Pageant contestant learns hard lessons

Published 6:06 pm Friday, July 25, 2008

While Janet Smith is the reigning Mrs. Alabama International and an important advocate for girls’ sports and fitness, she says her most important role in life is as a wife to husband David and a mother to Josie, Jillian and Grayson.

Unfortunately, that very role may have prevented her from doing well at the Mrs. International pageant in Chicago. While contestants must be married (hence the “Mrs.” in the title), Smith said there seemed to be a bias against mothers in the pageant.

“The last time that there was a Mrs. International crowned that was a mother was in 2003,” she said.

Smith, who did not make the top 10, said that during the interview portion of the pageant, she had five-minute interviews with each of five judges.

“Four minutes out of each of those five was about how I would be able to handle the responsibilities of Mrs. International as a mother of three young children,” she said. “That only allowed me one minute with each judge to talk about what I was passionate about and my platform.”

She stressed that she truly enjoyed her experience in the pageant, but just wanted to feel that the competition was a fair one.

“I do wish they could have been a little more open and accepting of women that have young children,” Smith said.

However, she’s choosing to move on and use her experience as a stepping stone.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime, incredible opportunity,” she said. “When it’s all said and done, I had my family and I had my friends to come home to.”

Smith said she truly enjoyed competing and meeting other like-minded women in Chicago. Her relationships from the pageant will remain important to her, she said.

Also, the pageant helped her realize how important her family relationships are.

“I realized what I would not be able to accomplish if I did not have the incredible support from David,” she said. “And I realized how much I missed my children.”

Now, she hopes to continue her work with her platform, Girls Excel with Mentoring and Sports. She is also working with Girls on the Run and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“I chose GEMS as my platform because of my experience as a young girl struggling with low self-esteem and low body image. It was not until I found myself involved in sports that I realized not everything depends on your appearance or on how you look on the outside,” she said.

Smith said she’s committed to making sure her own young daughters never have to go through a similar struggle.

She met with one of the directors of the Women’s Sports Foundation while in Chicago and has been invited to fly to New York in October to attend the organization’s annual conference.

For now, though, Smith is back to a normal life – the life that is the most important thing she has.

“I’m changing diapers, taking my children and getting them ready to go back to school,” she said, laughing. “It’s back to reality.”