by She Flies With Her Own Wings
Disclosure: Some of this may offend some people. But these are my feelings. This is my story…
“Your new Miss Oregon Teen USA is – Va…”
I dropped to the ground in tears. My heart was bursting with pride while simultaneously breaking. I had just witnessed my baby sister effortlessly win what I had been working so hard towards for the last eight years.
I was a mix of emotions. A disaster. My body didn’t know what it was feeling; it didn’t know how to process everything or express itself. I was smiling one minute and bursting into tears the next.
I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want Vanessa to feel bad or guilty that she had won and I hadn’t. We were #TeamMathesonSisters, we were supposed to win (or lose) together. Although I knew it was possible for her to win and not me, I had never really thought about it. I know that my value doesn’t decrease based on someone else’s inability to see my worth – but that doesn’t make it sting any less. I’m good at losing, I lose a lot. But nothing could have prepared me for one of us winning and not the other. I had envisioned our crowning moment – the pictures that we would cherish forever. I had imagined all of the appearances and speaking engagements we would do as The Matheson Sisters. I could read the headlines… and just like that, the dream was gone. It was never going to happen.
I had worked harder than ever. I had invested in this year: I had hired an interview coach, hired a walking and overall pageant coach. I had bought the gown of my dreams and made no excuses when it came to working out. Although a lot of girls work hard before competing, I would argue that I worked the hardest; I was getting up at 4:45am to go to the gym, followed by student teaching and then graduate classes of my own. My evenings were spent doing homework, walking practice, and prepping food for the next day. All to get up and do it all over again. I did all of this while still running a non-profit in Southern Oregon. I was working myself to the bone. I had sacrificed my social life, and put many other things on hold. Over the last year I had done a lot of self-reflecting and journaling on who I was, why I wanted to be Miss Oregon USA, what I brought to the table, and what I was going to accomplish during my reign. This was going to be my year. Our year. So after not making the Top 5 after being 1st RU last year, I was honestly embarrassed.
The next day at my sister’s photoshoot, the photographer told her and the newly crowned Miss Oregon USA to “lean in like sisters” … it was like pouring salt into a wound. I went back to work and school with a smile on my face. I tried my best not to bring up the weekends’ events, and would just smile and say “my sister won Oregon Teen USA” when anyone asked. I cried myself to sleep nearly every night. This couldn’t be happening. I was in disbelief – I didn’t want to accept it. I wanted a redo button.
Over the last week I have been both happy and sad, excited and angry, proud and devastated, delighted and jealous.
The worst part about all of this though, wasn’t actually losing, it was the response (or lack thereof). After competing in pageantry for eight years and having such a large pageant ‘family’, I was wondering if I had done something wrong. I reached out to a prior board member the week going into the pageant, and heard nothing back. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. As much as I tried to forget it, it was one of the only things I could think of going into interview. I’ve heard from very few of those people since competing. From years of feeling support from this community, I felt like I had been forgotten about. I had never felt more alone in my life, and living alone had nothing to do with it.
Everywhere I looked, things were posted that said “We love you Vanessa Matheson”, “We’re so proud of you Vanessa Matheson”, “Congratulations Vanessa Matheson”… and all I kept wondering was how hard was it to say “We love you Stephanie and Vanessa, and are so proud of you both! Congratulations to Vanessa Matheson on being crowned Miss Oregon Teen USA”, or something along those lines. It didn’t seem like rocket science to me. I wanted everyone to be excited for my sister, but I felt like I no longer existed, as if I had fallen off the face of the earth. The angry and cynical part of me wanted to hold my middle finger nice and high to a lot of people. While my sister was responding to all sorts of messages and comments, I felt like the ugly step-sister as I cleaned around the house and prepared for the week ahead. Why couldn’t people be excited for Vanessa while still acknowledging me and my feelings…
My uncle, who I disagree with on just about everything, managed to be one of the only people to acknowledge Vanessa and I both.
My dad tried to comfort me by saying that maybe people just didn’t know what to say, maybe they didn’t know how I was feeling. No one could possibly know how I was feeling. But I didn’t understand how difficult it was to say “thinking of you”, “love you”, “I don’t know how you’re feeling or what to say, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m here”. Maybe I expect too much from others because I know that’s what I would have done for them.
I felt like an idiot for being so upset. I know that I’m a very fortunate person, and I’ve seen some of the worst things that can happen around the world. I shouldn’t be this upset about a pageant. But it was more than that … my feelings were valid, because they’re my feelings. “If it matters to you, it’s not stupid”. It’s ok to be sad, angry, heartbroken, and jealous; the important thing is that we don’t unpack and live there. It’s taken me about a week to realize that I can be both happy and excited for my sister, all while being upset and disappointed for myself.
She was brave and strong and broken all at once.
I have had many great experiences from competing in pageantry over the years, and I have met some truly incredible women! However, this year was frustrating and difficult for more reasons than one. There was the stress of everything I had going on leading up to competing, foot pain (which now will require surgery on both feet), calf cramps, and a broken zipper on my gown that almost prevented me from competing in the finals (shoutout to Damian). There was the bully – literally the most obnoxious, abrasive, and rude person I’ve ever met. This girl literally had the nerve to come up to me and say, “I wish I could say I feel sorry for you, but I don’t”, among many other comments. It was discouraging to see what appeared to be a girl who’s mom bought and bribed her way, nearly make it to the top. This year has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
The cynic in me was feeling that hard work and dedication don’t pay off. That being a good person and doing the right thing doesn’t get you anywhere.
I spent the weekend reflecting and journaling – writing has always been therapeutic for me. What I realized is that this is the perfect time for me to practice what I preach (although I wish it wasn’t quite this way). I promote courage and perseverance. I tell people that they are enough and worth it. I encourage others to take risks and pursue their dreams… People need to be encouraged. People need to be reminded of how wonderful they are. People need to be believed in – told that they are brave and smart, and capable of accomplishing all the dreams they dream and more. Remind each other of this. Now is the time I get to live by example. I get to walk my talk.
Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged people who kept on working.
I would like to take a minute to congratulate my friend, Liz Denny, our Miss Oregon USA 2017 – I can’t wait to watch your year unfold and cheer you on at Miss USA!
I would also like to thank a few people –
David & Maureen, and the Pageants NW Team; thank you for always believing in me and supporting me. Thank you for being there for me when I needed to cry. And thank you for empowering women in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho.
My family; thank you for your never ending love and support… for holding me when I cry, even though I’m 25 years old. Thank you for always being a phone call away, no matter the time of day or night. And thank you for everything you do – I would’t be where I am or who I am without you.
My friends and those of you who have been there; thank you for your words of encouragement, understanding, and patience with me through this crazy adventure.
And of course I want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to my baby sis!! I am so so proud of you and I love you so very much!
Some people have asked if I will be competing again this next year now that the age limit has changed, and to be honest, I’m not ready to make that decision. I’m not sure when I will be. It will take some time to continue to reflect and see what this next year has in store.
She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.
I’m going to end with a quote by Teddy Roosevelt (although I don’t think pageantry was anywhere in his mind when he said this), that one of my dear friends sent to me –
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those col and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.