MOST people associate pageants with Toddlers in Tiaras or Miss Congeniality, but the contests don’t require fake tans or a triple-digit budget for hair extensions.

One mom-and-daughter duo proves that their involvement in pageants is worth much more than their titles, no matter what critics might say.

Emily Gallup, left, was introduced to the pageant world by mom Valerie Gallup
Emily and Valerie Gallup
Both mom and daughter have won pageants and held national titles
Emily and Valerie Gallup

It all began when Valerie Gallup, 53, was in high school. Her older sister had entered a local pageant, and Valerie was jealous.

“I said, ‘I’m going to go too,’” Valerie recalled. Dressed in her prom dress, accompanied her sister to the competition and winged it.

“My sister didn’t make finals, and I was first runner-up,” the Missouri native remembered. From that point on, she was hooked.

Years later, Emily Gallup, 27, wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. At first, her dad said no, but when she was 15, he changed his mind.



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“Once he found out that you can get scholarships from competing in pageantry, he was like, ‘Okay, well, let’s give it a try,’” she said with a laugh.

In the time since she began her pageant career, Emily has participated in multiple circuits, including the Miss America system.

Right now, it’s her first time in three years without a title, since she gave up a national title, Miss US United, earlier this year.

But Emily’s not the only member of the Gallup family who’s bringing home crowns: Valerie re-entered the pageant circuit, too, and holds a Lifetime Queen title in the US United pageant.

They’ve stepped into leadership roles, too. Come March, Emily will be the director of the US United Central States Pageant, and Valerie will be an assistant director.

Success in the pageant world came quickly to Emily, just as it did for her mother. After entering a regional competition, Emily was selected to represent Missouri on a national stage.

“I went to nationals and I was the only competitor who had never competed before,” she recalled. “I was a newbie. And I won.”

Valerie said that success in the pageant world goes far beyond looking pretty in a formal gown or a swimsuit.

Emily and Valerie Gallup

Valerie is a Lifetime Queen in the US United pageant system[/caption]

Emily has participated in several pageant systems and is stepping into a director role
Emily and Valerie Gallup

She said Emily’s strong convictions, sparkling personality, and excellence in interviews have also helped her excel as a competitor.

“Everybody thinks that it’s fake girls going out there, being pretty, and strutting around in a bathing suit,” Valerie said.

But the majority of pageants the Gallup family has participated in focus on community service, something they’re passionate about.

“You don’t have to be a perfect size two. What you have to do is make a difference,” Valerie explained.

Each of the Gallup queens developed a platform that drives their event appearances and local engagement.

Emily’s platform was based on suicide prevention initiatives, while Valerie works with food-insecure communities to teach urban farming practices.

According to Emily, changing public perception around pageantry is one of her goals, and she hopes to use the pageant system to facilitate more community care.

“I like to educate people on how pageantry is more about community service, getting out in your community, and building your own sisterhood,” she explained.

Not everyone takes the women’s efforts in good faith.

Emily remembered an incident from last year, when she posted online about travel plans being delayed due to dangerous weather.

“I had gotten stuck in a hurricane, and somebody that I’d known since I was 10 said that it was God punishing me for becoming vain,” she said.

She’s practiced at deflecting these comments, especially after being teased in high school for her pageant involvement.

“My classmates called me Little Miss America. And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not Miss America,’” she recounted.

“Don’t call me that because that’s my goal, and I don’t want to jinx it,” she said.

Emily did participate in the Miss America system until she aged out. She joked that she doesn’t resent her classmates for ‘jinxing’ her.

Meanwhile, Valerie has been competing in pageants for much of her adult life, but that doesn’t mean rude comments have dried up.

“I get a lot of ‘are you joking?’” she said. “People say, ‘I’ve never heard of plus-sized pageants. I’ve never heard of adult pageants.’”

But most of the critical comments are countered by non-judgmental interest, she said.

“I get a lot of curiosity, people saying, ‘Tell me what this is about,’” she added.

Mom and daughter volunteering at a breast cancer awareness event
Emily and Valerie Gallup
Emily and Valerie Gallup

Emily used pageant scholarships to pay towards her undergraduate education[/caption]

She’s always happy to explain away misconceptions about shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, which don’t represent “true pageantry.”

Emily has participated in a high-glitz pageant, famous for the spray-tanned and shellacked look.

Ultimately, she decided, the over-the-top aesthetics weren’t for her – although she can thank her pageant experience for sending her home with false teeth.

During a blizzard, Emily was helping prepare for a charity auction, collecting donations from around her community.

While bringing them inside, she slipped and fell. Emily recovered from the concussion but had to have her two front teeth replaced.

Good-natured Emily still competed in her pageant, and today, it’s something to laugh about.

“I did come away with a crown, just not quite the one that I wanted,” she joked.

Mom and daughter have both received accolades for their outstanding community service.

Emily received a special ambassador award for dedicating several thousand hours to service.

Together, they’ve appeared on national broadcasts to promote their advocacy work, hosted charity events, and even walked in shows at New York Fashion Week in the name of fundraising.

Emily was also able to use pageant scholarships to pay for part of her undergraduate career, just as she’d hoped at 15.

Most importantly, pageant life has strengthened the bond between Emily and Valerie, who consider each other best friends.

“I share so much with her. And it’s so much different than before pageantry,” Valerie said.

Road trips, especially, have contributed to their close relationship, along with supporting each other through pageant preparations.

“It’s not that we ever didn’t get along,” Valerie clarified. “It’s just that this common bond has really brought us together.”

Emily agreed. “You have that built-in support network,” she said, and the sense of care is “hard to describe.”

She did make note that every once in a while, they’re not just competing alongside each other.

Valerie brought up a pageant, Ozark Beauties, that both women had competed in.

While Emily and Valerie both won their age divisions, Valerie won overall, besting her daughter.

But, Emily said, it’s always thrilling to see a person you love succeed, and she’s happy to share the sisterhood of pageantry with her mother.

“When you see people rushing the winner after they’ve won, that’s not staged,” she explained. “That’s genuine.”

Valerie built a platform around ending food insecurity through urban farming
Emily and Valerie Gallup
Emily’s advocacy work is focused on suicide prevention
Emily and Valerie Gallup

“I’ve held people and cried with them on stage, and said ‘I’m so happy for you.’”

Valerie recalled another pageant, where a mother was competing alongside both her daughters.

The two sisters were competing when their mother won her age group, but Valerie snapped a picture and found the daughters backstage.

“I called the girls over and I was said, ‘Hey, do you know this lady?’ And I showed them my phone,” she remembered.

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The daughters immediately ran to celebrate with their mom, a feeling the Gallups know perfectly well.

“There’s just really nothing like it,” Emily said with a smile.

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