Unlike traditional beauty pageants, Brunswick County’s youth pageants focus on community service and education rather than looks.
Say the word pageant and most folks envision a stage full of young ladies in makeup, hair extensions and taffeta dresses. Brunswick County’s pageant scene, however, stands apart from the stereotypical glitz and glam.
The girls who take home the crowns are much more than just beauty queens, and their focus is on a prize significantly higher than a tiara. The county’s yearly pageants are dedicated to a greater good, and the positive impacts they make on both the participants and the community are anything but frivolous.
Michelle Fisher is the director of two of Brunswick County’s popular pageants: Miss Coastal Cape Fear and Miss North Carolina Queen of Hope. Having competed in pageants as a teenager, she knew early on that she wanted to continue her involvement as well as give back to her community.
“My pageants benefit the American Cancer Society,” Fisher says. “I wanted to do something that was personal to me, as I have many family and friends affected by cancer, so I combined my desire to help fight cancer with my love of pageants.”
Fisher’s pageants are considered natural pageants. These competitions are growing in popularity countrywide, a direct result of the negative connotations associated with more conspicuous pageants seen on television.
“I firmly believe that little girls need to look like little girls,” Fisher says.
For the younger ladies, this means no makeup, fake hair or flippers (fake teeth.) Even pageant dresses are off limits for the little girls, as the rules require their attire to be Sunday or Easter dresses only. Older girls and teenagers are allowed minimal makeup and ball gowns.
“I always tell my girls that you’re more than just a beauty queen,” she says. “By the time you give up your title at the end of your reign, I want you to feel like you have truly made a difference in someone else’s life through community service.”
All proceeds from Fisher’s admission tickets go back to her charity, and her pageant queens participate in several community service projects throughout the year. This summer the girls collected tote bags and suitcases for Totes for Hope, a project that provides bags for foster children to carry their belongings.
“When they go to a new home, these kids often carry their things in a trash bag,” Fisher explains. “This was something we could do to help send them there with a little more dignity.”
Other projects include collecting items for the Veteran’s Medical Center in Fayetteville, gathering school supplies for the hurricane victims in Texas and recognizing community heroes with treats of gratitude. Fisher also encourages the girls to support Brunswick County activities by making appearances at local festivals and parades. She asks all her queens to participate each May in Brunswick County’s Relay for Life.
“I wanted to take my love of community service and try to build that servant’s heart within other young girls,” she says. “Along the way they might just find what they’re passionate about and that they can advocate for it. They can be a voice and work to really help make a difference.”
Now in its sixth year, Leland’s Miss North Carolina Christmas Scholarship Pageant’s main purpose is to give young ladies the opportunity to build self-esteem, gain communication skills and explore opportunities in community involvement. The winning queens participate in the town’s annual Christmas parade, the Azalea Festival, the Navassa Homecoming Parade, Leland Founder’s Day and several other local events and festivities.
“Being a positive role model for others as well as earning scholarship money for college is an added plus,” says the pageant’s co-chair Constance P. Reeves. “The non-glitz format gives the contestants the ability to let their true personalities shine.”
Gail and Martin Register are the directors of the Tiny-Teen Miss Brunswick County Scholarship Pageant and the Miss Brunswick County Christmas Pageant. For more than 22 years the couple has been actively involved in Brunswick County pageantry, serving as committee members, judges and now directors. Their passion for pageants comes from the girls themselves.
“We see these shy little girls that start out hiding behind their mommies. Then they win a crown, and they get out there and start waving at everyone,” Gail says.
For the Registers, the purpose of the pageants is to help participants strive for a higher education. The proceeds of both pageants fund the scholarships given to each year’s newly crowned Teen Miss and Miss Brunswick County.
“I tell my girls to look at the crown as just a trophy to be set on a shelf,” Gail says. “It doesn’t mean anything. I want to see the girls get that education.”
As for Martin, his favorite part of the experience is just seeing the joy on the faces of the girls he works with. “It’s just something special to see those smiles,” he says.
In addition to the scholarships, the Registers hope that their pageants will instill the girls with a love of helping the community. This past Christmas, the reigning queens from both pageants organized a collection of 127 teddy bears for the sheriff’s department to use when answering calls involving children.
“We tell the girls that we are here to volunteer,” Gail says. “They attend the festivals, the ribbon cuttings and the parades. We want them to give back to the county that gives so much to them through the scholarships.”
Brunswick County native Tia Corbett Hazel met the Registers when she was just 12 years old. As a child, she competed first in dance competitions and later in pageantry, and it was during those early years that she believes she learned one of life’s most valuable lessons.
“I realized quickly that in competing, you’re not always going to win,” she says. “My mom told me throughout my pageantry that ‘the moment you stop enjoying it, we’re going to stop doing this.’ It’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my life.”
Under the Registers’ directorship, Hazel spent her teenage years competing in various pageants, ultimately winning the title of Miss Brunswick County in 2000 as well as two other preliminaries for Miss North Carolina while attending college. Hazel credits her pageantry experience with helping her become a self-assured, articulate woman.
“Pageants really built up my self-confidence,” she says. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have the love for public speaking that I do. I know how to prepare myself for job interviews, how to think about my answers and be very cognizant of how I present myself.”
Hazel feels lucky to have gotten the chance to work with the Registers, and she believes they genuinely care about the girls they direct. She continues to remain involved in Brunswick County’s pageant scene, helping the Registers as an emcee or entertaining as a former queen. With each appearance, Hazel never forgets the significance of what she represents.
“Whatever you do with that crown on your head, that six-year-old is going to look at you and remember,” Hazel says. “For that little girl, you’re a princess. You can really impact people without even really knowing it.”