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Why Sisterhood is Important in Pageantry and How to Create It

11, March 2017

MAR-USA Sisterhood. Photo/MAR-USA MAR-USA Sisterhood. Photo/MAR-USA

We talk about sisterhood in pageantry a lot. No matter what you’ve heard, most pageant girls will have their fellow contestants’ backs. I’ve seen girls share gowns when one tore, help with hair, zip zippers, glue swimsuits in place, share interview shoes, and loan lip liner when one broke. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of these situations myself and let me tell you, there is a reason we are there for each other. But some pageant systems manage to create a bond that lasts beyond the dressing room and well past pageant weekend and the directors do everything they can to make their contestants feel special and not just as a number and entry fee. One such system is Miss American Royalty USA, or MAR-USA.

Why Sisterhood is Important in Pageantry

How does it make its royalty feel special? For those of you familiar with my articles you know that I have said that, “it’s not about you but about the pageant.” And while the vast majority of the time this is true, just like any other job and any other position you will hold in your life, feeling appreciated and important to an organization makes you work that much harder for it to be successful. “Our contestants are special to us, I'm honestly not sure we do anything more than treat them truly how we feel,” said Jennifer Huntley, National Director/Owner of MAR-USA. “I see each contestant and her family as my extended family the moment they enter a MAR-USA pageant.” You may have heard of the Golden Rule as a kid and it applies even to supervisors and bosses. “I treat others as I wish to be treated, which is with kindness, respect and caring," Huntley said. "I see each girl’s, lady’s and boy’s individual qualities that make them special and I help them reach their fullest potential by encouraging, motivating and uplifting them."

MAR-USA Sisterhood on a boat. Photo/MAR-USA MAR-USA Sisterhood on a boat. Photo/MAR-USA

When you are in pageantry, especially if you are first starting out, having someone there to help and encourage you is a big plus. “Here at MAR-USA all of our directors are helpful, kind, respectful and caring," explained Huntley. "To be a director at MAR-USA, you must be a passionate person with a true love of uplifting others." It doesn’t stop at the director level for MAR-USA, either. “When your staff from directors to photographers to dressing room assistants have the same passion, it creates a friendly, kind and helpful environment that creates a domino effect among contestants to parents," Huntley said. "Everyone treats each other with kindness, respect and care, which in hand makes everyone feel loved, appreciated, cared for and yes, special." Kendra Adkins, a MAR-USA Mom said, “MAR is truly a real sisterhood. The girls were made to feel special since day one being crowned. They were given personalized T-shirts, which my daughter loved. The national director is truly loving, dedicated and keeps in contact with each queen. She is uplifting and always puts a smile on each girl’s face. From weekend lake retreats to photo shoots, just simply spending time with each other, MAR is family.” How does it create a strong sisterhood? “Our sisterhood is built from the environment created above,” Huntley said. “Of course, each contestant comes to win, however, it's so much more than that here at MAR-USA. Our contestants help each other and cheer each other on. No matter the outcome, they are truly happy and supportive of each other.” Having a mutually supportive environment for contestants allows everyone to feel relaxed and comfortable. It’s like hanging out with your friends and you just happen to be competing for one title at the end of the day. (Read: How to be the Best Big Sister Queen)

MAR-USA backstage helping each other get on stage. Photo/MAR-USA MAR-USA backstage helping each other get ready. Photo/MAR-USA

“We include everyone here at MAR-USA, even after titles have been dealt out, once royalty you are always royalty,” Huntley said. “When we get together, plan a fundraiser, community service , outings, or photoshoots, all Royalty are included and invited! Once in the MAR-USA family, you have a forever invite to all things MAR-USA.” Having past titleholders around can really help enhance the experience for current titleholders as they have someone to lean on and offer advice and even share wardrobe if needed for appearances. It also helps continue to grow the pageant and create a support system for it as it expands. Look at Miss America, every year the past Miss Americas are on stage for a segment of the show. “When we say sisterhood, we are not speaking of winners on a court for a season but girls, ladies, boys and their families that are forever part of the MAR-USA family – forever royalty,” explained Huntley. So, does that mean you have to fly to an event every month to be part of it all? Nope. While many systems offer such opportunities based out of their national offices, MAR-USA tries to spread the opportunities around and with technology and social media today, you don’t need to be WITH each other to be together. “We offer local gatherings for each state but most importantly we encourage participation from all states in a lot of interactive challenges, social media, events, campaigns etcetera,” Huntley said. “By time State and Nationals arrive, everyone already feels connected.”

MAR-USA with Santa. Photo/MAR-USA MAR-USA with Santa. Photo/MAR-USA

Some examples include a nationwide Secret Santa gift exchange, following each other on titleholder social media pages, and supporting each other’s platforms all of which really support the pageant’s motto of “Together we CAN make a difference.” “Everyone is kind to each other, welcoming and welcomed with a friendly greeting despite any and all differences," said Shana Rigdon, Mrs. Emerald City and mother of Baby Miss North Carolina. "I have not seen one pageant contestant or queen turn away the chance to make a new friend. Even the little ones are welcomed by the older ones and everyone enjoys the company of everyone, including their parents.” (Read: 3 Things I Learned From My Youngest Sister Queen)

Pageant day is rough and sometimes you just need your big sister. Photo/MAR-USA Pageant day is rough and sometimes you just need your big sister. Photo/MAR-USA

In some systems, girls stick together or with their age group, but this isn’t true in MAR-USA. Rigdon continued, “I was very surprised to have a lot of the older girls talking to me, welcoming me and Ellie, and complimenting us on our outfits and wins. I love that everyone is always so happy and encouraging. We give each other pointers before going on stage, help each other to get ready, and never put anyone else down. I love that every time I take Ellie to a competition everyone is so uplifting and just excited. Of course, we all want to win, but with MAR-USA friendship and kindness is and has always been the main focus, as well as, helping to bring awareness to the platforms that we believe in and hold dear to our hearts.” Patty Kelmenko, grandmother of MAR-USA Miss Southern Belle, Layla, explained that building the sisterhood doesn’t land exclusively on the shoulders of the contestants, titleholders, directors, and staff but the parents as well. "The parents of our queens truly embrace the idea of the sisterhood as well," Kelmenko said. "Each mom back stage wants her daughter to win but would always give a queen in need the last bobbie pin or even a pair of socks so that she can compete without worries. Every day at every competition, the moms and dads of our girls lead by example! We are hopeful for our own child but happy for every child.” Going Forward “I could say so much about the sisterhood here at MAR-USA," Huntley said. "From our babies to our ladies, everyone is one unit that supports and cares for each other. We welcome everyone with open arms and only wish to inspire them to be their personal best.” She continued, “You experience true hospitality and belonging here at MAR-USA; no one ever feels left out or excluded, ever!”

MAR-USA sisterhood in all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. Photo/MAR-USA MAR-USA sisterhood in all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. Photo/MAR-USA

If you would like to get involved with a pageant that crowns titleholders starting from birth for girls and ladies with no cut off age, boys ages 0-17, and even offers a differently abled division called, BeYOUtiful division, reach out to MAR-USA for information on how to become a titleholder. Celebrate each other and cheer each other on because just like Elsa discovered, even though you are a queen, you will always need your sister. Good luck, everyone!


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