Swish. Flick. Brush. Sweep. Watching sophomore Omika Jikaria apply her make-up is a bit like watching an orchestra being conducted. I watch with a mixture of admiration and jealousy, fully aware that the warm weather has ruined my eyeliner, while Jikaria looks like she’s stepped right out of a fashion magazine.
Or, right out of a beauty pageant. You would almost expect it, with her high cheekbones and vivid green eyes. Jikaria has studied ballet for nearly 12 years and has achieved a look of natural poise. Her speech is clear, unhurried and uses few “ums” and “likes.” This is clearly not her first interview.
“My mom saw an ad for a pageant when I was four, and she thought I would be well-suited for it,” Jikaria said. Before the idea of an over-bearing “pageant mom” could even enter my mind, Jikaria made it very clear that participating in pageants is simply a way to have fun and gain confidence. In fact, Jikaria has no formal pageant coach or entourage of helpers, aside from her family. “Pageants are weekend events, so my family will pile into the car, we’ll fill up the trunk with my outfits, and we’re off,” Jikaria said. She describes her usual pageant day while I try to sneak a glimpse at her brand of mascara. Her mother does her hair before dawn, and then Jikaria hastens—beauty queens don’t run—to different competitions throughout the day. “Most days at pageants end at around 10 o’clock at night,” Jikaria said.
The long hours of weekend excursions have yielded her a total of 17 awards-11 on the national level and 6 on the state-including Little Miss All-American, Miss All-American Teen Model and International Princess Model. Girls in these competitions are judged on poise, outfit, interview and overall impression. Talent is an important part of these competitions, as competitors are not only judged on their routine, but on their execution of the skill.
Modeling awards are given to girls who look particularly stunning in evening gowns. She dismisses the notion that judging women on their looks makes these pageants superficial. A master of polite brush-offs, Jikaria said, “There are some girls who do pageants who are fake, but I’ve met a lot of true friends, and I’m all about being genuine to myself.” However, Jikaria does admit that the competition has its negative aspects, believing some competitors and their mothers are poor representatives of the pageant world. She believes that her ability to set realistic goals is what separates her from the extremely competitive girls.
Between schoolwork and pageants, Jikaria has a busy schedule, but she is involved in a wide array of school activities. She is a member of the Speech and Debate team, a cheerleader and played a role in last year’s spring comedy, “Don’t Drink the Water.” “The schoolwork can overwhelm me sometimes,” Jikaria said. “But I love being in pageants. I love dressing up and displaying my personality.”
Beauty pageants are a hobby for her, and Jikaria intends to keep it that way. “I’m not sure if I want to do something as serious as the Miss Teen New York competition, because I don’t want pageants to take over my whole life,” she said.
As we say good bye, she begins packing up her makeup case. Before leaving, I stop and ask her how she looks so flawless whenever I see her in the hallways. She looks surprised. “This is all my pageant make-up,” Jikaria said. “I don’t wear make-up to school.” Shaking my head at the injustices of the world, I head towards the door.