“I will never let my daughter do that,” -a graduated senior from class of 2016.
Unfortunately, I felt similarly after watching the performance posed by our juniors and seniors during the Distinguished Young Women competition last year. I arrived with high hopes and a general idea of what I was going to witness. Sitting in the front row of the backend section of the auditorium, I sat comfortably amongst some close friends, chatting anxiously as the lights house lights dimmed. None of us had ever been to the event, but because we knew so many participants that year--we were eager to support them.
As a little girl, I can remember looking up to those who I believed to be some of the most talented, inspiring, and composed young women on the island ready to show-case their talents and abilities. I grew up, never having the opportunity to attend, with the intention of one day participating.
The curtain split and the mystical silhouettes of my friends attracted all of our attention to the stage. Behind the bright lights, the girls performed a choreographed opening number. Their teeth, (coated with vaseline to keep them smiling), were always visible. I cringed throughout the following acts, in shock that such an event was still happening...at our high school. I sat, in agony, as I watched girls walk away empty handed after the awards were given out. All of their hard work; all of those hours, and for what; some news dresses and a pair of heels. While I am completely opposed to participation awards, to not gain any reward after being judged in accordance to some beauty standard, is appalling.
Watching the girls practice this year, the program is still centred around appearance, presentation, and “fitness.” While it is a performance after all, I feel as though more time, or frankly too much time is spent on the appearance and not enough on character. How can anyone determine who you are in a 60 second time frame as you respond to how you would make the world a better place? How can you judge a person's personality by the length of her dress, or how well she can cross the stage in heels? How can you determine if someone's personality is deserving of money for their education when they are limited to 60 seconds to speak? Finally, I will never understand the point of judging a girl's ability to perform a choreographed dance and workout routine to whether or not she should receive scholarship money.
On the Distinguished Young Women website, their mission is stated as, “a national scholarship program that inspires high school girls to develop their full, individual potential through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.” With that said, we should ask girls something along the lines of, “When did you really get lost and how did you find your way back to yourself?”
I realize the majority of girls who participate in distinguished young women, do it solely for scholarship money, which is upsetting to me. I’ve heard the argument that DYW can be great sources of scholarship money for low-income young women, but I’d rather live in a world where those same girls don’t have to learn how to walk in high heels or painfully smile for an hour at a time in order to afford college. I’ve also heard the argument that the pageant experience builds confidence and community among the participants, but so does participating in a debate club or flashing across a soccer or lacrosse field.
Aside, from my views on the system, I think we must consider the emotional effects on the girls. Young women of all ages deal with their own insecurities. Why should we give girls another reason to second guess their worth? If I lose something because I didn’t spend enough time culminating my ideas or working hard enough than that is one thing. But when you lose DYW you don’t lose because someone was smarter or more ambitious and hardworking than you, you lose thinking maybe you weren’t pretty enough or maybe you slumped when you walked or perhaps your body didn’t look good enough doing sit ups on stage. Beauty is about resilience--girls and women who have been through something and come out the other side having learned something about themselves and others.