If you caught the premiere of a new documentary called Miss You Can Do It on HBO, you’ll know why I’m enthralled with the idea of a beauty pageant for young girls with disabilities. I’ve never been so moved by an idea, and this pageant has been around for 10 years!
The national pageant was created in 2004 by Abbey Curran, a former Miss Iowa and Miss USA contestant, specifically for mentally and physically challenged girls ages four to 25. Why would Abbey Curran be inclined to launch a pageant of this nature?
Abbey Curran has cerebral palsy. In 2008, she was the first woman with a disability to compete in the Miss USA pageant. She simply wanted to give other girls with mental and physical disabilities like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy an opportunity to compete for the chance to win the coveted crown.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age two, Curran wore leg braces until she was eight. In high school, she saw a flyer announcing a beauty pageant, got excited, and wanted to enter, but her teacher told her to “be realistic. You can’t do that.” Really? Curran begged to differ. Apparently, teachers aren’t always right, and this teacher’s mistake was pure inspiration for the future beauty queen.
The HBO documentary focuses on the pageant held in the Kewanee, Illinois area–Curran’s home town–where dozens of girls entered.
Some of the absolutely adorable contestants arrived in wheelchair accessible vans and others were ambulatory, but they were all there for the same thing–to show off their smiles, sassy sportswear, elegant evening gowns, and, above all, their spirit. You have to see it to believe it. Do keep plenty of tissues handy.
To say the audience was filled with proud parents is an extreme understatement. Every girl was greeted with wild applause, and you saw nothing but absolute joy on the face of every contestant. A few of the girls were featured in heartwarming segments about their lives at home. Crown-hopefuls Meg and Alina are sisters with cerebral palsy; Alina was adopted from an Eastern European country in which children with disabilities aren’t valued. Meg’s family welcomed Alina with open arms and hearts full of love, and she’s a happy little girl because of it.
For the competition, the girls were asked to “write” an essay, and the essays were read during the competition. A pageant organizer read the essay for Teyanna, who has severe cerebral palsy, and Teyanna said, “The meaning of disabled is not having any power, but I have the power to do anything I am willing to try. That makes me able.”
I thought Teyanna had a really good shot at winning. She’s an amazing kid. Who won? You’ll have to watch the documentary to find out. Even as a writer, I can’t find the words to express how exhilarated you’ll feel after seeing this stunning documentary, other than to say it’s unforgettable.