Commitment to Change

It was one of the worst experiences of her life, but it became something that Angela eventually made a lifetime commitment to. As a teenage Italian-American, she was a stunning beauty. Her family and friends encouraged her to enter the local beauty contest. The only reason Angela did so was that it was billed as a scholarship contest. In reality, it was a disgusting abuse of women.

Angela was able to scrape together enough money to go to college and earn a degree that led her to become one of the most successful women in the community. When the long-time director of the beauty pageant retired, Angela was asked to become its volunteer director. NO!! was Angela’s immediate thought. But then she thought that her disgust with the entire concept of a beauty contest could be used to make a change in how women were thought of, at least in her hometown. She agreed to be the volunteer director if she was given reign over how the program was run.

First, she changed the name from pageant to showcase because she envisioned a program that would focus on women’s talents. When the first entrants met for the first time, they were surprised that Angela had eliminated the swimsuit competition because of how degrading it had become. Then Angela announced that the showcase was not a contest and that every woman who signed up would receive a scholarship financed by local businesses.

The interview portion of the showcase would be replaced by discussions where the entrants would join together in small groups to talk about issues facing the community. These discussions were archived and placed on the showcase website for community leaders to see and hear how young people were thinking.

The talent part of the showcase was replaced by a walkthrough exhibit of the creative works of those in the program. As the public toured the exhibit, each woman shared their stories about how they developed the necessary skill for their display.

Angela wanted to preserve some feminine aspect of the previous pageant, so she retained the evening gown portion of the program. But to make this part of the showcase equitable Angela had turned to former employees of a garment factory for help. Each entrant was monitored by one of the fabric artisans in the design and sewing of the gowns. No off-the-shelf expensive gowns were allowed.

At first, the entrants were shocked by the changes, but as they started to experience how the changes in the program were changing them they embraced the changes. A few who just wanted to put themselves on display dropped out.

Angela took a lot of abuse from those who preferred the “meat market” approach of pageantry, but she was committed to changing the image of the role of women. When the board overseeing the pageant tried to remove Angela, every entrant said they would no longer stay in the program. The board backed down.

When an announcement was made about the second year of the showcase, Angela became swamped with applicants. Young women who would have never entered a beauty pageant, wanted to experience the showcase. The result was that Angela began a series of showcases held over the year to accommodate all who wanted the experience. Angela decided to make this her fulltime commitment. Changing lives was more important to her than anything else she could do.

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“When you make a commitment, you create hope. When you keep your commitment, you create trust.”
– John Maxwell (Business Author)

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