Author’s note: Here it is, folks—my new series Chasing Crowns: The Pageant Diaries. Look out for the pageant tips at the end of each chapter. Enjoy!
You won’t believe the day I’ve had, Diary. I’m sitting up in bed, writting down everything I experienced at the Casa Grande hotel, because writing your thoughts down is meant to be therapeutic. Much better than screaming down the roof inside this cramped bedroom I share with my two brothers. The door’s been bolted from inside because I’m not in the mood for any interruptions, and luckily the boys are too engrossed in their violent action flick showing on MiTV to care about where their sister’s been all day. Mummy and Daddy aren’t home either, probably at a prayer meeting. Why was I born an only girl child? Of course Mummy’s the other female in the family, but not only are we outnumbered by three men with no patience for womankind, she never understands me. Which is why I did the unthinkable behind her back—registering to compete in a major beauty pageant.
Naija Girl selects an entrant each year to compete at Miss World Global pageant, and most titleholders have used their celebrity status and connections to carve lucrative careers for themselves, mainly in entertainment. Among other prizes the winner receives a brand new ride, luxury accommodation in a highbrow area for the duration of her reign, a stylish designer wardrobe, and ₦5,000,000. Five million. That amount could solve a multitude of money woes in our family, and help improve my non-eventful life. Friends and family have forever complimented my looks, asking why I haven’t graced any front covers. Easy—my folks would go mad. Daddy accusing me of throwing my life away, Mummy lamenting on the loss of her only daughter to the dark side… What’s wrong with using your God-given attributes to jump-start your way into a better life as long as you don’t negotiate on your back?
My parents will definitely go fricking mental when they discover I registered to compete in a Nigerian beauty pageant, but this is my life, this is my own decision. Mummy and Daddy will just have to get over it. I have a chance in a million I can only take while I’m still young and attractive, who am I hurting? I’ve never competed in a pageant before, but as a kid I watched Miss World Global on TV, and admired those beauties competing against each other. I never once thought of following in their footsteps though. Until now. This may have been my first attempt, and my parents aren’t exactly flowing with cash, but I made it my mission to make those judges notice me as far as my budget allowed. With scores of other girls dying to get their manicures on that crown, I’d never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unless perhaps I tried again the following year, but I why wait that long? This is my year to slay, come what may.
Thank God I wore flats instead of heels on my way to the screening—imagine auditioning for Naija Girl completely exhausted with sweat ruining your mascara after a ten-minute walk from the main road to Casa Grande hotel on tippy-toes. I bought those shoes at the market last week, instantly adding four more inches to my 5’8’’. Countless hours spent jogging up and down our street and crunching my abs on our worn carpet has sculpted my body into supermodel shape, giving me the confidence to display my hard work in a bikini. I could only afford a second-hand two-piece, but the design complimented every curve perfectly, and I couldn’t have chosen anything better. I’d scrubbed the hell out of the crotch area with Omo and Izal for obvious reasons though. Slaying in a retro bikini whilst reeking of hospital antiseptic? Hey, as long as I wore my treasure with pride and owned my walk, who cared, right? There was also the evening gown to consider, but that could wait…
Thirty girls waited in the conference room, checking their makeup in dainty compact mirrors or flicking their hair in place. I spotted a few familiar faces including a dark-skinned former Miss Teen Naija contestant who reached the top fifteen at the last edition, subsequently appearing in a TV commercial. Not the tallest girl present, but Suzi Osazuwa was genuinely warm and friendly, kindly sharing her past experiences with other girls and assuring them of their own individual potential. I also recognised Mary Nwankwo, the Drama student who won Most Talented in Miss Naija two years ago (Why doesn’t Naija Girl host a talent competition?). Arit Okon entertained everyone with her humorous banter, no doubt a contender for Miss Congeniality along with Suzi, but couldn’t the stoney-faced girl with the honey-blonde weave who kept proclaiming “I’m from a royal family!” crack a smile? Whatever happened, she already had a crown.
And Mayen Ekpo. With her large hazel eyes, blemish-free fair skin, glossy straight hair, and full pink lips, she was born to be a pageant queen, and I wasn’t surprised to hear she won her university pageant last year. Why did she keep giving evasive answers when we asked where she came from? (“I’m from Cross River… My father’s from Calabar… I’ve lived in Lagos pretty much all my life…”) Who was she fooling? She definitely had mixed blood flowing in her veins, and I feared her light complexion would give her an unfair advantage over her darker counterparts. Wow, Naija Girl hadn’t even started the screening process, and fear gripped me like crazy. I was even thinking of giving up, turning round, and catching the next bus home until I forced myself to quit the negativity and dream big. Sure, Mayen had won the genetic lottery, but intelligence, eloquence, and stage presence among other attributes also mattered. She certainly didn’t have to worry about her personality though, playing down her stunning looks with her humble disposition. Did she even know how beautiful she was?
Another person I could never forget in a hurry was some guy in his late twenties whose dark glasses hid the shiftiest eyes I’ve ever seen. He introduced himself as Mike, a pageant coordinator, and kept staring at us like a psycho. Once or twice I caught him licking his lips when we changed into our swimwear. Had he never seen a chick in a two-piece before? And couldn’t he talk to us without touching us first? I couldn’t believe my eyes when he secretly gave me a wink and blew kisses in my direction when Mayen’s back was turned. Flirting with pageant hopefuls at a pageant screening…really? How unprofessional.
All this was nothing compared to the moment a tall girl dressed to the nines in a hot pink body-con dress and heels that must have measured at least six inches casually breezed in, no apologies for showing up nearly two hours late and disrupting the proceedings. Her mother, a shorter middle-aged woman wearing a crystal-encrusted iro and buba that must have cost the earth, and teamed with more jewellery than Mr. T, shook hands with the pageant director Gertrude Kalu, both of them exchanging pleasantries for ten minutes while the rest of us waited impatiently in our bikinis. Two other girls had previously been turned away for not arriving on time despite their protests regarding Lagos traffic, yet this Kardashian wannabe had pushed her way through in a chauffeur-driven Lexus expecting everyone to kiss her flabby ass. Very unfair.
The new arrival waved her mother goodbye before rushing into the makeshift changing room to get into a gold lamé bikini that would have looked decent on a body with no cellulite. Did she even have a mirror at home? Most of the other girls were naturally blessed with perfect figures, especially Mayen, Suzi, and Mary. The rich girl couldn’t hold a candle to any of them. Ha ha.
I wolfed down two doughnut delights washed down with a malt, ignoring the disapproving glares around me. I’d found the experience physically draining so far, and I needed to eat. No ifs, no buts. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t burn off those calories later, and I didn’t even eat Mr. Biggs food that much, for goodness sake. From what I’d already gathered, contestants avoid sugar and carbs no matter how fast their metabolism operates. All this unwanted publicity over jam doughnuts and Maltina? Doughnuts and malt…Not quite the same as a giant bacon cheeseburger and fries with ice cream for afters, probably the type of meal Little Miss Richie Rich enjoyed every single day, and she had the nerve to stare? The organisers provided refreshment, who was I to say no?
What a day. I sailed through the one-on-one interview, displayed my best poses for the head and full body shots, swung my hips with pride in that polka dot bikini, and smiled politely when the rich girl wasted our time. Best of all, I exchanged Facebook details with several other girls including Mayen, Suzi, Mary, and Arit, and was genuinely thrilled for them when Gertrude announced their names, putting them through to Naija Girl orientation camp along with the tardy rich chick. Really? With all that cellulite? God have mercy. I felt sorry for the girl whose place had been snatched away because money changed hands (Was there any other reason?), and now Diary, sitting here in my room, I know exactly who that unlucky girl was.
Ten girls made it through to the next round. I wasn’t one of them.
Tips on how to win a pageant: High-heel shoes—a pageant essential— appear stylish and add elegance, but may cause discomfort when worn for long periods. Any pain your feet suffers when you wear heels shows on your face, and the judges always notice. Choose a pair in your size—no smaller, no bigger—and practise walking at home to break them in if they’re new. If your pageant system holds a screening exercise like MBGN or the one in the story, wear a pair of comfortable shoes to the venue and change into your heels once you arrive. Nothing worse than arriving with swollen feet and having to walk for the judges in excruciating pain!