The Hard Thing

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Leah Brown Headshot

Leah Brown

“Pageant Face” is a phenomenon that many people don’t quite understand. It is what I would call the art of smiling through anything. From the outside looking in, a pageant girl seems like she has it all together. Flawless hair & makeup, effortlessly stylish outfits, “fit” physique, and an ability to speak in front of a crowd without batting an eye. However, inside, the experience is quite different. What outsiders don’t see is the hundreds of hours of practicing saying your name and state so that you don’t mess up over the mic during introductions, the countless passes of a stage routine because if you just get this one turn a little more perfect you might beat out the next girl, the time and money spent on people who tell you how to better package yourself, or the tears cried when a judge provides the feedback that “your body is distracting.” 

For that judge, this comment went away just as quickly as the thought crossed their mind. For me, that “feedback” haunted me for 3 years. It rang out in my head as I stood in front of every mirror I encountered, as I walked multiple state & national stages, and especially as I placed first runner up at the same pageant two years in a row. Through all of this, I did not quit. I continued to spread my message of self love and body positivity and advocate for others through my platform, The BeYOUtiful Project. 

As a part of my platform I often visit schools and speak to the younger generation. We do activities that encourage positive self talk and body image. From putting words of affirmation onto a mirror to reading them books with thinly veiled messages about differences and how they make each of us unique and amazing in our own way, I was becoming the voice that I needed as a kid. These kids getting the message inspired me to get back on track myself.

It took a lot of soul searching to realize that I was enough. That this judge’s comment did not determine my worth. That no matter what obstacles were placed in front of me, I would persevere. I would not bend to the disordered voices in my head that threatened to drag me back into the darkness. I adopted the mantra “I can do hard things” and any time I doubted myself, I repeated this until I had accomplished the hard thing.

By the time I arrived to compete at Miss North America, I had built up my mindset so much that nothing could shake me. I had given up the idea of needing to be perfect and took on the goal to just be me. This change caused a difference in how I prepared. I didn’t spend hours on end going over my routines. I didn’t go on a crash diet and workout excessively. I arrived in what I would call my favorite body. It wasn’t the skinniest I have ever been, but it was the happiest I had ever been and it definitely showed. 

For the first time ever, I felt like myself in interview and on stage. I felt like I left it all on the stage and could not have been happier with my performance. When results time came I was prepared for whatever outcome came my way since I did not have any doubt that I did my best. As they called the runners up I just kept congratulating myself on getting this far and waiting for my name to be called. 

One by one they called my competitors until it was only me and one other young woman left. As I prepared to congratulate her on her win I made eye contact with the emcee. She smiled and called my name as the winner. I had won Miss North America 2023. As I sobbed, a crown was placed on my head, and flowers in my hands as a sash was placed across my chest.

I had won before, but this one was different. I had done the hard thing, loving myself flaws and all and it paid off. The goal is not winning, but finding your own confidence and acceptance.

Leah Brown is a native of Charlottesville, Virginia where she currently resides and works full time as an Event Manager for a local winery. She is a graduate of Ohio University where she majored in African American studies. Leah is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority incorporated, a cheer coach for Charlottesville High School, & recently started her own pageant coaching business, L. Brown Consulting & interior design business, L. Brown Design. She is a two time Miss DC having served as Miss DC US International & Miss DC North America. In July she was crowned Miss North America 2023. As an eating disorder survivor herself, she uses her title to promote positive self image & eating disorder awareness through her platform The BeYOUtiful Project.