If my 10 year old self heard that I would enter a pageant, she would have laughed.
If you follow me on Instagram, those words may look familiar because last week, that was a caption in this photo from when I participated in a pageant…and won. Yeah. Insane. I attended the Efik National Convention, an event that is held in the United States once a year during the summer. It is a convention that celebrates my Efik heritage that stems from the Southeastern region of Nigeria and it lasts for about three days. Every year, the Mr. and Ms. Efik USA pageants are held and as Ms. Efik USA 2015, there were a few things I observed and took away from the experience.
1. You become visible.
My pageant was a local affair so, no, my face was not plastered on tons of magazines, nor did I expect to be called on for tons of interviews. But here I was, the invisible girl that was never the popular girl in grade school who was used to being in a shadows, being greeted by many people during breakfast the next day; they noted my existence in such a way that was distinct from the way they generally greeted people. Many stopped in their tracks to say hello. Others were not satisfied with a simple hand wave. They had to embrace me.
2. You become invisible.
This may seem to contradict the first point but it is interesting to point out that, in a sense, I was no longer Mary. In fact, no one bothered to know what my name was or other details of my life like others did when I attended the convention last year. I was only Ms. Efik USA, a visual representation of this humble extension of Nigeria’s borders in The States.
3. There are unwritten rules that I was not aware of
Like making sure to greet everyone at different events despite being an introvert. Or being obligated to attend a class during the convention that was optional for other young people. Or not asking the waiter for seconds during the Gala Night event because “Ms Efik USA does not eat seconds.” (I asked for seconds anyway and ate without regret.)
4. You are reminded that women being catty during competition is only a stereotype.
Can women be nastily competitive? Sure. So can men. But in this pageant, the gorgeous girls that I was surrounded by were supportive of each other and super kind. It reminded me of the camaraderie I saw between the contestants during the Miss California and Miss Universe pageants. The guys that competed for the Mr. Efik USA title were the same way.
5. You are overcome with a sense of pride for the people you represent.
I have always been one to be proud of the Efik people and our contributions to our community but the love I had for my people was through the roof that weekend. From the incredible talent in the arts that the Efik people are known for to the way Efik people in the USA have given scholarships and served thousands in medical missions in Nigeria, from the beautiful dancing to the amazing attire that is so intricately and carefully detailed, there was SO much to celebrate this weekend. These are the wonderful people I have the privilege of representing. And I am so excited to see how I can get even more involved with the Efik National Association.
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I look back on this experience with so much to take away from it. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone which is something I encourage. It reminded me that people are more than their titles and that the core of who they are cannot be contained in those titles. It taught me that the importance of inner beauty cannot be overstressed and that being your authentic self can pay off in ways that you never expected. Everyone that competed in the Mr. & Ms. Efik USA pageants were beautiful people. I was just fortunate to receive the title.