Lipstick and nylons fly across the room. Hairspray pollutes the air as women hold down aerosol nozzles sculpting each strand of hair in place. Women glide down runways with chiseled smiles and a glimmer of confidence in their stride. But this isn’t a fashion show, this scene is one of hopeful women competing at local beauty pageants to be considered for a crown identifying them as the next year’s titleholder.
In Utah countless pageants are available for young girls and women to compete in. Pageantry has become a popular outlet for women to get involved in their community, while at the same time earning scholarship money.
Miss Asia Utah is one of these pageants. The program began in 2008 and now takes place every June when the Utah Asian Festival is held in Salt Lake City. Asian women aged 17 to 25 are given the opportunity to showcase their talent and elegance while on stage. The pageant is open to anyone who is at least 50 percent of Asian descent and willing to be a role model for her community and the Asian-American community.
“We believe that these young women have a responsibility to do something in the community, it’s not just a pageant,” said Agnes Higley, chairwoman of Miss Asia Utah, in a phone interview.
Higley said the pageant is a way for women to personally develop. The program helps women gain and maintain confidence as well as high self-esteem. According to the pageant’s mission statement, participants through this program will be able to foster relationships through friendship and cultural interactions. Higley said one of the main reasons for starting this pageant was the lack of knowledge in younger generations about their ethnic roots.
“There’s a lot of Asian-Americans who were born here, and they don’t know a lot about their cultures,” Higley said.
Women competing will also learn to understand about their own heritage and embrace others in their cultural differences. According to the mission statement, the pageant promotes intercultural unity among Asian-Americans in Utah. Judges pick winners based on talent, national costume, evening gown and eloquence in interviews. Each year different sponsors finance the pageant and provide the winner with a unique scholarship amount.
Nicole Abalos was crowned Miss Asia Utah in 2009. The University of Utah student and former ROTC cadet says the program is a great way to showcase the diversity and multicultural societies here in Utah. In an e-mail interview Abalos said pageantry brings young women from all over the state to represent their ethnic heritage and unites them in many different ways.
Abalos became involved in pageantry in 2007 when she was given the title of Miss Philippine. Although she is one-half Filipino, one-fourth Japanese and one-fourth German, Abalos was mainly raised with Filipino traditions and also speaks some Tagalog, a major language in the Philippines.
Many doors have been opened for Abalos since her crowning, including opportunities with school, volunteering and even job interviews. Through the preparation of the pageant Abalos says she learned more about herself, was able to gain confidence and the self gratitude from helping others. Winning the pageant gave her not only a window to become a role model in her community, but also was an educational experience.
“The pageant has taught me a great deal about my ethnic roots which include, respect to elders, giving back, and keep traditions through every generation,” Abalos said in her e-mail.
“It’s about finding who you are and why you should be the face or example of communities within the state,” Abalos said.
The Miss USA program is gaining more cultural depth. The current Miss USA is the first Arab-American titleholder. The 2010 Miss Utah USA is Russian and the previous winner was Bulgarian. Abalos says she believes it’s exciting to have contestants with such varied cultural backgrounds competing in pageants.
“This just proves how diverse our country is and the opportunities available to everyone,” Abalos said.
The former Miss Asia Utah says being involved in these competitions helps her learn from many amazing women who live around the state. Although Abalos didn’t win the title of Miss Utah USA, she said she will continue to be a great example and leader.
“I work hard for what I deserve and give back to those less fortunate,” Abalos said. “Hoping to be a role model to younger girls is all I could ask for.”