University of Maine student Julia Van Steenberghe recently participated in and placed first runner up in the Miss Maine USA pageant on Nov. 25. Miss Maine USA is the official preliminary competition to the Miss USA competition owned by The Miss Universe Organization.
Van Steenberghe is a third-year student studying elementary education and child development, and was a part of the UMaine Cheerleading team her first and second year.
This was her first time ever competing in a pageant, and she was only one spot away from moving on to Miss USA. All the other women who were placed in the top five had previously competed in either the USA pageant system or a different system.
Van Steenberghe said she had never considered doing any pageants until prompted by her coach.
“As someone who was a competitive cheerleader my whole life, I wanted to continue to push myself both physically and mentally in a competitive atmosphere,” Van Steenberghe said. “I really found myself and became confident in who I am.”
Van Steenberghe said that there are stereotypes attached to pageants, but for her it was an overall positive experience, citing the competitors’ support for each other and many of the people she met through the process whom she now considers friends.
“It’s about being more than pretty. They’re looking for confident, healthy, and intelligent women,” Van Steenberghe said.
Van Steenberghe’s fall semester was full of preparation, including driving to Portland nearly every weekend where she trained with her coach on interviewing and walking practice, among other things.
There are three aspects to the competition: swimsuit, evening gown and interview. During the interview, which Van Steenberghe said was her favorite part, the women are asked about topics ranging from their desired dream job to what law they would make if they had the opportunity. Competitors are completely unaware of what they or any of the other women are being asked until their turn.
According to Van Steenberghe, this process was a large commitment but all worth it.
“If you’re interested, go for it and just trust yourself and be yourself,” Van Steenberghe said. “Don’t let anyone influence you.”
The Miss Maine Scholarship Program defines itself as a non-profit organization that raises and awards scholarships while also providing young women of Maine opportunities for growth and achievement.