So I’ll admit, when I hear the words “beauty queen” the image that comes to mind is a vacuous, Barbie-like babe with a to-die for figure, perfect Pantene ad hair and a killer smile. Miss Iowa 2008, Abbey Curran – does have a perfect figure, great hair and a beautiful smile – but she is far from vacuous and is definitely a beauty with personality.
You see, Abbey Curran has cerebral palsy.
What is cerebral palsy? It is a congenital condition thatcauses physical disability in sufferers, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.And because she has cerebral palsy, no one thought she stood half a chance to enter, let alone win beauty pageants.
But win she did.
I am deeply inspired by Abbey’s story and emailed her if she would do an email interview with me to which she generously agreed.
Here are the Q&As from the email interview:
Heidi: When did you decide you wanted to enter into beauty pageants?
Abbey: I decided I wanted to enter beauty pageants when someone told me “I couldn’t”. I have always loved pageants; Either going to live pageant events or throwing Miss USA Parties while we all watched the pageant on TV, but it took someone to doubt me to really motivate me to take the next step.
Heidi: Were you stunned when you were crowned Miss Iowa USA 2008? Can you describe how you felt at that moment?
Oh my goodness, words cannot describe how I felt when they called my name as Miss Iowa USA. NUMB would be the best word. It was such a big professional pageant and prior to that I had competed in Miss Henry County Fair for 4 straight years and lost every time…so competing in Miss Iowa was just my way to say “I tried, because you never know unless you try”. The competition was completely different – the wardrobe, the hair and make-up were on a different level. This was the big league and I was just honored to be part of it. Making the top 10 in Miss Iowa was a dream come true for myself as well as my family, so once I reached that point I was already so happy I didn’t assume anything else. When I won, the only people from home in the audience was my mom, dad, and best friend and we took maybe two pictures when they crowned me as they were all in shockthey didn’t even think about their cameras. Winning Miss Iowa USA was a true blessing.
Heidi: The world of beauty pageants is incredibly competitive, how do you maintain a balance between wanting to be the best, yet still retaining your morals and good nature?
Abbey: In my pageant experience it’s hard to be so competitive because the contestants become your best friend. When I competed in Miss USA Crystle Stewart (also Miss Texas USA) had been helping me to walk in high heels….all day long. LOL. That same day she convinced me that wearing heels all day would be a good idea. Unfortunately, it was also the day we got lost in a mall in Las Vegas and I kept saying “Thanks Crystle, good day to not bring my flats” So when she won Miss USA I was truly happy for her, she deserved it! I believe that if its meant to be it will be…It was her dream to be Miss USA and it came true. I believe that it was my job to break the glass ceiling, now another girl with a (physical) challenge can walk right into that pageant and live her dream when she wins Miss USA.
Most of the woman I have met in pageants have become my greatest friends and are a huge part of my life. Great friends are hard to come by so I would never let a little competition get in the way of that.
Heidi: Are the girls competing in the competition friendly and nice or did some of them fit the stereotype of the superficial, ultra competitive beauty queen?
Abbey: From competing in the country fair to competing at Miss USA I can pick out two girls that weren’t very nice and seemed to care about nothing but taking home the crown. It’s better to share your once in a lifetime experiences among friends. You are all competing for the same thing and sharing the same dream. Make it a happy memory!
Heidi: Did anyone ever tell you that you would not succeed because of Cerebral Palsy? And did that make you more determined to prove people wrong?
Abbey: Yes. That’s what brought me into the pageant world, someone telling me I couldn’t do it. And my favorite part is to look atsome of those people that sit in the grandstand and make fun of you while you are up on stage…I thought “If it’s so easy why aren’t they doing it.” .Its safe to sit in a crowd of people and eat a corn dog while you say “Hahaha. I could do that.” Standing in what the fairs call the “cattle call” isn’t easy. All the contestants line up in their swimsuits and we have to stand there and smile while the crowds looks at you, yell all kinds of comments and at the same time you have to pay attention to instructions like “turn to the left, turn to the right, etc. “It’s actually nerve-wrecking but having people assume I couldn’t or that if I did I wouldn’t do a very good job just made me more and more motivated to do it well.
Heidi: The Miss You Can Do It Pageant is now in its 10th year, can you tell us a bit about the organization and share a cherished memory so far?
Abbey: The Miss You Can Do It Pageant is now in its 10th year! It’s a national non-profit pageant created just for girls and women with special needs and challenges and a whole new world that opens just one night a year. A world where wishing on stars and dreaming big is an everyday event and a world where everyone has an equal opportunity. We have come quite a long way since our first pageant in 2004 and those who witnessed the beginning could not have possibly anticipated the incredible growth the Miss You Can Do It Pageant has achieved. This competition puts it contestants on a memorable path and this experience leaves them with determination and motivation that will last a lifetime.
We have contestants from all across the country. Everyone gets a crown, trophy, sash, and gift box. Everyone leaves knowing how simply beautiful they are!
I have so many memories and I fall in love with all of my contestants so its hard to pick just one. In 2011 we had the sweetest little redhead with bright blue eyes and little leg braces and a walker. She was sweating so much but she never stopped smiling. And every year we surprise the girls with Snow White and Cinderella. This little girl’s mom told us the deal was as soon as she walked without her walker she would get to go to Disney and meet Snow White…so when pageant night came and Snow White walked in I will never forget the squeals I heard… this precious little girl was beyond excited. She was crying, Snow White was crying, I was crying… this little girl couldn’t get to her fast enough and all she wanted to do was hug her. It may sound like a small thing but it was a dream for her and its memories like that that keeps spurring me on. We work just from donations and meeting the contestants and experiencing these surreal heartwarming moments makes everything worth it!
Heidi: What advice would you give to any girl wanting to become a beauty queen?
Abbey: Pageants are tough, we all know that. You have to do what it takes – workout consistently, read-up on world events, etc. Do your homework but go into the pageant enjoying every single moment. If you lose, don’t become upset, but be grateful that you experienced first-hand a dream come true. Think about all those people that weren’t brave enough to do what you just did…and if you do win soak up each moment but always remember you’ve been in the other contestants’ shoes. Be happy and supportive for your new friends’ accomplishments and also remind them that their year is coming! Remember if you’ve won the crown then it’s your job now to make others feel good so you are just starting the moment they call your name!
Heidi: Name me your ONEbeauty product you cant live without?
Abbey: Oh goodness, just one?! Definitely my BareMinerals blush. I feel pink cheeks just makes you look bright and alive!
Heidi: Do you have a motto or special saying that keeps you going?
Abbey: My motto is “Accomplishment begins with two words: I’ll Try!” We never know unless we try!
There are many videos of Abbey Curran on the Internet, but I liked this one from the talk show Ellen the most. It shows her vivacious personality and can-do attitude, and that she is truly and inspiration for the rest of us: