It is my honor to feature Jillian's thoughts, experiences and wisdom about being in the spotlight and seeing online bullying firsthand. Thank you, Jillian, for your guidance in the past, now and in the future.
By Jillian Richardson
“If pageant contestants read message boards like Jimmy Kimmel’s mean tweets, people would see how strong these girls really are.”
I remember my introduction to the message boards. At seventeen, I was completing my senior year of high school. My uncle persuaded me to switch softball cleats for heels and I found myself stumbling onstage in a two piece swimsuit; before I knew it I was the proud owner of a four point crown. A few days later a google search brought up my first window of the message board. Next to each contestants name was a small review, “little pitchy,” “bad dress choice,” “needs an updo,” then I scrolled to my name, “anyone winning would have been better than her.” A thread of comments trailed criticizing my hair, wardrobe, and body. I was mortified and instantly started writing my resignation letter. Fortunately, I never hit send. I continued to compete and continued to hear negative comments on and offline.
The comments are much, much worse if you are considered a contender-- even worse, when you win. The more confident a girl is onstage, the harder people work to publicly highlight insecurities. These judgments have overflowed from posting on message boards to social media sites and are not just central to pageants. Strangers suddenly become experts, form an opinion and then feel it’s their duty to share it with anyone who will read it. People are growing more secure in publicly sharing their opinions without any form of empathy or tact. So, how do you it? How do you push forward knowing someone will try to pull you down?
- It’s not me, it’s you. Confident people do not engage with negativity. Understanding they have insecurities helps you avoid becoming verbally abusive or defensive in return. Your confidence is contagious. If you don’t feel you need to respond, don’t. If you do, remain your sunshine-y self.
- Keep your supporters in mind. The people writing hurtful posts are sitting behind a screen. Focus on those sitting in your cheering section.
- Be comfortable with being disliked. Easier said than done. Some people will not like the fact you are not basic. It’s okay. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity,” Colin Powell.
It doesn’t matter how high you hold your head, negative comments will still sting. My final year, I read things about each young lady standing next to me in the Top 5. Our hair, our talents, our wardrobes- nothing was Miss America ready. I read all the opinions on the message boards about my undeserving Top 5 placement and my inability to hit one note during talent. It did not take away from the complete joy I felt standing next to Miss Missouri 2013, Shelby Ringdahl, as second runner up. Did it hurt to see those things written about me? Yes, of course. I probably hit two notes in talent and I worked extremely hard that year. We all did. I can’t tell you how each woman handles criticism; what I can tell you is with it being years later, it remains true, those women are far from mediocre.