach Rachel by emailing her at rbarcellona@tampabay.rr.com