In blogging for the last 4 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: motherhood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
I first came to know Bailey and her family through the ichthyosis community. She is just a couple years younger than I am, born with lamellar ichthyosis, and she has been such a role model for ichthyosis and skin differences, living a life full of grace and service toward others. Bailey and her mom Tracie were gracious enough to let me write about them in my book, A Different Beautiful (available for pre-order, releasing August 1!), and I know they will inspire you just as they have our family.
Here is Bailey Pretak on Celebrating Beautiful…
A hush fell across the room. The stage lights reflecting off the sequins and rhinestones. Hearts beating quickly in anticipation. Knees shaking under floor length gowns. All eyes are on you. Holding hands with a girl you barely knew a couple days ago but now has become a sister. Bated breath as everything you have prepared for has come down to this very moment. “And the winner is…”
This is something that I dreamt about since I was a little girl. Maybe it came from my love of dressing up. Maybe from the years of watching girls in beautiful gowns ride convertibles in the Homecoming Parade or walk the red carpet into prom. Maybe it was from watching Disney princesses like Cinderella and Belle. Wherever the dream came from, it was there trapped inside my heart. I was afraid to share it, afraid to let the secret out. What would people say? What would they think? Would they laugh at a girl with a skin disorder? Would they think I was crazy for competing in a beauty pageant? I wasn’t beautiful or confident like those girls. I would never find acceptance in a setting like that. Instead, I settled for watching Miss America wishing that was me up there but never believing it could happen.
Yet, any good dream won’t stay hidden. It will keep growing inside your heart, beating strongly to remind you that it is there until you finally choose to pursue it. I carried that dream with me through the years. I grew from a shy, insecure little girl into a confident young woman. I began to see my skin disorder as a blessing because it helped shape me into the person I am today. When I looked in the mirror, I chose to believe that I am created in God’s image and am fearfully and wonderfully made. I came out of my shell through performing – twirling in tutus, tickling the ivories, portraying a character, and singing a song. And it all led me to take that dream and run with it.
At age 28, I was too old to compete in Miss America but a friend of mine encouraged me to look into Pure American Pageants (now known as Pure International Pageants), a Christian pageant system. I loved everything they stood for. Their motto of “Inspire, Lead, Achieve” is something I try to live out every single day. And I appreciated that they believe “it’s not just a crown, it’s a calling”. I took the step out of my comfort zone and signed up to compete.
The day of the pageant came and I had never been so nervous in my life. All the fears and questions that flooded my heart as a child came back. Did I even have any right to be there? Then, I remembered that I didn’t need anyone’s approval anymore. I knew who I was and what I had to offer. And my skin does not define who I am; it has only shaped and molded me. So, I competed by modeling two outfits, wearing a formal gown, being interviewed by each of the judges, and saying an onstage introduction of myself. I also performed a contemporary dance as my talent that told the story of my journey with ichthyosis…from insecurity to confidence. I didn’t win the main title that day, but I won first runner up and People’s Choice which is far more than I expected for my first pageant! I was invited to compete at the National Pageant that summer. About a week before, I found out that the titleholder in my state’s age division could no longer attend Nationals so I was given the honor of being Miss Pennsylvania.
Photo by Clover Storm Photography
The summer of 2014, I competed at Nationals in the same categories as I did at States. I finished 1st Runner Up at the National level! However, the award that I prized the most was one given to me by the pageant staff – The Overcomer Award. I was awarded this for teaching everyone what true beauty is all about, for not giving up with the difficulties I have faced, and for overcoming adversity with such strength and beauty. The following year, when I was to give up my title, I won the Pennsylvania Ultimate State Queen for both representing what Pure is all about and also for the community service I had done throughout my reign. This gave me the chance to compete once again at Nationals. This time, I was shocked to win Miss Congeniality! This title is chosen by your competitors for being the most friendly and getting along well with others. I finished 3rd runner up among some very tough competition.
All in all, the pageant world is not quite what I had expected. I believe that the media tends to give the world a distorted view of what it really is. Sure, it is rhinestones and sequins, beauty and heels, gowns and makeup. Yes, these girls are beautiful, but they are so much more. They are intelligent, compassionate, brave, natural-born leaders, and have a desire to serve their community. Through competing, my confidence grew by leaps and bounds. I was able to volunteer for some great charities and organizations, and I was taken out of my comfort zone by speaking at various events.
What I’ve gained the most through this journey is a deep desire to share my story in any way I can. I now realize that like my pageant dream, I have a dream tucked away inside my heart waiting to break free. One that I never thought I could do because I was terrified of public speaking. Now I’m ready to let that dream soar. I’m ready to become a motivational speaker and to hopefully inspire anyone who is willing to listen. The pageant was just a stepping stone to get me here, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Here’s to hoping my story inspires others to see themselves for who they are…beautifully unique.
Photo by Joelle Watt Photography
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