Correction: The original headline of this article incorrectly suggested that Saint-Vil '10 won the Miss Rhode Island pageant. In fact, she won a $1,000 scholarship at the pageant.
Many things come to mind when one thinks of Brown: the New Curriculum, esteemed professors and trendy clothing among others. Beauty pageants aren't usually in that list — but they soon may be.
This past year, two undergrads — Deborah Saint-Vil '10 and Caitlin Gorham '10 — made appearances in local pageants in Rhode Island. Saint-Vil came away from this summer's Miss Rhode Island pageant with a $1,000 scholarship. The pageant — which consists of an interview, talent competition, swimsuit and evening gown showings and onstage questions — is a part of the larger Miss America pageant, which, according to the organization's Web site, "exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women and to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community."
Saint-Vil said she has been a fan of the Miss America pageant for a long time and used to watch it with her grandmother. She had always planned on competing when she got older, and the state competition was her entrance into the pageant scene.
The pageant "really helped me develop into a better person," she said, adding that she thinks the interview and onstage competition helped her with her confidence and in overcoming some of the reserve she had as a child.
Gorham was the first runner-up in another pageant — Miss Rhode Island USA. Beauty pageants may seem a far cry from art history and international relations, Gorham's two concentrations. But she wanted to challenge herself and try something new.
To prepare for her first pageant, Gorham hired a Miss Maryland winner as her coach. The former pageant champion taught her what to expect and the skills she would need in the competition, including posing, answering interview questions and walking on stage.
As the pageant approached, Gorham's preparations became more superficial — she perfected her look with eyebrow waxing and spray tanning.
Overall, she said the pageant was "nerve-racking," especially when the steamers lost her dress and found it only an hour before the pageant. But it was also "really fun," she added.
The media often depicts beauty pageants as filled with blunders — Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Upton's infamous onstage speech about "the Iran," for one — and overwhelming stage mothers.
Not so, says Saint-Vil, who said her experience was "nothing like TV."
"From the surface people may think it's all about women who are obsessed with their looks," she said. "It's more about developing your character."
Gorham, too, found more in the pageants than big hair and attitude.
"I even believed the stereotype going into it," she said. Instead, she found that being in a beauty pageant took more than just looking the part. The girls she saw in the pageant were "willing to accept a challenge." Not only had they mastered their walk, but they had mastered something else as well.
"It takes inner strength to put yourself out there," she said. "It takes a lot of courage and confidence."