“Growing up, I never wanted to be Miss America, but I knew I wanted to make a difference.” – Miss America 2015 contestant, Sierra Sandison.
Miss Idaho, person with Type 1 diabetes: You’ve achieved your goal.
Viewership of the Miss America pageant must have dropped last night at about 9:52 p.m. eastern time when Sierra Sandison failed to make it to the Top 12, just after the swimsuit ogle. Um, I mean the “Lifestyle and Fitness Competition.” And I know why those ratings surely dropped: the contestant with the most support, the strongest community and a clear and true goal was cut.
Should Sierra Sandison be Miss America? Who knows? And, honestly, I don’t really care about the title. For me, pageant life is odd, objectifying and still in the 1950s. No doubt, though, if anyone deserves the title, it’s Sandison.
Instead of being sad today, though, let’s celebrate. Because Sandison, perhaps more than any contestant in the past, used her entry into the pageant not just as a platform to launch a mission message, but as a pulpit to deliver her message around the world, literally to millions, before she even took the stage.
That she won the vote for “America’s Choice,” winning her way into the coveted Top 15 via votes on social media, did not surprise me. She appeared as a guest on Good Morning America, Dr. Oz and the Today Show. She was covered in newspapers across the country. She has received messages from people in 35 countries, and answered most of them. She became a role model, symbol, and icon to the millions of people with Type 1 diabetes all by deciding (in an admittedly somewhat hesitant way at first), to do something so simple and yet so complicated it’s hard to fathom: wear her insulin pump in clear sight while competing.
Sandison, who is honest as well as empowered, admitted in the pageant pre-show that she herself needed the boost that came from her wearing her pump loudly and proudly. Diagnosed just two years ago, Sandison said that wearing her pump in full view was something she “felt insecure about.” She admitted to feeling worried about her choice before she took the stage with it on in the Miss Idaho competition. But what happened afterward — first a young girl there showed her that she has a pump too, then social media exploded with support for her and changed her insecurities for good. “The diabetes world helped me,” she said on the pre-show.
Sandison was cut moments after walking the stage in her bathing suit and pump (and then after rushing backstage to change into a sarong through which you could see her pump). When host Chris Harrison marveled at how quickly the women had all changed and said to the audience, “Do you know how hard that is?” I thought, “Yeah – without ripping your site out?”). She may not have won the contest, but Sierra Sandison’s impact lives on, and through that, she has won something for all of us.
Because today, many more people now know what an insulin pump is. They heard the words “Type 1 diabetes” used on a world stage. And, a young woman cut just after being voted America’s Choice (I saw irony there) is perhaps the best remembered and admired contestant. She showed the world that while ventriloquism is a pretty cool trick, owning your situation and not hiding it is a cooler one.
And somewhere this morning, as a business executive dresses for a big meeting or a kindergartener picks out an outfit for school, as a bride-to-be studies her future gown or as an attorney readies to deliver a closing statement in a key trial, they’re adjusting their tubing, grabbing their clip and thinking this:
With her simple actions, Sierra Sandison has indeed reached that goal she set long ago. “I want to make a difference.” And here’s the thing: the diabetes community did, too.
We were united enough to control the outcome of a huge world event (we owned the part of the pageant that we could control). We are interesting enough to catch the attention of major media just by doing simple things. We are compassionate and supportive of one another. We, like Sierra, have power over our future. So in her honor, beginning today and until the cure: be loud and be proud.