Bryiana’s Journey to Queen of the World
"Smilers wear a crown, losers wear a frown.” ~Victor Melling
I think it’s fair to assume that most people don’t share my affinity for pageants. From the age-old critique that they are anti-feminist and sexist to shows like Toddlers and Tiaras highlighting the more… eccentric pageant parents, it’s no wonder pageants have a bad rep. However, like many things, there are more sides to this story. While I am fully aware that pageantry is not without its flaws, I have been able to see more beauty than pageant over the years. I see the potential of the pageantry and if you’re willing to take a look at beauty pageants from my point of view, maybe you’ll understand why I will be a pageant girl until the day I die.
I competed in my first pageant the summer before my freshman year of high school. If we’re being honest with each other here, we can all acknowledge that this isn’t the best time of any of our lives. I had been receiving mail about one pageant for years and even though I wanted to participate, my parents shut this down immediately. That summer, though, I wasn’t giving in so easily. After a beautiful and wonderfully prepared presentation—if I must say so myself—my parents agreed, but under one circumstance: I was responsible for coming up with all of the money. I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so I called friends and family, local businesses, and didn’t stop until I raised all of the money to compete.
While the crown I earned in that competition was a participation crown, it cemented my love and passion for pageants. And you better believe I rocked that crown on the first day of my freshman year… which went as well as I’m sure you’re imagining. #NotGood
I continued raising money and competing in pageants all throughout high school and into adulthood. There is this perception of cattiness and a “mean girl” mentality associated with beauty pageants, but I found the opposite to be true. Yes, the glam and the beautiful gowns were fun, but what meant the most to me were the relationships formed throughout every single pageant. I met best friends, I was mentored by adults who helped mold and guide me into becoming the woman I am today. With every competition, it became more clear that I would be involved in pageants until the very end.
But, like any good story, it couldn’t be smooth sailing forever.
Once I left my small, California town for the bright lights of Los Angeles, I was presented with an opportunity that would cast waves in the pageant world. At the time, I was the reigning queen for an amazing pageant, so making the decision to become a Playmate was not easy. However, after much thought, I knew it wasn’t something I could turn down. I passed the crown on to a friend and turned away from the life that had molded me into who I was becoming.
As much as I loved pageants, nothing could compete with the life that came to me after making such a scary decision. I met my husband, we got married, had two of the smartest, funniest, most amazing children in the universe, and created a life that I wake up grateful for every single day. No crown, no sash, nothing could compare to the love I have for my family and what we are creating.
From judging to watching to even sponsoring through Iconic Beauty, I tried to stay involved in the pageant world as much as possible.
But that doesn’t mean a small part of me didn’t still ache to walk on the stage again, to compete for a Mrs title. Every year I would scour the internet, trying to find a competition that would allow me to participate. So when I came across a brand new pageant with a vision of diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment, I jumped at the opportunity.
And of course, I brought a friend along.
I signed up to compete in the Queen of the World pageant with one of my best friends, Nora. We planned together, worked out together, and practiced our speeches together, it was like the buddy system elevated and it was amazing. If you love something already, doing it with your best friend only makes it a thousand times better. What was even better was that while I was competing in the Mrs category, she was in the Miss category. So while we were together, we never had to compete against one another. From day one, we knew the dream was to either both get the crown or both go home empty-handed. It was all or nothing and we brought out the best in one another.
Once the pageant was near, we packed up and headed to Morristown, New Jersey, the home state of Gracie Lou Freebush herself! (Did you really think I wouldn't sneak a Miss Congeniality reference in here???) We arrived a week before the actual pageant with an agenda packed full. As soon as Pageant Week began, we met with the other contestants and worked with pageant experts. Nora and I were lucky enough to be able to fly out one of our favorite people, who happens to be a beauty extraordinaire to do our makeup and hair throughout the week. Even though we loved all of our time in Jersey, there was something magical about reconnecting in our glam room. Eventually, two of our closest friends flew in to support us and joined us for “Glam Room Chronicles.” My introverted heart craved these moments and some of my fondest memories happened there.
Another special thing that took place was our day of service. Giving back is an integral part of pageants, which might be why I love them so much. I have a heart for service and this happened on International Women’s Day which made it that much sweeter. We toured the historic Morris County Courthouse and then worked with the HOPE ONE Truck to learn Narcan training before assembling blessing bags for the homeless. It was a wonderful day full of love and gratitude that I don’t think any of us will soon forget.
Once that was over, it was time for everyone to buckle down and get serious. We had walking workshops, rehearsals that lasted late into the night, the interview and preliminary competition. This is also when our family arrived. Just as we could’ve started to get overwhelmed and anxious, having our circle come into this pageant bubble and ground us was the most incredible gift. And while this entire process was wonderful, looking back, I think it was being surrounded by loved ones, and knowing I had the unwavering support, that was my absolute favorite part of this entire thing. Plus, my daughter has been showing an interest in pageants, so to see this all through her eyes was a feeling I never even knew existed.
On the day of the pageant, all of the contestants headed to the theater for one final rehearsal. The air was heavy with nerves and excitement as we went over the dance moves and stage directions for one last time. We went back to the hotel (in a blizzard!) to freshen up and finish our final touches before going back to the theater for the real deal. Nerves can take over at this point, so it was beyond wonderful to be doing this with my best friend. We were able to stand by each other and get ready together as we prepared to go on stage.
At the end of the night, both Nora and I were crowned Queen of the World in our categories. I watched as she was crowned in her first-ever pageant and she stood by as I was crowned in my return. Our family and friends cheered in the crowd, knowing just how hard we had worked for this moment. It was truly amazing. Pageants were such a huge part of my life and for many years, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to be on stage again. This moment was not something I took lightly. I lived in the moment, taking in everything from the weight of the crown on my head to the sight of my husband and children in the crowd. Even if there weren’t copious pictures of the event, I could still remember every detail.
Now, as Mrs. Queen of the World, I’m looking forward to working with the other winners (including Nora!) as we bring our initiatives to life. Working with a program that is dedicated to empowering women and being inclusive to participants of all backgrounds is something I couldn’t be more proud to champion and support. Being a part of this pageant reignited a spark inside of me that I’m not ready to let fade. Unfortunately, because of outdated rules, there aren’t many opportunities for this pageant girl. Maybe that’s why they say if you can’t find something, you have to build it yourself…
It’s a good thing I love a challenge.