Inspired by the Miss Universe Pageant - The gowns. The make-up. The runway. The lights. The crown.
I have mentioned previously that I have discovered my passion for the stage at a very young age. Third grade to be exact. So I guess it may not come as much as a surprise when I tell you that I grew up playing with my favorite Barbie dolls and dreaming of a day I get to share the stage with 100 beautiful girls. (Okay, maybe not the 100 beautiful girls part, but you get the idea).
I probably have watched Miss Congeniality a couple dozen of times before but even then, the thought of entering a pageant scared me. I never thought much about the competition; however, it kind of seemed like an untouchable world. The girls always looked so glamorous, so poised, so....perfect. Little did I know, that dream became a reality when I was eighteen years old.
After school one afternoon, I somehow stumbled upon a pamphlet that said "Miss Teenage California" while I was parading around the kitchen for a snack and immediately, the words caught my eyes. After reading the small print and researching about the pageant online, my curiosity and interest began to increase.
When my mom got home from work that day, I handed her the pamphlet and said to her, "Mom, I'm going to enter a pageant." Eighteen year old me was not seeking for permission because at the point, she has already made up her mind. You can tell that I was a very direct and goal-oriented teenager (I still am). After a couple of weeks, I received a big package saying that I was selected and chosen to be representing the city of Garden Grove in the spring. It was definitely a whirlwind for me and everything that proceeded that very moment felt like a blur.
I searched for sponsorships, which mainly consisted of my generous family members. I went out to rent a candy-cane ball gown with my boyfriend at the time. And for the following weeks to come, I practiced my interview questions with my best friend. He would sit in my room for hours just to cover recent events as well as prospective questions with me. What a friend. Fast forward a couple of years later and he's still doing the same thing, although this time, he was prepping me for the next stage of my life. Some things never change.
Two months later, my mother dropped me off at the Hilton Hotel and that was when things started to feel real. I remember walking into the registration table at the lobby and feeling all sorts of anxiety. The girls all looked dolled up with their Sunday dresses and hair; it just felt extremely surreal to know that just a couple of months ago, I was just a regular student attending college. So after checking in at the front desk, I went up to my room in order to unpack and change for the opening ceremony. That was also when I met my roommate who happens to be a biology major at UCLA (How ironic). Despite the cross town rivalry, she ended up being a complete sweetheart and in fact, I became very close to her and her sister.
The rest of the weekend flew by. I befriended so many incredibles girls who I still keep in contact to this very day. I also learned how to walk, talk, and look like a beauty queen. Honestly, it was everything I've dreamt of and more. Despite previous declarations that there might be some cattiness back stage, every single one of the girls were actually very supportive and encouraging of each other. However, once the lights were on us, it was time to put our best foot forward. After all, at the end of the day, it is a competition and only one person gets to walk away with the title and crown.
Despite of my endless preparation, the sash went to a friend of mine (who actually went on to win another national title and later, Miss Teen California 2014). Although the results wasn't a favorable one on my end, right when I walked outside and into the lobby, all the faces and smiles belonging to my mother, my little brother, my best friends, and my boyfriend immediately lit up my heart and spirit. They were all holding up a poster that says, "Go, Khanh!" "You're #1!" "We <3 you" and at that very moment, I wanted to break down and cry. It was so heartwarming and beautiful; all together, their reactions and warm hugs made me feel like I was the luckiest girl alive. It was also the first time in my entire life that my mother told me I looked beautiful. You know, I might not be Miss Teenage California but in their eyes, I was their Queen and that, in itself, was more than enough for me.
There's always going to be a small part of me that wonders what it would be like to have held the title. How much of my life would have changed if I walked away with something I worked extremely hard for...However, I wouldn't have change the experience for the world. A year later, I transferred to USC with a 4.0 at Chapman University. I became Vice President of the Asian Greek Council. Worked for the biggest companies in Hollywood. And those friends that were standing outside of the lobby with those signs? Well, they all attended my college graduation this past May (excluding the BF because we ended up parting ways). Here are also a couple of lessons I've learned through participating in a pageant:
1) Beauty comes from within
As cliche as it sounds, it's not about having the most beautiful face, body, or dress. Beauty, after all, is subjective. It's about someone who is as confident with herself on the inside as she is on the outside. It's about a person who exudes that same confidence and energy throughout all walks of life.
2) Your life is your stage
In the end, it's all about how you choose to walk on that stage. Are you going to go through life worrying and stressing over things that are out of your control? (ie. wardrobe malfunctions or accidental trips) Or are you going to keep your head up high, smile, and shake it off? Just like Taylor Swift and look where that got her.
Happiness, I believe, will always be a choice so choose wisely.
3) Winning is a mentality
"The key to becoming someone who makes winning a normal course of action is to adopt the mentality of a winner—a mentality that people who achieve greatness maintain consistently."
Successes, whether it's big or small, should be celebrated. However, what makes someone a winner is their relentlessness to never stop trying, never stop improving, and nevertheless, requires a great amount of accountability and focus. Like other habits, it should be a daily practice. A mentality that you inhale and exhale.
4) No one's perfect
The irony comes from the fact that one of my most favorite compliments I've ever received is, "Khanh, you're perfect." But I'll tell you this. Nothing makes you feel more imperfect than being surrounded by a room filled with people you deemed as "perfect." However, it took me many years to actually comprehend this but it all goes back to embracing every quality that makes you unique from the person next to you.
We're never going to achieve that ideal conceptualization of perfection, but if you work with what your momma gave ya, you'll be more than enough.
Looking back, I can honestly tell you that I have absolutely no regrets. I had a dream when I was a little girl and never in a million years did I think it would be possible for me to stand on that stage and say "KHANH DUONG GARDEN GROVE." But I did it. I always tell people that it's important to be a doer, a person of action. However, it's also important to never disregard the first part of the equation, which is to dream big. Dream big. Do big.
I'm twenty two years old now and you know what? In my heart and the heart of my loved ones, I'll always be wearing an invisible crown.