I absolutely believe in modesty, and I believe that if Heavenly Father asked me to be modest, he will also help me find a way to make that happen. —Bekah Pence
BUENA VISTA, Va. — Bekah Pence, 29, didn't enter the Ms. Virginia United States pageant for the glitz and glam or the 15 minutes of fame. The recently returned LDS missionary saw it as a way to continue sharing her beliefs.
"I didn't get into this pageant because I wanted to. It actually was an opportunity that I felt like, by the Spirit, Heavenly Father wanted me to take," Pence told the Deseret News.
After only a few months of preparation, Pence, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was crowned Ms. Virginia on April 12. She will compete in the Ms. United States pageant, for women ages 26 to 39, in Washington, D.C., in July.
Pence, who returned in October from serving in the Nevada Las Vegas Mission, had never competed in a pageant and wasn't expecting to win, but she was eager to follow counsel she received before her mission.
"I got a blessing before I left on my mission, and it said something about a great work that I had to do after my mission," Pence said.
Viewing the competition as an opportunity to inspire young women, she began looking for ways to represent herself modestly.
"I absolutely believe in modesty, and I believe that if Heavenly Father asked me to be modest, he will also help me find a way to make that happen," Pence said. "I have to say, 100 percent, it was not easy at all. ... I was even shopping in between events that were going on in between the pageant to get an undershirt or find a different dress, just so it was modest."
While shopping with her standards in mind was challenging and time-consuming, both Pence and her mother, Elaine Pence, were undeterred.
"I am most proud that she makes decisions by the Spirit and that she keeps her standards under every condition," Elaine Pence said. "And she won in spite of it and because of it. Because of her standards, she shone."
Elaine Pence altered each outfit her daughter wore in some way, whether by adding a lining to a formal gown, letting out the hem out of a dress or sewing together part of a low-cut swimming suit.
The most important message Bekah Pence hoped to convey was that young women can be modest and still look glamorous.
"I'm a firm believer in not just being modest, but you can also be absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, not just beautiful," she said. "I feel like girls don't feel that way. They think that it's a step down if you're modest. They don't think you can be absolutely gorgeous, but I felt that way. I felt like, 'You know what? This dress is amazing, and I feel gorgeous in it — and I'm modest."
Pence not only learned this for herself, but she was also able to explain her choices to the other contestants.
"I was the only one with a one-piece," she said about the swimming suit portion of the pageant. "They would make a comment like, 'That's cute,' and I would just say simply, 'Yeah, I really wanted to wear a one-piece. I like to be modest,' and it was cool that they thought it was cool."
Pence felt like a missionary again as she spoke about her beliefs.
"I realized there are opportunities everywhere, but I had to open my mouth to say something," she said.
Pence became close with one contestant in particular, and after having many discussions about religion with her, Pence gave her a Book of Mormon on the last day of the competition.
"She actually seemed really flattered," Pence said. "I just told her how much it meant to me and that that book brings me closer to Christ than any other book. She was just like, 'Wow, thank you. I definitely will (read it).' It meant a lot to me that she was excited that I gave it to her."
One week before the pageant, Pence watched the 185th Annual General Conference of the LDS Church, and after hearing several talks about families, she felt impressed to find a way to defend the family unit during the competition. Just before she went on stage to answer a random question, Pence prayed, asking what she should incorporate into her response.
"She said three words came to her, and they were 'family,' 'prayer' and 'love,' " Elaine Pence said. "So when she got those impressions, she knew whatever the question was, she had to pull it around to family, prayer and love."
On stage, a panel of judges asked Bekah Pence how she would describe the new American dream. She responded that the American dream should include strong families. She explained that this can happen if families pray together.
Pence also turned to her faith as she chose a platform to promote throughout the pageant. Borrowing counsel from a friend, "Put on your wings," Pence spoke about how maintaining standards can help youths put on metaphorical wings and excel.
Now, as the newly crowned Ms. Virginia, Pence hopes to share her platform with young people throughout Virginia.
"I would just love to inspire and uplift the youth and help them realize that you do not have to compromise your standards," Pence said.
Pence is still not aware of winnings that the title may include, but that was never her focus.
"They haven't told us," Elaine Pence said. "But that's not why she did it. She never knew what the prizes were going to be. She knew she wasn't doing it for the prizes, whatever they were."
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