I get that it confuses people... we parade around in bikinis and six inch heels and people often wonder if that is actually the best way to judge our lifestyles. If you don't do or watch pageants regularly, I can see how that would be confusing or even troubling.

In June, I had the pleasure of spending six days with 15 other beautiful contestants as we all continued our journey to Miss Iowa 2015. I've said it before and I'll say it again: these women are the most intelligent, selfless, hilarious, kind women I have ever known, and just being associated with them is an honor.

For those not familiar with the Miss America Organization, we participate in five areas of competition. Talent, evening gown, onstage question, a ten minute private interview with the judging panel, and lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit. Most people think this last phase of competition is irrelevant or even "old-fashioned." (Disclaimer: the Miss America Organization began as a swimsuit competition). I will say, I have had my share of worrying what I would look like onstage in a bathing suit. I've worried that I would trip and fall, I've worried that things would "jiggle" and the judges would take away points, I worried that maybe I shouldn't have had that Dr. Pepper a week ago, and I've also worried that perhaps my thighs just weren't what they were looking for. I know I'm not alone in having these thoughts. Truth be told, I myself have had an incredibly long struggle with loving myself. I like to think that everyone kind of has this problem; that the insecurities I battle on a daily basis are probably what another twenty-something somewhere has. This phase of competition used to reiterate my worries about my body. Now, this phase of competition (combined with the other four areas) reiterates what I love about myself.

I received 3rd Runner Up at Miss Iowa this year. My first time competing in the Miss division. My first time being in the group of women that I once looked up to as a young, awkward 12 year old. To be honest, I was kind of having a crisis earlier this year. I honestly believe that maybe, just maybe, I was losing it a little. So to have placed like that, my first time, when I had what will heretofore be known as the most Series of Unfortunate Events-esque semester ever, I was really proud, you know? I felt really great about that. I guess it wasn't even so much the placing. It was more so the fact that I had an amazing time while placing well. Hell, I think that's why I placed the way I did. I laughed a lot that week. I made new friends. And in conclusion, competed well.

I was really unhealthy there for a while. I didn't take care of myself for a few months earlier this year. I went out too much, I made stupid choices, lost a lot of weight really quickly, and I blamed myself for a lot of things. My grades suffered, my relationships with others suffered, and mentally, pfffft, let's not even go there.

I feel myself writing about this whole concept of "self love" a lot. But I guess that's just because I think it's incredibly relevant and significant. Maybe I even think about it too much. But that's okay, because each day I find it becoming harder and harder to criticize myself. I find it harder and harder to find my flaws. And most importantly, I find it easier and easier to love the flaws I do know I have. My journey to Miss Iowa helped me more than words can say. There's no formation of sentences that can give that experience the justice and attention it deserves. While I was prepping to compete against other people, I found myself learning to love who I was more and more. And that was really cool.

In conclusion, a huge "thank you" needs to be paid to my fellow competitors, my parents, my coaches, my friends, my family. Thank you for, perhaps unknowingly, helping me love myself.

Because I really like my thighs.

"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." -Siddhartha Gautama


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