Not as seen on TV: Pageant inspires confidence, service

If you've ever seen an episode of "Toddlers & Tiaras" or "Little Miss Perfect," you've witnessed the stereotypical pageant brat -- a 4-foot diva with big hair, thick make-up, false eyelashes and a whole lot of attitude.

Nancy McDuffee wants to dispel that myth. She's the pageant director for the Little Miss South Carolina preliminary set for Nov. 13 in Bluffton. She said that while some pageants are, indeed, like the ones seen on TV, the Little Miss South Carolina pageant system is different because it encourages age-appropriate hair, make-up and dress.

"Little Miss South Carolina is not what they call 'a full-glitz pageant,' where they'll wear the flippers (dental appliances worn to replace missing or uneven teeth) and the fake hair. ... In fact, a child that comes in dressed like that is not going to win," McDuffee said. "It's clearly not what Little Miss South Carolina is looking for, which is wonderful because children should look like children. ... People can really go overboard, and that's unfortunately what gives pageants a bad name."

For McDuffee and her 15-year-old daughter, Lindsey Twaddell, pageants are not all about winning. They are about having fun, wearing pretty dresses, meeting new people, feeling special for a day and gaining self-confidence. (Since her mother is directing the local pageant, Lindsey will not compete due to conflict of interest.)

After moving from Fort Mill to Bluffton over the summer, Lindsey had no problem adjusting to a new school. Her mother said she jumped right into the routine at Hilton Head Christian Academy, quickly made new friends and earned a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad. She said Lindsey's pageant experience -- being thrown into situations where she's had to meet new people and conduct professional interviews with judges -- has helped her with the transition to a new town and school.

"It's really made me come out of my shell," Lindsey said. "And with that I've gotten more social skills with people and am able to talk to people more and just kind of open up. So I know it has helped. ... And I know I've applied that to my normal everyday life."

And McDuffee said the pageants have given her daughter more than self-confidence. Because Little Miss South Carolina encourages its contestants to do community service, Lindsey has raised money for several charities. She collected donations and supplies for an animal rescue organization. She raised money for breast cancer awareness. She brought in more than $1,000 for the Palmetto Health Children's Hospital, which Little Miss South Carolina supports with a portion of its proceeds. And after winning a Halloween pageant last year, she had the honor of presenting a check to the Columbia hospital.

"So we were able to see firsthand where this money is going," McDuffee said. "It's great because it really makes (contestants) aware of what's going on around them. So it's not really just about being beautiful on the outside. ... It's about being beautiful inside as well as out."