10 Beauty Pageant Tips for Becoming an Everyday Miss America

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Miss Pinellas County and Miss Tampa Bay USA Stephanie Ziajka of Diary of a Debutante shares tips for beauty pageant contestants

In the spirit of Miss America week, I wanted to take some time to talk about my experience with beauty pageants. I only competed for two years, but I was fortunate enough to be crowned both Miss Pinellas County and Miss Tampa Bay USA– and to compete at Miss Florida and Miss Florida USA, both of which were a whirlwind of blood, sweat, tears, and emotions.  All I can say is that killer interview skills, strength, resilience, and courage… these are all commonly overlooked qualities of pageant queens. Prior to competing, I was a painfully introverted math nerd with stage fright. It didn’t come easy to me at the time (and I definitely could’ve benefitted from some beauty pageant tips myself), but now I’m completely comfortable with public speaking, networking, and anything else that requires temporarily wearing my extrovert hat. 

I also experienced what I will forever consider the most brutal state interview of all time, so I’ll never walk into or out of an interview as intimidated as I did in the summer of 2011. I really do have the Miss Florida Organization to thank for that. My experience with MFAO and fellow sister queens was invaluable and will be forever treasured.

Miss Florida 2011 Top 10 featuring blogger Stephanie Ziajka of Diary of a DebutanteMiss Florida On Stage Question Portion featuring Miss Pinellas County and Miss Tampa Bay USA Stephanie Ziajka of Diary of a Debutante

The true purpose of this post, however, is because Miss America and Miss USA titleholder can still truly be exceptional and socially-relevant role models. Now that every pop star on the planet’s opting for a “more mature” image, our kids need classy, scholastically-minded women to look up to more than ever. For this very reason, I’ve racked my brain to draft up some beauty pageant tips for not only winning competitions but also exemplifying dignity and grace in every-day life. Keep reading for all 10 beauty pageant tips!

Beauty Pageant Tips for Becoming an Every-Day Miss America

Miss Tampa Bay USA Stephanie Ziajka shares 10 beauty queen tips for becoming an every-day Miss America on Diary of a Debutante


1. Set realistic goals.

Write down your short and long-term goals and keep them fresh in your mind. Setting realistic goals and measuring milestones are key for building confidence and documenting progress. Creating a Vision Board or Bucket List of things you want to accomplish during the month, year, or decade can have a similar effect. Your list can have 15 items or 350 items—as long as you’re creating SMART goals, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

This begs the question—what is a SMART goal? Smart goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. They have carefully planned, clear, and most importantly, trackable objectives. So, if your goal is to become Miss Florida without any prior pageant experience, you need to reframe your intention to be a little more realistic. For example, you should start by tackling a local pageant first, since only local titleholders are eligible to compete at state pageants. Here’s an example–

Goal: I will become a local MAO titleholder by working with a pageant coach to improve my interview skills (or practicing questions on your own, working out, saving for a dress, etc) for 6 months and competing at the pageant in June (or whenever it is).

  • Specific: The goal setter has clearly set the objective to be crowned a local MAO titleholder.
  • Measurable: Success can be measured by conducting practice interviews, filling out the pageant application, creating a killer resume/platform, and winning the title.
  • Achievable: The goal setter will practice daily to win a local title.
  • Relevant: The goal setter is planning to compete at a local MAO pageant after practicing sufficiently and creating a killer resume and platform.
  • Timely: The goal setter has firm set a deadline to achieve their objective (whenever the local pageant is).

Then, once you win that local title, you can set a new SMART goal of winning your state pageant, too.

2. Stay up-to-date on current events.

Staying up-to-date on current events should probably be on every How to Be a Good Citizen list, but it’s also one of the best-kept pageant secrets. Titleholders are constantly fighting to break through the “I’m a dumb blonde” pretense. If you have nothing to say besides what’s going on in reality TV, you’re probably going to perpetuate the stigma, not reverse it. Plus, if you’re competing in any form of a scholarship program (looking at all those Miss America hopefuls), you’re just not going to score high in the private interview portion, which makes up 25% of your total score, if you can’t fluidly discuss hot topics.

To stay in the know, tune in to your favorite news station every morning or for a few minutes before bedtime at night. You can also sign up for a daily news summary, like the Skimm, to make sure you’re getting daily highlights. Another one of my favorite strategies is to meet up with your parents or siblings and discuss current events once a week. Not only will you get some perspective, you’ll inevitably become more comfortably speaking about taboo topics, as well.

3. Take care of yourself.

Yes, it’s basic self-care, but please make sure you’re tending to your skin, smile, and body. This doesn’t mean putting on a full face of makeup and heels every time you leave your house. If it did, I would be the ultimate hypocrite. I’m talking about prioritizing time to exercise, get plenty of sleep, take your vitamins, and keep up with yourself. Trust me, you won’t perform well (or feel good) with any empty tank.

I also want to stress that “treating yourself” every once in a while is equally important. Whether you need a manicure or a cupcake, rewarding yourself for your diligence and hard work is healthy. If you find yourself in need of some serious “you time,” check out some of my favorite ways to practice self-love

4. Prioritize people.

Being in the public eye and feeling constantly scrutinized can lead to anxiety, depression, and a handful of other social, mental, and emotional disorders. I should know—I developed a series of two life-threatening eating disorders after my pageant career ended. My best advice is to find a strong support system and latch on to them. Surround yourself with positive people. Hire a pageant coach if you need a little extra push. I can’t stress this enough– if you need help, seek help… because winning or losing a pageant shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all. If it is, you’ll lose site of the fact that you can’t win them all— and even if you do, everything eventually comes to an end.

I’m not saying this to be depressing; I’m saying this to be realistic and to encourage all aspiring titleholders to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends. If you lose a pageant, you may need some cheering up. If you win a pageant and are completely overwhelmed by your contractual duties (yes, there are contracts), you may need some reassurance or grounding. The bottom line is that whenever the time comes, you’ll need support, so it’s best to not put relationships on the back burner.

5. Give back.

Beauty queen or not, giving back in any capacity is just good for the soul. Audrey Hepburn once said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” That said, choose an organization or cause you’re genuinely passionate about and volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re volunteering time, money, or talent—it’s all good for the soul. Although I personally recommend committing on a monthly basis, once a year (or decade or lifetime) is better than never!

I mentioned this earlier, but there are a handful of different ways to volunteer. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling–

  • Organize a food, clothing, book, or supply drive for underprivileged families, homeless animals, veterans, or disenfranchised communities in your area.
  • Implement a new recycling program where there isn’t one (work, school, your parents’ house, etc).
  • Sing (with a group or by yourself) at a local hospital.
  • Walk or foster shelter dogs.
  • Write letters or send care packages to soldiers overseas.
  • Support local businesses by shopping local.
  • Give gifts that give back to specific charities (click here for some of my favorites) and educate the recipient on who/what their gift benefits.

If none of these ideas sound like a good fit for you, you can search volunteer opportunities in your area here.

6. Mind your manners.

In today’s digital age, it’s super rare to find a young adults with honest-to-goodness manners. The art of saying “please,” sending thank you notes, addressing authority figures and the elderly with “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir” feels like it’s completely lost. That said, if you do have good manners, not only will you set yourself apart from the general population, you’ll leave an indelibly positive mark on whomever you come in contact with—whether it’s a prospective employer, pageant judge, your future in-laws, or a stranger on the street.

Two of my favorite books on manners and etiquette are How to Live Like a Lady: Lessons in Life, Manners, and Style, which was actually a gift from my state pageant director, and How to Be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life. I highly recommend reading them if you need a refresher!

7. Make peace with yourself.

Of all the beauty pageant tips out there, I think this one’s the most important. So, let’s start with a question… you know who’s awesome? You. And all your little quirks and imperfections. Please, please, please stop wasting time trying to be someone else and embrace who you are. That confidence from within shines through in any room you’ll ever be in, and it’ll do you so many more favors than you realize.

Further, I learned this lesson the hard way, but trust me– you aren’t doing yourself any favors by playing the comparison game. Someone will always be prettier, or smarter, or have smaller thighs than you. If you’re an aspiring titleholder, you won’t always win—and it won’t always be fair. So, instead of constantly feeling sorry for yourself, find and embrace both your best and worst qualities. They make you interesting—and personable and, believe it or not, likable.

Finally, try to remember that someone, and you may not know who, is looking up to you. Be a good role model by showing how good it feels to be at peace with yourself. Confidence really is contagious, so pass it on!

8. Invest in the pageant essentials.

There are a handful of secret beauty pageant essentials that only seasoned titleholders know about. Not only are they competitions must-haves, they’re great every-day fashion and beauty hacks, too. Here are a few of my personal must-haves–

And those are just a few of my personal favorites. Every former beauty queen will have her own set of beauty queen secrets, so ask around!

9. Create a budget.

I got myself in trouble when I competed for Miss Florida by not following a budget. Pageant headshots, stage makeup, getting your hair and nails done every month/week/day… it all adds up. Factor in a generous wardrobe allowance, entry fees, donation requirements, coaching costs, and travel expenses. As a reference point, I bought a more “affordable” pageant gown for Miss Florida from arguably the most well known gown store in the country, and it was $2,500. If I added up all costs associated with competing in Miss Florida for one year, the total sum would easily exceed $5,000. So, yeah, if anybody ever tells you pageantry isn’t an expensive hobby, they’re completely out of touch or they’re trying to sabotage you.

If you are particularly strapped for cash, there are ways you can scrimp without sacrificing quality (and potentially hurting your chances). For starters, Pageant Resale and Poshmark are great websites for finding pre-worn pageant gowns, heels, and swimsuits. You can also shop at upscale consignment shops and/or purchase basic gowns and add your own rhinestones/crystals. Fun fact— the gown I wore when I wore Miss Pinellas County was $80 at Dillard’s, and my pageant coach sewed on cheap rhinestone to make it sparkle. Up close it was a pretty big mess, but under stage lights, it looked like a pretty impressive couture gown.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask former competitors if they’d be willing to loan you their old gown/shoes/etc. I’ve personally loaned out my winning gown twice, and I’ve been loaned a gown once. Across the board, watching someone else shine in a dress that means a lot to you is a pretty great feeling!

Realistically, though, even with bargain shopping, pageant costs can still add up. If you’re a student or new graduate who doesn’t have a parent or guardian angel helping you out, I feel for you. That was me. My advice? Seek out corporate sponsors and/or set up a Go Fund Me account, which allows other people to donate to your pageant journey. Sporadic donations of $5 and $10 can help more than you realize!

10. Just be nice.

No shade intended, but I can’t stand girls who show up to an event, whether it’s a competition, party, or whatever, with their nose in the air. Make friends and be social. More importantly, just be nice. I met some of my all-time favorite people and lifelong friends through the Miss America Organization. Even if you lose– and there can only be one winner, remember you are growing and take something positive from the experience.

If you’re also a member of the retired pageant queen club, what beauty pageant tips or secrets did I leave off this list? Please share!


14 thoughts on “10 Beauty Pageant Tips for Becoming an Everyday Miss America

  1. Ashley Brooke

    Let's be real…your crown bag is definitely rhinestoned. No shame.

    Also, I completely agree about manners. I'm so grateful that my family raised me to be polite and well-mannered. It's set me up for success in my adult life!

  2. Sheila Simmons

    I wish I saw the pageant but I was at a dinner party and forgot to DVR it. I hope you enjoyed it. BTW, thanks for the tips and it is great advice for everyone especially about staying on a budget.

    1. [email protected] Post author

      Haha, valid question! It’s really easy to slip on stage (only about a thousand YouTube videos prove it), and if the bottoms are completely smooth with no tread, rubbing sand paper on the soles gives the shoes a little more grip.

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  5. Jesse Ford

    You make a good point that it’s important to just be polite to people around you. My daughter told me she wants to participate in a beauty pageant one day and asked what she could do to up her chances of winning. I’m not super well-versed on the subject, but I think if a person is authentic and courteous on stage, then others will be able to take notice.


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