Jenni Mortimer is a former beauty queens from New Zealand.
Jenni Mortimer is a former beauty queens from New Zealand. NZ Herald

Former beauty queen unveils what life is really like

I'M about to talk about pageants, but stay with me.

Yes, I know that the word "pageant" is frowned upon, referred to as "outdated", "sexist" and "backwards." So much so one of New Zealand's national pageants is now referred to as a "competition" and refuses to use the word pageant at all. Yawn.

But I, for one, am here to testify that pageants aren't just big hair, tiaras and YouTube fail compilations waiting to happen. In fact, these are the parts of pageants I remember the least. Or have conveniently chosen to forget.

Being on the pageant circuit wasn't glamorous and it wasn't easy, but it was one of the best times of my life.

Here are my top 10 confessions as a former Kiwi beauty queen.

1. You've got to be tough

Being a beauty queen in New Zealand is hard. Because most New Zealanders do not like pageants. And that's okay.

But as a contestant, you'll need to be tough, have a sense of humour, and be willing to forgo the largest portion of your dignity in order to succeed.

If you fall on stage, have a wardrobe slip or share an Anzac remembrance post wearing a bikini and army hat and caption it "Unless we forget" (yes, someone actually did this. And no, it wasn't me) you will be made fun of.

So you've got to be tough.

Jenni Mortimer was once told she should cut off her head if she wanted to win a pageant.
Jenni Mortimer was once told she should cut off her head if she wanted to win a pageant. NZ Herald

A pageant commentator once suggested I should cut my head off if I wanted to win the pageant. He even suggested whose head I could replace it with. So I burned his house down.

Just kidding! It was a lesson in getting tough, rather than even. That came later ...

2. Hide your heels, hide your cereal

There is some truth to the claim that pageant girls can get a little crazy and super competitive.

In an attempt to sabotage me, a fellow competitor stole all of my left shoes.

Upon looking under her bed and discovering what can only be described as a hoard of left-footed hooker heels, I made a pact to never let myself get that crazy.

And I kept it. Right up until I hid her cereal as revenge. I don't know what I was trying to achieve with that. But it felt right when I was in pageant land, where it can be hard to see things rationally.

3. You'll need two cans of hairspray and a lot of Vaseline

These are your tools. Your best friends. And they may also kill you; these and rhinestones.

Vaseline will need to be liberally applied to your teeth in order to make sure that your mouth doesn't get dry from all of the open mouth smiling you're expected to pull 24/7.

As for the hairspray, I recommend two cans: One for your hair and one for your butt. That's right. You will need one full can of strong hold hairspray for your tushie to ensure your bikini doesn't slip up.

In case you were wondering how it works, simply spray a lacquer-based hairspray on your (or your friend's) cheeks and voila! You're good to go.

The other bottle will be used to make your hair bigger than the other contestants because "The bigger the hair, the closer to God." Bless your soul, Dolly Parton. You get it.

4. Never wear white bikini bottoms

You will likely be made to wear whatever swimsuit the obliging sponsor has provided.

Do not accept the white one like I did, believing white would bring out my gorgeous tangerine tan. That I would stand out and look fresh, fun and like an Amazonian goddess.

I also didn't expect that they'd put lights at the base of the stage, shining right up at the centre of our crotches. But they did.

Duct tape, bandaids and a lot of embarrassment later, I was ready to rock.

Hairspray and Vaseline is your best friend.
Hairspray and Vaseline is your best friend. NZ Herald

5. If in doubt, lie

Everything you say in a pageant will probably be a lie. Why? Because you're expected to be perfect when, in fact, you're only human. So you will rehearse all the questions the judges could possibly ask you and invent the best possible answer. Observe:

Charity work? "I've done loads of it."

War? "Hate it."

World peace? "Love the stuff."

Don't know the answer? Talk about something else.

Eg: What is your take on the war in Syria?"

"War destroys lives. Lives are precious. This reminds me of a child I met in Africa while doing charity work."

6. The girl in the turtle costume is your greatest ally

You are going to need friends in this process. Find one you can laugh with. I found mine when I spotted a turtle costume backstage and a small voice came from the other side of the room that whispered: "Put it on."

So I did. She laughed. She put it on. I laughed. This is the basis of a true pageant friendship.

7. You might vomit in front of the Thai Ambassador

Pageants can take you all over the world. Mine took me to Thailand as an ambassador for New Zealand.

I loved Thailand: the people, the culture and the food. So I immersed myself in all of it, particularly the food. On day two of my trip I was at a formal Parliament lunch when I began to feel sick.

I excused myself and went outside into the scorching heat. The Thai Ambassador came to check on me and I proceeded to vomit everywhere.

No matter how many times you say sorry for something like this, it is never enough to return any of the dignity you have lost.

8. Your sash means everything and nothing

When you win a sash you are so proud of that damn thing. You display it proudly and wear it whenever you get the chance.

I wore mine to town after I won (yes, I cringed writing that). But I skipped all the lines, got free drinks and had the best night of my life.

Be warned though, when you are wearing said sash people will ask you to do a range of strange things:

"Hold my baby."

"Hold hands and walk into the painting."

"Pretend you are eating this big piece of cake, but definitely don't."

The sash is a funny, powerful thing. Know how to use the sash. Use it for good and never evil.

9. Your diet and exercise regimen will make you evil

Before I entered my first pageant I had just lost a lot of weight. I decided to enter to take myself out of my comfort zone. It worked.

Preparing for a pageant is tough. I spent my days training, going to the gym, tanning, going to beauty appointments and watching every calorie I consumed.

As anyone on a restricted diet knows, it can turn you into a mean girl.

During this phase, my flatmate brought a burger home for dinner. I unleashed hell: "How could you be so awful?!" I screamed at her before slamming my door and putting myself to bed at 6.30pm; a habit I developed to curb late-night hunger pains.

I would like to say this was an isolated incident. It wasn't.

The day after I won my pageant I demolished a six pack of cupcakes with one of my fellow contestants and regretted nothing.

10. You are not an All Black and should never refer to yourself as one.

This is the big one. You need to remember this, always. Do not let the pageant world swallow you up so much that you find yourself saying the following sentence: "Ladies, we are basically female versions of the All Blacks. Every woman wants to be like us!"

This was uttered by a fellow contestant and I have never cringed more in my life.

You are not a female version of an All Black. You are simply in a contest where a group of strangers will tell you your current worth based on your face, body, personality, and intelligence.

It's hard to put yourself out there to be judged and you need to be confident enough to know that while you are beautiful just as you are, you may not be the judge's favourite on the night. That is totally okay. You are still awesome and worthy.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission.

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