You might think you know everything there is to know about beauty pageants after watching all of the television shows that follow young girls and their stage moms from hotel to hotel, but how much aren’t they showing you on camera?

If you’re curious, these 17 girls who spent their lives dressing up, answering questions, and strutting across stages are here to share their best – and worst – experiences from the good old days.

17. Pretty disappointing for a kid!

Best? won a trophy for best smile at age 5.

Worst? the only trophy i ever won broke after two days because it was a cheap piece of cr*p.

16. This reads like a horror story.

I was not an exceptionally pretty child and with badly homemade dresses, a dreadful haircut, and hair and makeup by my mom. The best I ever did was first runner up.

My mother was one of those who always loudly bitched that the judges were bribed, yet relived and critiqued every trembling step, turn and smile I made onstage. Thinking back, it’s like one of those sad comedies and we were the joke. Just years of one long cringe.

I was fortunate that my younger sisters were much prettier than me and soon drew her focus. I was also fortunate to be a passably talented actress and vocalist, which both allowed me to be someone else for most of my remaining teen years and still satisfied her craving for vicarious attention. I escaped with only a moderately debilitating eating disorder & chronic inferiority complex.

I am in my late 30s now. Mom and I don’t talk much. She never quite forgave me for failing to become Miss America or a Broadway star. I moved 1000 miles away. The closest my 13 year old daughter has ever come to a pageant is cosplay at anime conventions. And honestly, I am relieved.

15. Move over Little Miss Sunshine.

My sister did a pageant when she was 4 or 5 and her answer to everything was ‘Michael Jackson’.

That was the end of that.

14. Sponge rollers should be banned.

I wasn’t forced, but I did compete in a dozen or so pageants between the ages of 5-8.

My next door neighbor did them and I was jealous of the cool dresses she got to wear, so I asked my mom if I could do them, too. They were nothing like the ones you see on Toddlers & Tiaras. No F*ke tans or flippers or that weird modeling/strutting/posing. When I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore, I stopped.

Best – Frilly dresses. Trophies. New friends, many of whom came from money, and had lots of sleepovers and pool parties. Worst – Sponge rollers. I’m sure cheerleaders and dancers can relate.

13. So you’re saying it went okay.

I was in a pageant once. Kind of an old age. I was ten.

I realized that I sucked at speaking on the spot. In the interview part, I came up with a cr*ppy answer to “If you had one wish, what would it be?” I said… Ummm well, I’d have to say a million dollars. I SHOULD HAVE SAID WORLD PEACE! But I would have hated myself even more if I would have done that. But it was really fun because I was asked to come back as an escort for an older category pageant and that was really fun! It wasn’t a glitz pageant and it was really small. I mean, there were only six trophies and five participants. I thought it was fun. It wasn’t scarring at all and my mom was, for the most part, normal through out the whole thing.

12. All hail the Fishfly Queen!

I did a local pageant for my city’s Fishfly Festival when I was 17.

It was a really cool experience. I stood out from the other participants because I was there just for fun. Instead of the practiced, beauty-queen attitude, I just went in acted like myself.

For part of the pageant, we had to wear nautical-themed gear. (I live on a bay, thus the yearly influx of fish flies) I dressed as a fly fisher (har har) and managed to get my fishing line stuck on one of the stage curtains. I was mortified, but I just played it off with a laugh.

Ended up being crowned as the Fishfly queen. That was pretty awesome. Not a big pageant, but whenever I’m feeling a little self confident, I just remember that I’m a former beauty queen. And that makes me lol.

11. A good way to make friends.

I didn’t do pageants, I did child modeling because my father was a photographer and I was cute.

I was not ‘forced’ to do it in anyway I chose to do it because I liked it, my sister never modeled because she hated being in front of the camera. I knew a ton of pageant kids who chose to do it. Kids can’t really be forced into preforming if they don’t want too, they cry and act out if they do. A lot of parents where a little cray about the modeling/pageanting but the kids used to chat and support each other and laugh at how crazy they where.

10. Miss Congeniality my butt.

I did a few pageants when I was young, but that was a long time ago in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I think pageants were a little different back then than they are now.

I didn’t really want to do them, but my mother felt they would help me be more “lady like”. This was 1977, I think. And this was my entry for most photogenic in the 1981 Little Miss Cotton Patch pageant.

That Cotton patch one was the last one I did. I got a huge trophy, but I ended up getting very angry after the pageant because the little girl that one “Miss Congeniality” was the brattiest, most arrogant, and mean child I had ever encountered. It made me mad that she won and I realized how artificial it all was.

So after I stopped doing pageants, my mom’s next effort was “Etiquette Classes”. Jeesh, my poor mom. None of it ever worked. I’m still a big, butch dyke.

9. People are the best and worst of everything.

I was never forced, I asked my parents to do pageants at age 10 or so and they complied. I was in pageants for roughly 4 years. I met many amazing friends and continue to keep in contact with some of them

BEST: Probably the confidence and speaking skills I gained. A big part of pageants are the interview portions, in which contestants are supposed to get their ideas on controversial topics across in diplomatic ways. I think learning to do that so early really helped me in other areas as I got older

WORST: The majority of people I met in pageants were nice, but there were one or two I could do without. One pageant I ended up winning my division over a girl I’d been in a pageant or two with before. When I got to the dressing room afterwards to change, her mother was ranting about me winning, saying it was rigged, I didn’t deserve it, ect. I honestly didn’t care, and my mom didn’t want to get involved so she was just trying to help me get out of there as soon as possible. Another mom told her to watch her mouth, and she flew off the handle. She started SCREECHING and ranting, calling me a bit*h and all of that. My mom scurried me out of the room, and as we got to the door the other mom flung her daughter’s trophy at me, missed, and it hit the wall so hard that the marble split in two. I actually saw the daughter at another pageant and a cheer competition, it was awkward.

TL;DR: Lots of nice people, confidence and speaking ability gained, no regrets. A few crazy moms

8. Five-year-olds have the best comebacks.

I used to do them once every couple months between the ages of 3-10. I can’t pinpoint the worst experiences.. I remember there being a huge plate of Oreos backstage and none of the other girls were eating them. I thought “wow, I am so lucky. I’m going to eat all of them.” Before I get to the plate my Mom came backstage and saw what I was about to do, she told me “those were put there because they know Oreos will f*ck up your smile.. it’s a trick, don’t eat them.” Example: That kind of sucked. Another time I was 5 and this bratty little girl who’s family obviously had tons of money ran up to me and said “You’re no competition to me, you’re UGLY.” my 5 year old mind snapped back so quickly and said “You’re the ugly one, fat nose.” Making my entire family and families around me laugh while she ran away obviously fighting back tears. That was a pretty great moment. Also, TIL I remember a lot from my childhood. EDIT: Was 5.. not 6 (:

7. Username checks out.

Former mini miss South Carolina here, among some other titles. Mostly it was how uncomfortable the dresses were and the extensive makeup process.

One day I said I didn’t want to do it, that I was sick. My grandmother made me anyway. I said f*ck it, and went out there and vomited from the heat (the lights, it taking place in a Charleston summer, and the very hot dress was a recipe for making a child vomit) and went out with throw up on me anyway in front of what seemed like a thousand people. She also had me do things that seem creepy now, like wink at the judges.

The best experience was watching my dad plan ahead for it, this construction worker in his early twenties, and if I got a trophy he would put me on his shoulders and parade me and the trophy around the neighborhood.

Edited to add: I do understand what the f*ck a map does

6. It’s time to quit when you lose interest.

I competed in pageants from ages 2-7… I’ve always been a super girly girl (hence the username…) and I love hanging out with girlfriends now but I remember being overwhelmed by the amount of people backstage. The best part of competing were the competitions that were far enough to where we would have to stay in a hotel (I was obsessed with room service). The hardest part would be the long days. My mom would have to wake me up early (like 5:30 or 6) to start getting me ready for my first competition at 10AM. I eventually burned out but I learned about stage presence and manners from an early age. My experience wasn’t like Toddlers and Tiaras or anything like that.

Edit: I wouldn’t say I was forced but I guess I never actively chose to compete in pageants. My mother chose for me and while the last year was hard, she understood that I wasn’t winning anymore because I wasn’t as interested.

5. Well that’s not a great end to the day.

When i was about four my mom put me in a pageant.

she refused to put any makeup on me, put me in clothes from the gap, and kept me all natural. i ended up winning against all the glitzy little girls and when the announcer pulled me off stage – he popped my shoulder out of my socket and i had to go to the emergency room. they invited me back but my mom was furious and i never did them again.

4. Moms, don’t do this.

My mom started me in pageants before I was a year old.

I was forced to do them until I was 12. As early as I can remember I hated them. Straight up bawling my eyes out while getting hair and makeup done which got me yelled at and spanked in circles a lot. There were no best moments, I hated every bit of it and its seriously caused a lot of resentment towards my mother.

3. This all sounds like a nightmare.

Here’s a shocker. My mom forced me to do a BOYS youth pageant. I seriously have no idea what the hell she was thinking. But I remember a lot of boys showing up for the practices and whatnot. The grand prize was a HUGE, massive collection of 1000 matchbox/hot wheels cars. I remember thinking that was really cool because I was only like 6 years old at the time. Then time for the pageant came and went to the elementary school auditorium. I wore a little black tuxedo with a carnation. When I arrived there was only one other boy there.

The pageant was really embarrassing for me for the obvious reason that boys don’t do this kind of thing. But the actual pageant was bad because it was nothing like the rehearsals and I completely embarrassed myself because I was walking the wrong way.

I remember the lady on stage telling me I was not doing it right and then I walked off stage.

I lost and got a mickey mouse watch for 2nd place.

2. What on earth is wrong with people?

I was in several pageants when I was younger, from age 5 to age 11.

The best part was dressing up. I was a total princess as a little girl and wearing all the sparkly dresses and having my hair done was like a fairytale. I always pretended I was a Disney princess going to a ball! The tiaras I won made the dream more real.

The worst part was the day I quit. I was just starting to go through p*berty and I had progressed out of the stick-thin stage a lot of young girls go through in childhood. One of the “pageant moms” walked up to me when I was getting dressed and pinched my stomach, hard.

“What’s that,” she said, smirking, “a little bit of FLAB?”

Until that day I never felt self-conscious about my body before. She told me the judges wouldn’t like me if I didn’t “cut down on the doughnuts, princess!”

I was in tears. I never went back. I was having fun pretending to be a princess and they made me feel worthless just because my body was changing and I wasn’t thin as a rail anymore.

I only wanted to play dress-up. 🙁

Fuck those people.

1. Everyone hates to practice.

I wasn’t forced to do them, my mom saw an ad in the paper and asked if I was interested and I wanted to.

I think the worst part was just all the practicing which wasn’t even that bad. It was just as much practice as a kid in sports would put in, maybe less. An hour or so every day and meetings with my modeling instructor who taught me how to walk and apply my makeup. The pageants themselves (I did three) were a ton of fun. I got to stay overnight in a hotel room without my parents and go swimming with a bunch of other girls. I got to wear a pretty dress and we all did a dance number for the opening night as a group. Everyone was really friendly and we all had fun with it. I also won $24,000 in scholarships total.

I don’t have daughters, but I’m not sure I’m made of the stuff of stage moms. I guess you never know until the chance crops up, though!

Were you in pageants? Is your daughter? Please share your best and worst days in the comments!