Events like the Ms. Wheelchair pageants offer the chance to inspire and advocate for women.
While in London strategizing and learning lots of new information for my upcoming projects, I received a message via Facebook fan page one morning.
I didn’t recognize the name of the sender, and when I opened it up, it was to my surprise from the coordinator of the Ms. Wheelchair Florida Pageant. The email was an invitation to participate in the event that took place early April.
After reading the email, I sat in reflection for a couple of minutes. Only seven years prior, I lay in a hospital bed wondering if I would ever feel “pretty” again. After becoming acquainted with the pageant’s rules, I learned the event is not based on physical beauty.
It’s based on the willingness for the future Ms. Wheelchair Florida to advocate for others with disabilities, meet with senators and school board figures and communicate well with others to promote inclusion all across the board.
I was told to brush up on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and formulate a 2–2½ minute speech on my platform. What is my platform? That question echoed in my mind for many days.
I realized it was time to take inventory of what I had to offer to the millions of people I so aspire to inspire. With pen and paper in hand, I began to write down whatever came to mind about what I thought was inspiring.
Ten-plus pages later, I had my message. Slowly, I began to revise it and tailor it to my target audience. I titled my brainstorming ten-page notes “Beautiful Me.”
Even though the coordinator kept reminding me this wasn’t a beauty pageant, in my heart I believed being invited to participate in it was an honor in itself. Plus, it boosted my self-esteem, and I missed that feeling.
I missed feeling confident, empowered, beautiful and an advocate for women. As a police officer, I did that. I worked in a male-dominant profession and made sure I thrived in it with as much femininity as possible. I got down and dirty with the guys but always made sure I looked good and, most importantly, felt good doing it.
I took the same approach with the wheelchair after this invitation. For the first time, I was willingly going to participate in a competition and be judged, not by my physical attributes but for the ones I believe are my most beautiful ones — my passion to inspire others to do what they love in life, my ability to connect with other women and empower them to be their own version of beautiful for themselves, and my utmost respect and love for life itself.
I admit a part of me pushed myself to say, “Thank you, but no thank you,” to the invitation, and I had to face that part of me and ask the most doomed question of all. What is the worst that can happen?
For hours I wrote down every possible scenario I could think of; then I would write 20 benefits to each scenario happening to me. Finally, I arrived at the point where I understood that participating in this pageant was not about winning a crown. It was about facing my own fears, liberating myself from preconceived notions of what beauty means. “Walking” my talk.
Seven years ago, I would have laughed at the thought of participating in such an event. Seven years ago, I would’ve loved to have met someone like me today to inspire me and push me to my limits. Someone who would remind me daily that I was capable of achieving any goal I set for myself.
I wrote to the coordinator once I arrived back in the United States that I would love to participate in the pageant. In less than a week, I had obtained a sponsor, written my speech, written my poem (for the talent portion) and invited all my friends and family to come watch me waltz down the stage in a ball gown accompanied by a handsome military man.
Beauty Doesn’t Fade
Whether or not the pageant was focused on outer beauty, it didn’t matter.
It was a wonderful opportunity to put myself out there. It was an incredible feeling to get all dolled up professionally, meet other women in chairs who are phenomenally inspiring and share a bit of me with all those who attended.
I strongly encourage every woman who uses a wheelchair 100% of the time for mobility to participate in a pageant in her own state. The lives affected by our choices are numerous — sometimes a lot more than we can ever imagine.
Participating in events like these is a marvelous way to inspire other women who may think they don’t have it in them, advocate for some who do not have a strong voice to fight for their own rights, and — most importantly — to feel that no matter what, beauty doesn’t fade or end; it simply changes forms.
Connect with Camile Araujo on her Facebook page at facebook.com/camilearaujo.thevoicewithin.
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