It’s fixed, it’s too expensive and it’s just a beauty pageant.
Those are the top three fallacies Michelle Epp is hearing about the Trail Ambassador Program this season.
Since Epp took over what used to be called the Miss Trail pageant, there’s never been a shortage of young women ready to partake in the program’s 2009 “this ain’t no beauty pageant” revamp.
This fall it’s been different. Only three girls have come forward to be part of the six-month training sessions that include community service commitments, physical activities, speech writing and public speaking engagements.
“I am convinced there’s too many misconceptions,” said Epp, herself a former Miss Trail. “The worst is hearing that people think it’s fixed. That’s very hurtful.”
Another is that parents think the program is going to cost a lot of money, she explained, adding that there is no fee to join and events such as Cinderella’s Closet help reduce the cost of formal wear for the Silver City Days pageant.
“Having kids in sports and other activities is expensive so I think parents assume the program will cost a bunch of money,” she said.
“There’s no cost. And it’s not about wearing heels and dresses and being girly girl. It’s about empowering the girls.”
Ella Meyer, Trail’s current queen, reminds potential candidates that local organizations sponsor the girls and contribute $500 toward the cost of outfits and other incidentals.
She and Trail Princess Samantha Theobold have been actively campaigning for weeks, but so far their message about the program’s benefits is falling on deaf ears.
“We also hear that the time commitment is a problem,” said Theobold. “But this year the training is only on one day, Sunday. And it’s scheduled later in the day so it doesn’t interfere with church.”
There’s one other factor that Theobold mentioned could be deterring some girls from running, which is the influence of social media.
“We are ambassadors representing the city,” said Theobold. “So, we have to be careful about pictures and things that are put out on Facebook.”
Cheyanne Friess, a current BC Ambassador and Miss Trail 2013, maintains that a common misconception is that the Trail Ambassador Program only focuses on the materialistic side of pageants.
“While we do have gown modelling, it is to showcase confidence and poise,” she said. “The program is a safe haven for girls to grow and become confident at their own pace.”
Besides the age-old myth that the program only focuses on beauty, Epp has heard girls say they are too shy to talk in front of strangers, let alone walk across a well lit stage.
“These are the girls we want to work with because they get the most out of it,” she added.
Friess is a shining example of how the program supports teenaged girls build esteem, self assurance and faith in oneself.
“I went from being so shy I couldn’t even order a pizza over the phone,” she recalled. “Now I am someone who can speak in front of a crowd of strangers.”
Although Friess admits she still gets butterflies before putting herself in the limelight, her time spent in the Trail Ambassador Program was worth every moment.
“But without the experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today so I am truly thankful I took the plunge.”