When most people think of junior beauty pageants, their thoughts generally turn to pubescent girls wearing too much make-up, gowns with too little fabric and a smile oddly mature for their age.
It also summons thoughts of pressuring parents living vicariously through their offspring, parents who seem to care more about assuring their child’s eyelashes are properly curled before their runway waltz.
However, Austin resident Tanya Harris, ever mindful of these generalizations, entered her daughter, 14-year-old Maya Danley in the Miss Junior Teen Chicago Pageant.
Harris says her motivation to do so was not based on a desire to pressure her daughter but to encourage her to pursue her own interests.
“Maya had expressed an interest in modeling, and I felt I should encourage her to pursue it,” said Harris. “Despite the pressures that come with it, like having to look a certain way or maintain a certain weight, I felt she was mature enough to handle it.”
The Miss Junior Teen Chicago Pageant will feature over two dozen girls from various parts of Chicago area, competing for nearly $20,000 in prizes.
There will be a winner in each of the three divisions: pre-teen 1 (10-12 years old), teen division 2 (13-15) and teen division 3 (16-19).
The winners representing Chicago will earn the right to face off in the annual Cities of America competition in Orlando, Fla. There they will compete for nearly $60,000 in cash and prizes.
The pageant is held by Nationals Incorporated, a Hermitage, Penn.-based company that holds pageants in various cities across the country.
The company’s operations manager and co-organizer for the Junior Teen Chicago event, Sally Blough argues that their pageants emphasize the inner beauty more than the physical beauty, and that girls of all shapes and sizes are welcome to compete.
“There are competitions that exist that want to place little girls in evening gowns and make-up and parade them across a runway with their looks being the only thing scrutinized, but that is not us,” said Blough. “We want to create an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the girls and confidence within them.”
Nonetheless, the competition judges the girls in three separate categories: photogenic, overall photogenic and geniality. Does that contradict her philosophy?
“Even though the pageant does consider physical appearance a factor, the personality of the girls is always what is most important to their success,” said Blough. “We want girls of all races, shapes and sizes to feel comfortable with their appearance. That’s why the atmosphere is very family-oriented.”
“I’m not worried,” said Harris. “I just want her to do her best and we’ll see what happens.”
“I am looking forward to not only representing Chicago but the Austin area as well,” said Danley, who attends John Hay School and wants to study archeology in college.
The pageant will be held on August 25.
For more information about the Nationals Incoporated and the pageants they are holding in the uncoming months, visit their website at nationalsincoporated.com.