5 April 2011, 10:46
What really goes on in the world of beauty pageantry? Backstage, surrounded by miles of hair extensions, industrial-sized cans of hairspray & gallons of butt glue, who are these girls & why do they do what they do?
While it would be easy to make assumptions about these women based on external appearances — big shiny teeth, massive hair, & the quest for a crown — isn’t it anti-feminist to judge women for pursuing their dreams? While not all of us go to sleep dreaming of a sash & a bouquet of flowers, that doesn’t make someone else’s goals any less real.
“My idea of feminism is self-determination, & it’s very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, & do whatever she needs to do.” (Ani DiFranco)
Plus, I always had a sneaking suspicion that there must be more to pageantry than vaseline on the gnashers & an airbrush tan. I like to think there is always more going on under the surface of any given situation.
When I put out the call for pageant participants on Twitter & Facebook, I could not have possibly dreamed that I would hear from Miss New Mexico USA!
Brittany Toll is a radical self love warrior, multiple title winner (Miss New Mexico USA, Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005 & was a top 10 finalist at Miss Teen USA), & she is participating in Miss USA in June! (I will be glued to NBC, cheering her on!) Hailing from New Mexico, Brittany works as a pre-kindergarten teacher through Teach For America, & is an avid blogger over at Happy Brittany. Her blog is wonderful, & a perfect reflection of who she is: caring, optimistic & upbeat.
I was so excited to interview her & get the inside scoop on what it really means to be a “beauty queen”. I think you’ll find her just as thoughtful, articulate & charming as I did — yes, she definitely has my vote for Miss USA!
First of all, tell us who you are & what you do.
I’m Brittany Toll, and I am the current Miss New Mexico USA and a pre-kindergarten teacher in Gallup, NM with the non-profit organization Teach For America. I am also the former Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005 and top 10 finalist at the 2005 Miss Teen USA pageant. I’m also a blogger!
When did you first get into pageantry & what motivated you to begin?
I first got involved when I was in high school. It all started when our choir’s sign language choreographer approached me and suggested I compete for Miss New Mexico Teen USA. Growing up my family had never watched pageants. The entire world of pageantry was very new to me. I figured I would give it a shot.
I began my preparations and in a few short months I was ready to compete, and then what would you know I was crowned Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005.
While holding the title I began to understand what I could actually do with it. As I prepared for the 2005 Miss Teen USA pageant, I also devoted myself entirely to my state. I traveled all across New Mexico speaking at events and contributing my efforts towards making an impact. I was humbled by the people I met and the relationships I formed. I couldn’t believe that an 18-year-old could make such an impact, even in the smallest ways. I learned so much about myself and about the world around me. I was truly inspired by the many experiences I had.
When I gave up my title and crowned the next Miss New Mexico Teen USA, I knew that this could not be the end. After the incredible experiences being a teen brought, I wanted to seize the opportunity to further represent the state and make a positive change. Thus I began my preparations towards becoming Miss New Mexico USA.
Do you have a trainer or coach who helps you get ready for pageants?
Well, I have a wonderful fitness trainer (who’s amazingly positive and motivational!) who is helping me tone my body and increase my strength.
In addition to that, I believe the best advice comes from people who have had similar experiences. I have been picking the brains of former Miss New Mexico USAs and former Miss USAs. These women know so much, and I’ve gained so much insight from what they share with me about their experiences as titleholders. I can use their knowledge to refine and compose my preparations while still keeping the elements of myself that make me unique and different.
What kind of preparation do you go through in the lead-up to a pageant? Do you eat or exercise in a specific way? Do you have a wacky spray-tanning routine?
Oh my gosh! There are so many things to do in order to prepare for a national competition, even when preparing for the state competition I prepared in a manner that would fortify me for Miss USA (the ultimate goal, so it made sense!).
Preparations vary from girl to girl, but what I really work on most is my mentality. I have been reading countless books on a variety of subjects. Mental conditioning and positivity is what fuels my preparations and motivation most. I’ve also been reading texts and news magazines about politics, government, and world issues.
In addition to being a book-worm I watch lots of YouTube make-up tutorial videos and spend hours perfecting my runway walk. I’m also putting together a fashionable and glamorous wardrobe for the entire two-week period that I will be in Las Vegas for the Miss USA pageant. There is so much more that goes into preparing for a pageant, but I know we don’t have all day….
Since I am a cardio-addict and a vegetarian I am constantly trying to fill my body with lean and healthy protein. I also have the biggest sweet tooth on Earth, (I dare anyone to challenge me to this statement) so I have to practice self-control on a minute-by-minute basis. In addition, I mentioned that I have a physical trainer who helps guide me through the appropriate muscle training exercises. Ultimately, when I step on stage in my teeny bikini I want my body to represent a natural, health conscious, and self-loving woman.
As for spray tanning, oh boy… I have had too many ill-resulted situations with that endeavor, so I stick with slathering an equal combination of self-tanning lotion combined and regular lotion. Self-tanning lotion on it’s own is too dramatic for me, that’s why I prefer to mix it with a basic lotion. I have a natural olive tone so I just want a slight kiss of tan. It’s a tricky situation because once you are on stage and the lights are beating down on you, your color washes away faster than Justin Bieber’s newly released single reaching the #1 position on iTunes.
How tricky is it to pick the right swimsuit & gown? Do most contestants have them custom-made? Do you have three million fittings?!
I’ve always been the type of girl who doesn’t stress about these things, especially the gown. Fortunately my swimsuit was provided for me for Miss New Mexico USA and will also be provided for me at Miss USA.
As for the gown it’s all about the neck up. Yes, you must pick a gown that flatters you and makes you feel powerful, graceful and beautiful, but you must also recognize that the judges are not choosing the gown to be the next Miss USA (they did that once, and she fell flat bu dom bum, ch!).
The dress I wore for the Miss New Mexico USA pageant I had picked out less than a week before the actual competition. In fact, it even cost me less than the new set of tires I had installed on my CR-V that same weekend!
For Miss USA the stakes are a little higher so yes, my dress is being custom made and from my understanding a lot of girls choose to have theirs custom made as well. When I won Miss New Mexico USA I already had the vision in my mind of what my dress would be for Miss USA. I am really excited about my gown because it’s very original, gorgeous and truly reflective of my personality and style. Oh, and to give it even more meaning I had my students choose what color it would be! I can’t even articulate how excited they were to have been a part of my preparations in such a significant way.
Once the dress is complete I’ll have a couple of fittings and while I’m at the Miss USA competition stylists are on hand for any additional tweaks and adjustments that may be needed.
When I was researching pageants, I found websites which sell booklets of sample interview questions, & was totally fascinated! Do most contestants use these?
Oh yes these are very helpful! It’s just good to open your mind to new thoughts and take the time to reflect on your opinions and beliefs and how you would react to certain situations. I think these booklets are helpful for anyone in any situation, not just pageant girls.
To prepare for Miss New Mexico USA I recorded over 200 questions onto my iPod, and I would answer them by myself in my car while driving long distances. It was so helpful, and I learned to control my tone and pace as well. Wonder what the family in the station wagon thought as they passed me while I was engaged in an intense conversation with my steering wheel…
Other than butt glue, are there any other secret tricks of the trade that you would be willing to give away?
Ah, butt glue is magic, although not so fun when your toosh is sticking to your flirty floral skirt three days later. Truthfully, that’s the only trick I know. I would just say it’s always a good idea to have safety pins and double-stick tape on hand at all times.
Oh, and I once heard of a girl who put black electrical tape around the base of her shoe so that it blended in with the stage since they were extreme platform heels. Clever!
Is the world of pageantry as wild & dramatic as people think? Do girls really cut up each others’ dresses & all that stuff?!
I’m happy to report that from my experiences in the Miss Universe Organization it is not like that at all. Most of the girls who I have met and competed with were there for the same reasons as I was. They believed that they were qualified and enthusiastic about being a role model and positively impacting and empowering others.
I have heard of a few events that have happened to others (never to me) but most seem to be petty and silly and typically a girl with that type of attitude never wins.
Is there an official stance on cosmetic surgery or enhancement? How do you view it? How common is it for contestants to have work done? Do you think it increases the chances of winning?
There is no official stance on this within the Miss Universe Organization. I personally prefer the more natural look, which is why I have not had any cosmetic surgery done. I have known many women who have gone under a knife and have very much enjoyed the results; on the reverse I have also seen the opposite.
I think it depends on the girl and her judgment. If she feels it will help her confidence then it may be a decision that she is willing to make.
I would say these days it’s more common than it use to be, but I also think we are starting to see a decline in how common it really is. I think a lot of women, particularly those striving to be role models, are choosing to support the position that beauty is not perfection. I do not think it increases the chances of winning.
Do you ever watch Toddlers & Tiaras? Do you think it is an accurate depiction of what goes on behind the scenes?
I have seen one episode of that show, and all I can attest to is my own experiences as a pageant girl.
What I have learned is that the older the girls in the competition are, the more independent and free-thinking they become. In the Miss New Mexico USA competitions so many girls work hard by their own initiatives. They truly depicted empowered women who are incredible role models in their communities. In the pageants that I have been involved in no one else is allowed backstage other than the contestants and the pageant staff. This eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress and conflict for the constants and perhaps that may be where a lot of the drama derives from on that show.
After watching that one episode all I can say is that I am fortunate to have had nothing but extremely pleasant and positive pageant experiences. Oh, and I’m also fortunate to have a “non-pageant” mom who stands by my side rather than in front of me cementing my bangs with Aqua Net!
In your initial email, you said that you are “not a typical pageant girl”. Other than being a radical self love warrior (HIGH-FIVE!), what makes you different from the girls you compete against?
Often times what can tend to see happen in pageants are girls reconfiguring who they are to fit a certain mold, or, crown if you will. Some women believe that they must act, dress, or look a specific way to fit the role. I have embraced all of the quirky and unique qualities about myself, and I am not afraid to display them. I’ll even dress them up in hearts and glitter!
On top of that, pageants are a rather “new” endeavor for me. I mentioned that I had never even watched a pageant until I was in one and that’s the complete truth.
I also actually despise the word “pageant.” For me, I see a pageant as a flourishing opportunity, an opportunity that will allow me to discover my strengths and strive to refine them while showcasing my personal style and attitude. I look at “pageants” as more of a job application. I compete in pageants so that I can use the position of a titleholder to helps others and reach out to new audiences, not just to earn a sparkly crown.
It’s also rare to find a titleholder who is preparing for a national competition while teaching pre-kindergarten all day long. I spend 8 hours a day engaging with four-year-olds, and it’s preparing me for this competition in such a unique way!
Many girls take the semester off from school, but I see it as this: Miss USA is a full time job; very similar to the lifestyle I’m currently leading. Miss USA must balance her full-time job to service with her exercise needs, red-carpet events, and personal life. I’m practicing the life-style of Miss USA.
A few confessions of Miss New Mexico USA:
1. I LOVE to pull pranks on people.
2. I don’t have cable, just an extensive library of books and eBooks for my Kindle.
3. I’m a self-taught artist.
4. I once wore pink gemstones around my eye to an event as Miss NM USA.
5. I live in a rural area, which is considered the heart of the Navajo Nation, a place most people only read about in books.
6. I own 3 GameBoys.
7. I’m a recovering cupcake addict.
8. I am fascinated with serial killers (I’m so interested in learning about criminal minds).
9. I have freckles on my face that parallel the Little Dipper.
10. I’m a huge Greek Mythology nerd. In college I took a Mythology course, and my team won the Mythology Bowl Championship back-to-back times.
Congratulations on being crowned Miss New Mexico last October! How did it feel to win? What do you think gave you the edge over your fellow competitors?
Why thank you! It felt incredibly unreal. I had visualized the moment in my head over and over again so many times, but I was still completely shocked and ridiculously humbled. The best part was having every single incredible person in my life there to enjoy the moment with me.
I think one of the biggest things that gave me an edge were my life experiences. To compete for a Miss USA state pageant you must be between the ages of 19 to 26, and I waited until I was 24 to compete for the title. The longer a girl waits to compete, the fewer opportunities she has to actually obtain the title. I wanted to wait until it was the right moment and until when I completely understood who I was and what I was capable of.
Five years prior to competing I set my mind on the goal of being Miss New Mexico USA. In those five years every one of my actions and choices were made with that goal in mind. I was involved in several on-campus organizations at my university in order to further my leadership skills and create relationships with people who shared my same interests. I even held the position of president in my sorority Zeta Tau Alpha I worked hard to obtain my marketing degree and graduated in the spring of 2009 with honors from New Mexico State University, knowing that with a degree behind me I could focus even more on being Miss New Mexico USA/Miss USA. I applied for Teach For America and after being accepted to the organization I immediately began my two-year commitment with the teaching corps in Gallup, NM in order to broaden my understanding of the world beyond my comfortable little bubble.
After my first year of teaching I had learned so much about working with children and some of the realities of living in a low-income rural community. I have challenged myself in new ways and discovered new skills that I never knew I had. All of these experiences gave me the confidence I needed and a greater understanding of myself. At that point I knew I was ready to take on the role of Miss New Mexico USA.
I just spent an hour reading your blog, I absolutely love it! Your positivity is contagious & outrageous! Have you always been optimistic or is it something you have learned?
Oh my, I’m incredibly flattered by your comments! Optimism is something that I think has always been dwelling inside of me, but there is always room for more. Since I was young I have chosen to surround myself with the most optimistic people, and I have found that to make a significant impact on my outlook towards life.
I also love reading books (Love & Sequins HOLLA!!) and listening to music that lifts my mood and enlightens my perspectives. I strive to look for the good in all people and situations, and I hope that through my blog I can encourage others to do the same.
I have discovered that positive thoughts generate positive realities, which create more positive thoughts and thus even more positive realities. It’s a win/win situation that I have chosen to invest all of my energy in.
In addition to being Miss New Mexico, you’re also a pre-kindergarten teacher through Teach For America! Have you always wanted to teach?
I love spending my day with quirky, amusing and brilliant four-year-olds. When it came to deciding my major in college I had no clue what I wanted to do. I did however know that I was not destined for one specific role. I decided then that marketing and advertising would be the most applicable area of study to all the jobs that interested me. Yes, I certainly had a lot of interest in the education field.
Thankfully, I was accepted into Teach For America and immediately began teaching after my graduation. After working as an educator for the past two years I certainly see this as a field that I would like to stay with for a while. I plan on earning a masters degree in early childhood development.
I would also like to apply the knowledge I have learned about young minds and my talent for painting to writing and illustrating children’s books. As a matter of fact, I am working on my first book right now!
What have you learned or gained most from participating in pageants?
I have learned a lot about who I am. It sounds cheesy, but when you are in a pageant you are putting yourself in a situation where you are basically screaming, “Judge me!! Judge me!!” Before you can be comfortable with that you absolutely need to know and understand who you are, what you are capable of, and what you represent.
I’ve put myself under a microscope and delved into all of the things that make me, ME. I’ve taken the courage to look within myself and discover what I truly love and what I want to change.
Without the skill to do this I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in my career, education, relationships or community involvement.
I know that you’ve been competing in pageants for a while — have there ever been times when you felt discouraged or wanted to quit? What kept you going?
The one and only time I ever felt somewhat discouraged was at Miss Teen USA 2005. It was my second pageant, and I came from a very small state with few resources to prepare for nationals. Plus, back then; I still didn’t have the clearest understanding of what I had gotten myself into. I showed up for the competition (we had to be there for two weeks) and immediately began to doubt my abilities.
Fortunately, I knew enough then to stay positive and true to myself. I listened to inspirational music, journaled about my adventures, reflected on all of my preparations, focused on the exact vision of what I wanted, and worked on building meaningful relationships with the other girls. I began having fun and let the stress of the competition fizzle away.
It must have worked somehow because I landed in the top 15 on the night of the telecast and even advanced all the way to the top 10! I was so proud of myself for sticking to what I believed in and not allowing the stress of the competition bog me down.
Okay, since this is about beauty pageants, what are your favourite beauty products?
I love beauty products!!!!! I’m currently obsessed with:
Duo Eyelash Adhesive in black: I don’t know how I functioned before this.
Ardell False Eyelashes: I have tried every type of false eyelash under the sun and these little drugstore wonders take the cake hands down!
Fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment Bar: If you have any sort of skin problem on your face (blemish, dryness, shine) this baby will nip it in the butt.
Sultra Bombshell Curling Iron: This magic wand creates perfect, shiny curls in a flash. Plus you get to sport a super cute glove (MJ!).
MAC Cosmetics lipstick: “Shy Girl,” “Chatterbox” & “Myth” are my ultimate Mac fetishes.
Sevin Nyne Self-Tanning Lotion: I mix it with regular moisturizer & it’s flawless! It also has an addicting smell!
Any ole natural bristle body brush: detox, soften & firm in a matter of 5 minutes a day.
Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo & Conditioner: I simply love all Pureology products.
Clarisonic Skincare Brush: The perfect way to rid my face of all the gooey make-up. (Gala says: I LOVE THIS TOO & use it EVERY DAY!)
Korres Quercetin & Oak Antiwrinkle Night Cream: I love the smell & the magical powers.
Lush Ocean Salt Face & Body Scrub: Best scrub on Earth! An “at home” alternative would be organic sugar & lemon. Not many things are better than a freshly scrubbed face!
If/when (!) you win Miss USA (& we will all be cheering you on!), how will that change your life?
Oh thank you! Eek!
I will (!!) immediately fly off to New York City and begin my duties. It will be exciting to see myself thrive in an urban environment. I will move from my little rural New Mexican community to New York City (in a divine little apartment at Trump Tower!!) and travel the country and world advocating and educating on issues that are incredibly important, like breast and ovarian cancer, the achievement gap, and radical self-love.
A year as Miss USA will teach me incredible lessons, connect me with remarkable individuals, and empower me to continue my efforts to impact others and serve. I predict that after a year of acquiring valuable relationships and challenging myself to learn new skills, I will be able to take on the tasks that I have been working towards in stride. I will attend graduate school, write my children’s books, and establish an after school community center in high need areas that emphasize on art and music creativity and development.
On top of all this magic I would also have the opportunity to represent the USA (!!!!) at the Miss Universe competition. Since they’ve removed Pluto, the competition is not nearly as fierce!
Aside from meeting incredible women from across the globe, I would have such a sublime opportunity to showcase this marvelous country and vie for a title that will allow me to impact an even larger audience… The Universe!
...Loving people, all people. I am finally at a point in my life where I feel no ill feelings for anyone. I have worked so hard to get here and to choose other emotions over anger, jealousy or aggravation. I feel so free. So happy. So powerful. So blessed. So lucky. You can choose your emotions. You can choose peace and love in all situations. Wow. “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~Vincent van Gogh. (Happy Brittany)
I have all my fingers & toes crossed for Brittany’s quest to become Miss USA (&, of course, Miss Universe)! CONGRATULATIONS on all the wonderful, positive things you have done for your community so far, & here’s to many more years!