We’ve all done it. We’ve all poked fun at the Miss America Pageant: mocking the slow wave, the too-perky bikini stance and twirl, or the dramatic wailing the winner breaks into upon her crowning. In the 2000 film “Miss Congeniality,” Sandra Bullock plays an undercover FBI agent in the Miss United States beauty pageant. She has to compete in order to prevent a serial bomber from blowing the place to shreds.
Through her snorts and laughs at the idea of working side-by-side with the contestants, the film turns its head in to humanizing the trophy gals. She soon realizes that perhaps there is a point to the madness after all.
Last week I had the same experience when I met with Mrs. Eastern North Carolina America 2012, Mrs. Tonya Shaw. Originally, when the opportunity presented itself to speak to Shaw about her upcoming goal to compete for the Mrs. North Carolina America, tragic flashes of “Toddlers in Tiaras” came to mind. I assumed I knew what the Mrs. North Carolina America pageant was all about. More so, I presumed Shaw had nothing in common with actual individuals (like me) in the Jacksonville community. Turns out, I was wrong.
For the last 30-plus years, the Mrs. North Carolina American pageant has attracted women of all ages, vocations and backgrounds. It has been the official state preliminary to the Mrs. America national pageant, which is televised in over 60 countries. Initially designed in 1938 to select the ideal American homemaker, today it has evolved with the times and is aimed to represent the relatable, strong woman dedicated to her community and state.
The Mrs. America system is the first pageant for married women; competing are mothers, doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics and, in Shaw’s case, marine wives who have endured the struggle and sacrifices of deployment and service. What all contestants have in common: an eagerness to serve their community and compel the public to also become active within it.
“What I love about the pageant is it’s about being natural,” Shaw told me last week. “You don’t have to be all glammed up and over the top or have fancy things to represent your community. Personally, I feel I have an obligation to represent the military community. It’s important [for] military wives [to] get involved. We’re a close-knit group, and we become each other’s family. I’d like to represent that.”
Stationed in Onslow County for over six years, but originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Shaw stood poised and spoke like a true military wife—steadfast in her beliefs. “I love making a difference. Whether it’s the Relay for Life or local causes here in town, I am all about helping whenever, wherever I can.”
Not once did she smother our interview with pipe-dream wishes for world peace. Instead, she discussed the realities of war, the importance of supporting our neighborhood veterans and talked about the mutual goal she and her husband, Chief and Cannon Instructor Sgt. Shaw, share, to bring more support to the local USO and Wounded Warriors Project in Jacksonville.
“I hope to perpetuate the belief that we should treat others as we would like to be treated,” Shaw assessed, “and if you can help someone in your community (civilian or military member), we have the duty to go full force and help them. Even if I don’t win this pageant, you’ll still see me around Onslow County trying to make a difference.”
Sgt. Shaw chimed in. “We need a vessel that we can become familiar with, and trust to go out and do the footwork for the organizations or programs we believe in. And that’s what Mrs. North Carolina [is about.] I think for as long as it’s Mrs. North Carolina, than I can have my part in it, too. I can go forward and find a way to do what I can to help.”
For Jacksonville resident, marine mom and JC Carolina Formals LLC owner Pamela Bell, to have another voice help bring more attention to local causes is important. Of them are Jacksonville’s annual Run for the Warriors 5K, wherein funds directly help service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
“Sometimes all you need is a face or a special appearance to get people excited to join in and participate,” Bell explained. “There’s something about the label that draws people. I don’t know why, but if that’s what it takes to bring people out and come together, then I think it benefits the organization they believe in.”
In a time where the belief to live local seems to be dwindling, having a figurehead continue the fight for Main Street is also important. Jacksonville certainly needs it and Shaw certainly seems to understand it, enough so she’s energized to be the spokesman. So what if there is a crown and sash involved? The objective and passion behind it is more important.
To support Shaw or become a sponsor by October 1st, for her run in the Mrs. North Carolina America pageant, please write check in care of, Mrs. Tonya Shaw payable to: Mrs. NC America Pageant, 2488 Penngate Dr., Sherrills Ford, NC, 28673. To purchase tickets to attend the Mrs. North Carolina America pageant in Mooresville at the Charles Mack Citizen Center or for further questions, contact Wendy Galle at (828) 478-2804, or visit www.mrsnorthcarolinaamerica.com.