When Monica Sherer decided to compete in Goshen’s Junior Miss, her parents didn't worry she’d get caught up in how she looked.
The evening gowns and fitness routines required by the program do place an “indirect” focus on body image, mom Patsy Sherer said, but Monica was confident enough to handle it.
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However, she added, “if she didn't sort of have the good looks and the poise naturally, we would have been concerned. Monica just naturally had 'the look’ so (body image) was less of a concern...because it didn't need to be.”
Other local parents with daughters who have competed in Junior Miss (now called Distinguished Young Women) and Miss America contests also said they aren't concerned about their children developing body hangups because of these programs.
Instead, they've noticed their children have gained confidence through routines where they must speak professionally and perform onstage.
Joyce Medin is an Elkhart mom whose two daughters have been involved in Distinguished Young Women and Miss America.
Her younger daughter Christine Medin is the current Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana and in the running to win the national title. Her older daughter Jean Medin was Elkhart County’s Outstanding Teen and Miss South Bend, both under the Miss America umbrella.
There’s a notable difference between the two contests, she said — and she feels Distinguished Young Women is more conservative.
“The dresses are girl’s dresses, they have to be right at their knee and they are real conscious about not putting a focus on their bodies,” she said.
Christine and Jean’s father Ben Pearson said the girls had great self esteem going in to the contests, which probably helped them.
Still, pageants aren't for everybody, he said – “If it’s something you’re not comfortable with, you don’t want to do it.”
Heidi McArt has worked with the Miss Elkhart County pageant for about 15 years, and her daughter Madison McArt was named Distinguished Young Woman of Elkhart in 2012.
“Both contests have so much to offer,” she said. “Distinguished Young Women changed their name so they didn't appear to be a pageant at all, and I appreciate that.”
She’s seen girls return again and again to the Miss Elkhart County contest, and she believes it’s because they learn more with each competition.
“It is 'look how much better I feel about myself overall’ rather than all based on looks,” she said. “If your daughter doesn't have self-esteem this is a great way to build it. There are very few people who have a negative experience, in the end.”
Goshen dad Micheal Sherer said he was impressed with the Junior Miss program, particularly with how it motivated his daughter to finally practice her piano playing.
He was a little relieved, though, when Monica didn't win the state title. That would have been more of a commitment and was best avoided, he thinks.
“Some people are pageant people, and some people are not pageant people,” he explained, “And we are not pageant people.”