Real talk guys. Real talk.

In twelve short days, I’ll be crammed into a car with 15 lb. of makeup, 87 pairs of earrings, enough “dressy casual” attire to last a lifetime (or at least a week… and can someone please define that phrase for me?) on my way to Muskegon to compete for the title of Miss Michigan.

My most honest and truly “Danielle” moments happen at the gym. If you’ve had the immense (dis)pleasure of working out with me before, you know that I explode sass or tears. During a particularly sassy day, after delivering a particularly sassy face to a particularly sassy coach, I was told that “frowning won’t help you win Miss Michigan.” Mid-pull-up, I replied, “I’m not trying to win Miss Michigan.”

“Oh?”

We need to go back further.

The other day at the gym (of course) between squat sets, I confessed to my friend that I had been feeling a lot of pressure leading up to Miss Michigan. Peers and respected adults said to me that lifting and pageants were not compatible, especially on the state level. Those opinions, plus a few statements from others that week, made me feel like my body was no longer pageant appropriate. I am by no means large or muscular, and I’m abolishing the word “fat” from my vocabulary, but it was made clear to me that weightlifting pageant contestants are not the norm. My wonderful friend replied to those fears, as she unracked her bar that weighed more than five full grown bears, “just be true to yourself.”

Be true to yourself. That was always my goal in pageants – as the 18 year old nerdy girl who was “too smart for pageants” or “too mature” to be a teen competitor, or the 20 year old who was “too manly looking” to wear a bikini on a stage – my goal was always to be my own self. But I lost sight of that goal, and forgot where my intentions began.

So to what am I being true? This time around, I am being true to my passions.

I am in love with barbells, with the physical and mental growth they provide. I love the long hours in the gym, the sweat and chalk permanently stained into my clothes, the calloused hands and bruised… well, everything is bruised. I love being free to eat what I need to fuel my body, and I am probably the only contestant who is trying to gain weight leading up to her pageant (this girl needs two kilos worth of quads, asap). I refuse to sacrifice my happiness and health, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

I am in love with ballet, and threw away the predictability and safety of a lyrical routine for my talent, instead opting for a classical ballet variation en pointe. I refuse to sacrifice my training and technique for tricks, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

I am in love with learning, and put academics and my future career as a physician before almost everything. I’ve turned down dozens of appearances to study for the MCAT, missed glamorous events because I had an exam the next morning, and hid pageant prep in the back of my brain to focus on the MCAT. I refuse to be shamed for putting my education first, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

So I am not trying to win. I am trying to be Danielle – the girl who eats Cheetos in her evening gown before modeling it at her send-off party; the girl who came to said send-off party straight from the gym, sweaty hair and chalky hands and all; the girl who acknowledges the absurdity of pageants but loves them for what they taught her, and is always ready to discuss said absurdity (wait, why am I in a bikini and heels onstage?); the girl who has gained twenty pounds since her pageant debut three years ago and could not be happier about it. And if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

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