On March 31, more than one hundred women, including myself, from the state of Maryland filled the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Rockville to compete in the Miss Maryland USA pageant

It was a hectic weekend filled with rehearsals, hair and makeup and running around to make sure everything was perfect. This was my first time participating in a pageant, so I didn’t go in expecting to win. 

There are a lot of reasons why girls still compete in pageants: the networking opportunities, a chance to broaden their horizons and of course, the clout. So, why did I decide to participate? One day after watching The Real Housewives of Potomac and finding out Ashley Darby participated in the Miss District of Columbia pageant and won in 2011, I said to myself, “If she could do it, I can do it.”  

I then began researching the Miss Maryland USA pageant. I filled out a form with my information and had an interview within a couple of weeks. The initial interview was pretty simple and within the next couple of days, I received an email inviting me to participate in the pageant.  

I was filled with excitement and joy as I told my parents, friends and family I was competing in a major pageant. If I won, I would go on to compete in the Miss USA pageant on national TV. 

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If you are thinking about participating in a pageant, it is a lot to prepare for on both a financial and emotional level. I spent a bit more than $1,000 on dresses alone. My evening gown was $430, and alterations were $590. My cocktail dress was a little more than $400. I got my swimsuit from Target, and my interview dress was about $130 from a small boutique. On top of the $1,000 on dresses, I had to raise $1,198 in sponsorship money to pay for the hotel and all the other stuff the organization offers. 

When it came to hair and makeup, the pageant would not allow us to have our own hair and makeup team. If we wanted to have hair and makeup done professionally, we would have to pay $300 for their hair and makeup team, which would cover both days. Clearly, participating in one of these pageants is a major financial investment. 

I arrived at the hotel Friday morning to begin my interview. I was incredibly nervous and did not know what questions they were going to ask me. The judging panel was filled with high profile people such as Mariela Pepin, who was a TV personality on The Bachelor and The Bachelor in Paradise, Levi Wallace, who plays for the NFL as well as Layilah Nasser who was Miss Maryland USA 2021. From my perspective, my interview was not the best and the nerves overwhelmed me. 

Then, there was the swimsuit and evening gown portion where I had to walk down a runway. Now, walking down a runway and performing was not foreign to me considering I had been in multiple performing arts shows growing up. Between dance, theater and those talent shows hosted at the mall, I was well versed in being on stage. But this felt different. 

I had not been in something like this pageant since I was in high school, and I was being judged meticulously on it. To be entirely honest, I have gotten used to walking around in sneakers and sweats on campus, not high heels. But there I was Saturday evening, strutting down a runway in front of hundreds of other people. The swimsuit portion was actually easier for me than the evening gown portion. 

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For the evening gown portion, I wore a beautiful baby blue mermaid gown that was very difficult for me to walk in. I was constantly worried about whether someone was going to step on my train or if I was going to trip on my dress. Looking back, I would have gone with a different dress. After the first show, we had an after party which was so much fun.

Ultimately, it came down to five girls who could potentially take the crown: Taylor Wright, Danielle Shook, Kennedy Taylor, Savena Mushinge and Lydia Frentsos. Out of the five it eventually came down to Taylor and Mushinge. Both of them gave great performances on stage and had great answers to the fishbowl questions they were given.  

In the end, though, Mushinge took home the title of Miss Maryland USA and will go on to compete for the Miss USA title in Reno, Nevada. Competing for the title of Miss Maryland is an experience I will never forget, and it is something that has changed the way I see myself.

However, one thing worth critiquing when it comes to the Miss Maryland USA pageant is when it came down to picking semifinalists, all of the girls had the same look in terms of body type. While the pageant allows diverse women to compete, it does seem like there is an obvious bias toward women who are built a particular way. 

While I do have the privilege of being on the petite end of the spectrum, I have also considered that my height of 5 feet may have also been a factor in the decision of me not being picked for the semi finals. 

I have mixed feelings about competing again next year. It requires a lot of time and energy and if I do it next year, I want to hire a coach, a fitness instructor and really have a whole team behind me. But even with an entire team, you are not guaranteed to win. Pageants can be fun, but you do have to go into them with some other goal besides winning. Otherwise, you’ll be devastated.