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How I Would Have Answered Miss USA's Final Question, as an Anxious Woman

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I was in a teen scholarship pageant once so I like to think I still know what judges look for. I was impressed by the responses from Miss District of Columbia. After she was crowned, I screamed in my living room. She deserved it, and there is nothing like seeing a woman who looks like you win!

But I kept thinking about the final question: to define “confidently beautiful.” It made me think about my own struggles with those two words.

For me, confidently beautiful is a fleeting thing when I attach the words to emotions. It’s here, it’s gone, it’s back.

It is only until recently I can finally put a name to this tug-of-war thinking that happens.

I will illustrate it for you:

ACT 1: Confidently Beautiful and Socially Anxious

SETTING: A social or professional event I have never attended. I do not know anyone in attendance.

(Enter stage left: Social Anxiety.)

Scene 1: The Preparation

I try to look my best, get my hair together, pick an outfit I will feel confident in. My makeup will be carefully executed. In other words, before I leave the house I enjoy a moment of shine in my mirror and take a picture on my phone to share with the social world.

Scene  2: The Observation

I walk through the door of the event, and it begins. I observe the people around me usually paying close attention to the women in the room.

Scene 3: It Arrives

This is the point where the thoughts creep in. You may call them thoughts of jealousy. I call them comparison.

“Wow her dress is nice!” (Translation: My dress isn’t as great as it looked this morning.)

“Her curls are perfect!” (Translation: My hairstyle is a mess, it was perfect this morning.)

“She’s in shape. That dress fits her perfectly.” (Translation: My clothes are too fitting, you can see my belly.)

“Look at that designer bag with the matching shoes.” (Translation: Everyone here has more money than me, and they are thinking how did I even get in here.)

They all sum up to one thing. I am surrounded by these confident beautiful women and I’m invisible or I look like I don’t belong.

Scene 4: The Great Escape 

There is always a bathroom scene. First, I cry. Yes, I release all the thoughts into streams of tears and I wipe them with toilet tissue. Once it is out of my system, I flush the toilet to give the illusion I came here to use the restroom like everyone else. I wash my hands. I avoid eye contact with the mirror until everyone is gone. I look at myself. I fix my hair, apply lipstick, spray perfume and I begin this internal conversation.

Scene 5: The Positive Self-Talk

I tell those thoughts to take several seats and leave me alone because I am strong and beautiful too. Sometimes these thoughts are not only mine. I may have texted my boyfriend with the details, and he’ll send these beautiful words of encouragement and remind me of the truth.

This is what the battle is about. The truth I already know needs to speak louder and the false story my mind created needs to fade to black.

In this moment, I have to choose to believe my truth.

Scene 6: Go Girl!

I return to the event like nothing happened. I smile, I nod, I speak when needed. I do what I came to do. I try to meet at least one new person. In social scenes, the motivation to interact isn’t as high as in the professional setting so I may not push myself as hard. Sometimes, I go back into the scene and still disappear into the background. But, one thing is common. No one ever sees the internal struggle or the tears.

The End.

There it is. So, if I’m in the pageant representing my home state of New Jersey I would stand tall, look into the camera, and say:

“I am confidently beautiful because I continue to learn to love who I am. I have learned to share my truth but it is not mine alone. I have experiences with depression and anxiety. But, it all contributes to making me unique and it gives me a story to tell. One that I know contributes to other stories in this community, and at least one other person will relate and say, Me too. Thank You.”

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 6, 2016
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