Returned missionary changes pageant attire standards during Ms. United States competition

Bekah Pence, the 29-year-old Ms. Virginia United States, does not let beauty pageant attire regulations interfere with her personal modesty standards. The returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found a way to uphold these standards in preparation for the Ms. United States competition.

While preparing for the pageant, which took place July 3rd, Pence learned that she was required to wear three particular outfits that made her uncomfortable. Her determination to only wear the outfits if they were altered inspired many including a fellow contestant who also felt uncomfortable bearing so much skin on stage. Pence told Deseret News:

"I think something that was reiterated or came through more strongly this time around is just not being afraid to keep your standards because you never know how it will affect someone. Sometimes (LDS Church) members just don't realize that personally deciding to keep the commandments, it literally directly impacts others."

While many women were fine with and looked stunning in the more revealing outfits, others simply didn't feel comfortable. They had nothing against other contestants bearing more skin on stage, but given their more conservative religious values it just wasn't an option for them. Pence said:

"The opening-number dress was actually a very little, itty-bitty black dress, and even the other girls mentioned that they felt uncomfortable in it. It was see-through on the side, so there was nothing really to the dress."

Pence was also given a bathing suit as well as a dress made for a designer fashion show. She didn't want to make the designers feel disrespected, but she also wasn't willing to walk on stage in the outfits. Desperate, she turned to her director who then approached the national directors of the Ms. United States pageant. Pence said:

"They asked why I couldn't wear the pieces that they had selected, and I just told them about my personal beliefs in dressing more conservatively."

Pence was told that alterations weren't allowed. That's when she turned to prayer and scripture study, believing that everything would fall into place with enough faith. Pence said:

"I was afraid that they were going to possibly turn me away or disqualify me, but my director made it very clear that she and her director partner were going to help me in any way they could."

That's when Pence learned that Afton Liddell, the Idaho contestant, was also a member of the LDS Church and was similarly uncomfortable wearing the mandatory attire. It turns out Pence only needed one ally to start making a difference. She said:

"When (the directors) realized that there was at least one other member in the pageant, it was a turnaround. They were much more willing to at least find a way to make it an option to have the wardrobe altered."

Pence and Liddell adjusted the opening-number dresses and bathing suits. They also submitted additional measurements that would ensure the dresses covered them up enough in preparation for the fashion show. Liddell expressed her appreciation for Pence in an email interview. She wrote:

Pence and Liddell were grateful that their shared beliefs enabled them to gain strength for one another. Just as the two women respected the other contestants and national directors for their beliefs and decisions, they were able to work together to change pageant attire standards and finally get that same respect in return.

Watch this video to learn more about Pence's beliefs and lifestyle:

Being Mormon Today

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