The truth behind being a beauty queen (2/2)

For many years I felt unbeautiful. I remember that as a kid I would wish upon stars, wells, and even pray of someday becoming strong, outgoing and confident in my skin just like the wonder women I saw on TV and the big screen. Deep down, I participated in Miss Dominican Republic searching for some kind of acceptance. I saw it as a challenge to surpass my insecurities since as a teenager I put up with being bullied, and struggled with self hate. I really thought this could lift my self esteem and serve as an example of personal growth. 

I never expected to get very far, considering I didn't come from money, or a known last name, and I didn't have the help of any sponsors, so finishing first runner up in the pageant represented a great victory and even a surprise.

And what made me feel more proud was knowing that what earned me this spot was not having the best hair or best body but giving a good answer to one of the most complex questions made in the contest that year, proving to myself that appearance is a side note to what makes you beautiful.

As first runner up my purpose became to advise Dominican girls with body image issues, I wanted to help them feel awesome. I felt motivated, and confident enough to continue pursuing an acting career. But suddenly my plans were cut short when the winner of the contest broke one of the rules and was dismissed, making me Miss Dominican Republic 2012.

I was in utter disbelief. All hope to fill the shoes of Miss Dominican Republic ended for me at the end of the contest, and it was not the ideal way to get the title. They say that every first runner up desires this to happen, but in my case I never dreamed of winning anything through the sanction of another person. It was a very unfortunate situation; it even crossed my mind to turn down the crown. How could I accept to be the face of an institution that had lost so much credibility and was going through a scandal?

It was hard and uncomfortable accepting this position after what happened, some started to say that I came from a wealthy family and that my Father bought me the tittle, when truth is my Dad had passed away recently and I am actually from a very hard working humble family. This was when all my insecurities started to kick back in, I felt like an infiltrator, like I wasn't good enough to represent the women of my country. 

I put my insecurities aside, I had signed a contract and if I did not meet its conditions I could be sued by the Miss Dominican Republic Organization and Antena Latina Channel, who owned the contest at that time but were in a litigation process to part ways. So I decided it was best to toughen up and assume my responsibility as first runner up with humbleness, with the commitment of doing the best possible job as Miss Dominican Republic, taking on the example of the hard working personality and inner beauty that characterizes Dominicans even under overwhelming conditions. I wanted to think that if fate put this in my way, although it was uncomfortable, maybe it was for a reason or mission I would not understand at the time, because opportunities are not the result of chance.

After my decision to fulfill the commitment that as a child I defined as being similar to becoming a super woman or cultural ambassador of the country, the experiences under the title weren't super. In fact, some difficulties tested my spirit. The consultancy done by the Director of the Organization really was not the right one for me. Naively I followed her directions but I didn't feel they suited me. During my preparation for Miss Universe I experienced what I saw as lack of respect and lack of emotional and financial support, which made it difficult for me to strive, making the relationship with the director not as smooth as I would have preferred. She wanted to mold me into a bimbo stereotype that to my understanding wasn't going to stand out from the 80 most beautiful women in the world and I didn't.

Personally I wanted to be authorized by the organization to work with a strong group of advisors and coaches just like other successful Dominican Miss Universes before me did like Amelia Vega and Marianne Cruz, getting the support and assistance I needed to help me be a better version of myself instead of transforming into something else, I wanted to achieve harmony between what favored my natural image and strengthen my performance skills without suppressing my personality. The challenge was to achieve a balance that would allow me to be physically, intellectually and spiritually prepared in order to overcome the challenges faced in Miss Universe, representing my country and culture honorably, I wanted to train harder than Rocky Balboa for his fights. I did the best I could under the inflexible circumstances, despite my request not being authorized. I felt tied down. But I never lost hope that things would improve. In the midst of these difficulties I focused on looking for the positive side, thousands of Dominicans expected a triumph for the nation, and I aimed to make known before millions of viewers my Caribbean nation.

However none of my efforts mattered much in the year I participated in Miss Universe, because Trump had a business, and this business did not involve beauty, neither internal nor external. Some of the semi-finalists were selected based on business interests, robbing the opportunity of strong contenders who gave their all. The presentation to the jury and the personality and talent tests were not as relevant as that brief moment where we were introduced to Trump, and there he made his choice the day before the final contest.

In 2012, the Dominican Republic was basically blacklisted for confirming that they would host the Miss Universe contest and then declining the offer. It was not until the Miss Universe 2012 contest was over that I realized that even before setting foot in Las Vegas, where the contest was hosted, I had no chance of qualifying. I was very disappointed, and not because I didn't make it into the top 16, but rather because the image I had created in my head of these organizations I admired was completely shattered.

It made me question everything, I did not want to pander to antiquated patriarchal ideals of feminine beauty. Women are more than just bodies. 

During my “reign” I experienced the same bullying that I went through at school all over again, except this time it was cyberbullying, available for the world to see. Adults that without even knowing me dedicated themselves to creating tasteless jokes, cruel gossip, lies, memes, criticizing me destructively... All without any idea of what was really going on behind the scenes or worry about finding out the truth. I realized that we live in an age of emptiness, in which for some not only destroying and stepping on others is seen as normal, they also seem to get pleasure out of such cruel act that only causes pain, and physical appearance seems to rule over inner beauty.

I wasn't going to let this experience get to me, even though the negative internet comments were hard to ignore, in the things that cause us pain there are also blessings, hidden lessons. I can not deny that many people gave me a warm acceptance, I give importance and appreciate the positive energy that many sent me and still continue to send, because without such support I don't know how I would have managed to move forward carrying the tittle. I discovered what can be endured when the heart does not stop having faith in human kind.

What I valued most about getting this title was doing community service where I got to teach Dominican girls that staying true to who you are is the most valuable lesson that I have learned and reaffirmed, and it is something I want to share with everyone. Sometimes staying true to your values and what makes you — you, brings you disagreements, but there are things that to me are not negotiable.

The essence of a human being goes beyond outer appearance, it goes beyond a dress or hair color; that is ephemeral. My learnings will always stay with me and have certainly made me a better person. Once you embrace yourself you will spend less time and energy putting yourself down or letting others put you down, and more time blossoming.

 Photo by Yael Duval 

Photo by Yael Duval 

As women we have to work on knocking down this false stereotype of what we should look like, and together build more healthy diverse content for future generation of girls, where we redefine beauty to be more than what mets the eye, so we can cultivate a kinder, healthy relationship with ourselves.

With this article I want to make a call out to us Dominicans: We can not reinforce the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily on their physical appearance. Beauty pageants should celebrate diversity, not reject them. In this country we are a mix of Taino, African, and European roots, we islanders are born from a union of races, we have skin of different shades, we are Dominicans. And being Dominicano lies in our colorful painteresque personality that is unmistakable anywhere in the world. Let's stop undervaluing our Miss Dominican Republic, who will proudly represent us in Miss Universe, let's respect not only her dream, let's respect her as a human being. 

I am hopeful that Miss Universe, the most popular beauty pageant in the world, now being in new hands after it was sold by Trump, will have a chance to return to its original values, when it was less about business and the talent and personality portions mattered more. It is up to organizations like this one to become aware of the impact they have over young girls lives.