Miss Harvard is clearly a newcomer to the glitzy pageant stage. Organizers didn’t even know exactly when or where the pageant would take place when they posted an open call for nubile youth with a yen for sequins. Most people may not distinguish between the unpolished fundraising effort that is the Miss Harvard pageant and the well-oiled machinations of the greater pageant circuit toward which the future Miss Harvard may aspire, but there are a few discriminating resident experts at Harvard—beauty queens past and present—and despite some reservations about pageant mockery, they wish Miss Harvard well.
“I just hope it doesn’t disparage girls who take pageants seriously,” says Brooke L. Chavez ’04, a multiple titleholder from Lubbock, Texas.
In fact, the Miss Harvard event, which auditioned men as well as women, is actually serious on a certain level. Organizers hope to raise at least $1,000 for the student group IMPACT, which helps children in developing nations.
Many of the pageants Chavez has competed in are also involved in charity. Chavez has organized blood drives throughout Texas, established literacy programs for children in libraries and directed self-esteem seminars as part of her title duties. “I’m most proud of being Miss Fiestas del Llano [a title which she held last year that celebrates her Mexican heritage] and Miss American Achievement [a title she currently holds]. They are not as based on beauty as they are on academic performance and extracurricular activities,” she says.
As a current title holder, pageants are still very much a part of Chavez’s life at Harvard, but for another Harvard beauty queen, Hannah E. Kenser ’04, who won the Miss Teen Illinois pageant her senior year in high school, pageants are a thing of the past. “I only won that one title and do not plan on entering any more pageants in the future,” she says. Upon arriving at Harvard, Kenser played down her title, not wanting it to be the main feature by which she was identified by her classmates. She says that though a pageant is “some of what you think it would be, a lot of it is what you wouldn’t.” Like Chavez, Kenser emphasizes that pageants are “not just about good looks or a good figure.” On Miss Harvard: “It sounds like a lot of fun, like it has a lot of levity. It sounds like a great social event. I’m not at all offended by it.”
Kenser chose to put pageantry behind her when she came to Harvard, but for Sarah M. Poage ’05 the choice was made for her. In the spring of her senior year of high school Poage was crowned Miss Teenage San Diego, but then had to give up her title since she was going to be a full-time student on the East Coast and wouldn’t be able to perform her title duties. “It was frustrating because sponsors had recruited me to enter the competition and I won overwhelmingly,” Poage says. “But knowing I had won was enough for me.” She says she may throw her hat in the pageant ring again, once she’s finished with school.
Poage says she does not plan to compete for the Miss Harvard title. “It will be fun to watch,” she says. “If it was a real pageant and not just a comical one, I’d probably compete.”
Luckily for the bright-eyed would-be Miss Harvards, neither Kenser nor Chavez plans on competing in the pageant either.
The experienced competitors do, however, have a few tips for novice contestants.
On overall pageant technique:
“[Contestants] should always have on a smile, exude a positive attitude, at least seem well-informed on current issues, make eye contact with the judges whenever possible [and] act and seem genuinely concerned and sincere when asked about their platform. Most importantly [they should] be real and not a superficial product of a beauty- and consumer-driven society. Also, since the Miss Harvard pageant is a parody of pageants, a little spice or sass won’t hurt.” (Chavez)
“Anything you say, say confidently, and even if you don’t know what you’re saying, try to sound confident anyway because people will believe it.” (Kenser)
“Suck, tuck and walk. That’s what they always told us. Suck in your stomach, tuck in your butt and keep your shoulders back when you walk.” (Poage)
On dressing to impress:
“Wear a dress and swimsuit that flatter your particular figure. Statistically and historically, white or nice blues seem to have graced the winners of pageants more than any other colors. Long, sleek and sexy gowns are better than big, puffy prom gowns. Don’t overdo it, yet for the Miss Harvard pageant, I figure anything goes! If you’re a male—I usually don’t recommend this for women in real pageants—show some leg and the cleavage that you worked so hard to produce for the night!” (Chavez)
“Don’t wear too-high heels. Make sure your dress looks okay when you walk because sometimes dresses look funky when you walk in them.” (Kenser)
“At a typical pageant, you should dress conservatively with a flair—color, sequins—but don’t show too much skin. For Miss Harvard, though, I would say that anything goes.” (Poage)