By the night of Oct. 24, I had been tanned, plucked, waxed, scrubbed, whitened, polished, painted, sized, fitted and rehearsed for the Miss Utah Teen USA 2014 pageant.
In the next two nights, I would compete against 24 other teens in the Weber State University Browning Center in Ogden for the chance of scholarships and a sparkling crown placed on my head.
Being that this was my first pageant, I didn't know what to expect as I checked into the hotel with my suitcase and bag of dresses. I had no idea I would walk out of those same doors two days later with something better than a crown.
Friday night, all of us were huddled behind the curtains, our initial butterflies and anxiety building as the lights dimmed and our song began to reverberate to the audience. As soon as we bounced on stage, smiling and dancing to the music, the Miss Utah Teen USA competition had begun. After our opening number, we raced downstairs to the dressing room, where we were to frantically change into our swimsuit and then evening gown.
Waiting for my cue to walk alone onto the stage, I was afraid. I was terrified of tripping in my heels and falling on my face. But in that moment, as they ushered me onto the platform, I chose to be brave.
A quote came into my mind that I had heard from the movie, "We Bought a Zoo": "Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. And I promise you, something great will come of it."
I walked onto the platform, as the announcer read my name and title and the spotlight found my face. I could see the light glimmering off the sparkles on my dress as I strode toward the judges. In that moment I felt empowered. It was a celebration of me and who I am, and of pride in everything that entails.
Like many young teenage girls, it is hard not to base our worth on the latest styles, fads, trends and looks from photo-shopped celebrities. From these pictures that are edited to perfection, girls feel this is how they should look too, but it is simply not true. No one is perfect; we are all born with flaws and differences. It is these small details that make us individual. Standing on stage at a pageant, you have to be brave enough to embrace everything about you, including your imperfections.
The next day was the final night of the pageant. Standing on stage, the top 15 contestants were announced. I was one of the girls left behind in the competition. For the rest of the night I stood behind the curtains, watching my friends and other contestants compete without me.
Yet watching from the sidelines taught me a valuable lesson. Life isn't always about winning. In a fast-paced American society our culture is all about being No. 1 and coming out on top. But sometimes our role is to cheer from behind the spotlight, celebrating other's accomplishments and success.
Before the pageant, our director, Britt Boyse, challenged us to set a goal. My goal was to give everyone competing a compliment, no matter how big or small. I learned to recognize beauty in every single one of the girls. The best part was by congratulating others' attributes, I began to feel more beautiful.
Walking out of the auditorium doors Saturday night, I had experienced more than just a pageant. I had learned to be confident in myself and to appreciate what made me different. I made 24 new friends and celebrated with them during their moment. It didn't matter that I hadn't won a crown because I had gained something much more precious.
As Deborah Carmody, a former Mrs. California, says, "You see, all crowns are made different. It's really an art. Yours can be rhinestones or the growth in your heart."
Erynn Pontius is a senior at Weber High School. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.