By Dawn M Chiossi
Beauty is celebrated in all forms from literature, to paintings, to movies, TV, magazines, contests and so much more.
The romantic poets celebrated beauty with honeyed words regarding what they thought was beautiful. Stories and storybook heroes and heroines were captivated and sometimes bewitched by beauty, and as far as myths go, it had often been said that sailors were lost at sea due to the call of sirens–beautiful but deadly sea creatures.
Our reality in 2019 is no different, both women and men aspire to be beautiful. They are admired, respected, others want to be like them, around them, emulate them.
The concept of beauty is both abundantly clear and elusive. It’s a paradox. Is it all about showing off the physical? Or is it about more? It is the question that people had been asking themselves for a long time. Take beauty pageants for example. All too often most people view beauty pageants as something utterly negative.
Through either news stories (such as the case of JonBenet Ramsey), or television or movies, depictions of beauty pageants can show an organization that is dysfunctional. At best, pageants are shown to be vapid, demeaning, cut throat, and shallow; and at the worst, they are shown to encourage life threatening eating disorders, toxic behavior and dangerous consequences.
Perhaps the only depictions out there that cast beauty pageants in a positive and uplifting light include Little Miss Sunshine, and Miss Congeniality. These movies work because the message is an accurate, simple, classic, and inspiring one: Be yourself and beauty will follow.
For Mt. Olive native Tiffany Bucher, this is exactly why she founded Belle of the Ball, natural beauty pageants.
Traditionally when people used the expression “Belle of the Ball,” they meant that the woman was the most popular and beautiful girl at the party. Taking that antiquated definition, Bucher turns it on its axis and uses it as an empowering name for her new organization.
Brand new on the Northern New Jersey pageant circuit, started just this year, Belle of the Ball Pageants seek to shatter the negative stereotypes that so often plaque them. Instead, this kind of natural beauty pageant celebrates the beauty within a person.
Celebrating not just physical beauty, but also qualities like intelligence, charisma, confidence (no matter what), enthusiasm, philanthropy, and giving back to others, are not only recognized, but rewarded here.
Their first Spring Pageant was held on April 27th at the Holiday Inn in Budd Lake.
Accentuating the positive, much more than a contest, pageants give people the opportunity to break out of their shells, overcome their nerves, develop confidence and grace and poise under pressure, (a great skill to acquire later in life) and so much more.
“I’ve been in pageantry ever since I was six years old,” explains Bucher. “My first pageant was MAC–Miss American Coed, which my mom entered me in to build confidence up on stage as well as in front of people.”
Embracing all forms of beauty, not just the expected kind, Belle of the Ball Pageants features both men and women, and people of all ages. They aspire to bring this kind of pageant and its qualities to local towns in the area.
“I loved what pageants have done for me growing up and the traits that they helped me master,” Bucher enthuses. “Personally I believe pageants are a great foundation for young women and men, and I wanted to try and share that with family and friends around me. I wanted to take the time to help people build confidence in themselves.”
Noticing how there were no family run natural beauty pageants in this area, she immediately thought about founding her own. “The idea just clicked. I just thought, why wait?”
And what is remarkable is that Bucher is only 20 years old.
Belle of the Ball Pageants have a special connection and significance for Bucher. As well about helping others develop confidence, poise and the joy of being yourself, this pageant is about giving back. A portion of the proceeds from this, and all Belle of the Ball Pageant events will be donated to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue, and usually first expresses itself between the teenage years and the 30’s. While treatment can help, Lupus cannot be cured. It’s a long term, chronic disease and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include fatigue, joint pain, rash, fever, hair loss. Lupus can affect the skin, joints, blood cells, brain, heart, kidneys and lungs.
Diagnosed with Lupus at 13 years old, Bucher decided to not let it defeat her by taking a proactive, empowering approach. She concentrated on her health, and managing her condition, focusing on her education, and being grateful for every day.
Now at 20, utilizing her knowledge and experience of the pageant world, she seeks to send a clear and defining message: “Anyone and everyone can be a queen.”
By creating Belle of the Ball Pageants, Bucher seeks to shatter the stereotypes, celebrate the beauty that comes from within, and be a new voice for breaking down barriers.
She’s thrilled regarding the response that her first natural beauty pageant received. “Overall the day was super successful and was a great foundation to start off of,” Bucher tells. “All are welcome to be contestants, from ages 0 to 99 and above,” she enthuses. “We want everyone to get out and get involved.”
Age divisions ranged from: Infant (0-11 months), Baby (12-23 months), Tiny Tot (2-3 years), Tot (4-6), Mini Miss (7-10), Preteen Miss (11-14), Teen (15-17), Miss (18-21), Ms. (22 and up), capping off at 10 contestants per division.
For the main fee of $150, all contestants will be entered in the Evening Wear, Introduction and Interview, and PJ Runway Categories. Infants, Baby, and Tiny Tots will perform Catwalk in lieu of interview.
Here is where Belle of the Ball sets itself apart from other pageants. While girls can show off their dresses in the Evening Wear Category, they must be age appropriate as well as elegant. When modeling for one moment, judges will be looking for contestants to display confidence, eye contact and grace. As this is a natural beauty pageant, contestants from Mini-Miss and Under will not be allowed to wear any makeup. For the divisions Pre-Teen Miss and up, mascara, lip gloss and eye shadow will be allowed, but dramatic looks will not.
In the Introduction and Interview segment, contestants will answer a question that they will select out of a fishbowl. After announcing their name, the announcer will ask them their question. They will have one minute to answer. Questions will be different for each contestant (and will depend on age). Judges will be looking for how contestants hold themselves together.
Everyone knows that PJ’s are the ultimate in comfort, and with the PJ Runway segment, contestants can enjoy and show them off at the same time. Showing off fun and creativity and making them pop is the goal here. There is also a talent competition.
“We are looking for fun, loving and awesome individuals who want to come out and just have fun while strutting their stuff,” Bucher tells, “Especially those that show confidence and self-discipline. Good sportsmanship and personality are huge for contestants.”
This is great news for winners 8-year-old Jillian DiPietro, who was awarded Queen of her age group and 9-year-old Lillyanna DiPietro who was selected for the Leadership Award for her volunteerism.
According to their mother, Vanessa DiPietro, this was the first time her daughters were involved in a beauty pageant. “They’ve been wanting to,” she says, “and I thought this one was ideal for us to try something new.”
DiPietro shares that she herself had been involved with beauty pageants in the past but was instantly pulled to the
idea of a natural beauty pageant in this area. “They were different,” she says of the beauty pageants she was familiar with, “This one was great with such a nice group of girls.”
She states that both her girls are baton twirlers, and that helped inspire the confidence, grace and poise they needed to enjoy the competition. What tipped the scales for DiPietro? The PJ competition! “When I heard about how the girls could rock their PJ’s, I was totally hooked. It was awesome.”
“It’s definitely something we’d do again,” she shares.
With a turnout of approximately 47 contestants for their first Belle of the Ball event, Bucher couldn’t be more pleased. “It was an awesome turnout!” she remarks.
When the day was done, they had 9 divisional queens, 5 supremes, 1 king with many side awards given.
In addition to crowns, sashes, trophies, ribbons and certificates, prizes awarded included gift packages as well.
For Bucher, the day was truly a success when everyone embraced the spirit and philosophy of this new kind of beauty pageant. She is so grateful for the support of everyone and is looking toward the future.
“In the future I hope that the pageant grows and is able to move into other states so that we can alter individual lives. We may be already looking at the tri-state area for 2020,” she prides.
For Bucher, Belle of the Ball pageants are definitely all about the wow factor: “It’s about helping participants to grow into their best selves and giving back to help the Lupus Foundation that did so much to make my life better,” she beams.
With such an attitude of gratitude for this 20-year-old, the rewards just keep on coming. Recently Bucher came out of retirement to compete in beauty pageants again, and now holds the crown and title of Miss Pennsylvania for the East Coast.