2018 Miss Mid-Michigan battles pageant misconceptions

Rachel Basela, Contributor

In 2018, the swimsuit competition portion of the Miss America Organization was removed. Many people who follow the pageant saw this as a step in the direction of liberating women instead of judging them based on their appearance.

In the same year, Kristin Penrose, a current sophomore at Oakland University, won the title of Miss Mid-Michigan, and with her crown, moved on to tell her peers about the inclusiveness, accessibility and volunteerism that comes with competing in pageants.

Growing up, Penrose never saw herself being what she calls a “pageant girl,” but after considering the benefits of using her talents as a classically trained vocalist to win scholarship money, she made the decision to go for the crown.

Her love of music inspired her to move from the coed competitions she was doing for fun to the Miss America Organization where talent counts for 30 percent of the overall score.

After winning a few hundred dollars with her voice, she used that money to continue her vocal lessons and eventually advanced in the pageant organization to win Miss Mid-Michigan this past year.

Penrose feels pageants have been viewed as something less than empowering for women compared to what she has experienced first-hand.

“From just a simple Google search, you can find a bunch of clickbait about beauty pageant fails, and I like to clarify with people that we are a scholarship organization,” Penrose said. “I hate to see hard work get diminished based on some societal stigma.”

Penrose battled these misconceptions of pageants by describing the way in which her opinion changed through her experience.

“What I didn’t realize [about pageants] is how competitive it was, and really, every girl that is competing for the pageant in the Miss America Organization is equally as qualified to win the title,” Penrose said. “It’s not really about the image or the superficial stigma that I thought it was going to be, and that is why my idea of pageants completely changed as soon as I did one for myself. I didn’t realize how many amazing girls there were and how many backstories there were, how talented they were.”

The Miss America Organization not only focuses on talent; they judge the contestants based on poise, interviewing skills, public speaking, and health and wellness as well. Along with these criteria, Miss America also encourages their contestants to have a platform.

“My current platform is ‘Unity of Community: Outreach for At-Risk Children,’” Penrose said. “I am a board member to a local charitable organization called ROCKit, Rochester Outreach and Charity for Kids, and we have collected and distributed over 40,000 new and gently used books, almost 20,000 pieces of clothing, and over 2,000 new and gently used prom dresses for children and teens in need in the tri-county area.”

As Penrose is a sophomore studying Public Relations and Strategic Communication with a minor in Business at OU, she has taken a break from the pageant scene, but she plans to continue in the Miss America Organization in the future.