How does Maslow's Heirchy of Needs apply to pageantry and why does it matter? Includes a checklist for yourself to learn more about your own needs!
Abraham Maslow published his theory known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in 1943, a simple pyramid depicting five levels that are essential for an individual to meet their highest potential. Why is this theory still relevant nearly 80 years later? For one, the simplicity of it has allowed it to be fluid and transcend the many generations since. Additionally, it’s because as human beings, what is required for survival and success have remained inherently consistent. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a timeless and accurate depiction of what an individual requires for motivation, how to identify where they are stuck, and what is needed at each level to climb to the top.
Copyright Still She Rose, B4ACUSA Foundation
Truth be told, not many people tend to reach self-actualization. This is because life experiences, circumstances, lack of resources, and more leave them feeling stuck in any of the lower levels. In my experience as a therapist, it seems that most often, individuals are stuck at or below level three, social needs, where their ability to find their place in the world and sense of belonging leaves them feeling literally lost. The ability to use the visual of the pyramid helps my clients to identify a specific area where their needs are not being met and create a visual game plan to assist them with going from where they are to where they want to be.
Why is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs important to pageantry? Whether your goal is to win, use your title to change the world, or if you’ve been tirelessly competing and frustrated that you haven’t won; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help you identify where you’re stuck, what your barriers are, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and create a game plan to ascend to the next level.
The bottom level of the pyramid lies our very basic human physiological needs: food, water, sleep, rest, etc. This level provides a sense of homeostasis, our physical bodies feel healthy and in balance. This is also where fundamental self-care begins, where mental health disorders leave us paralyzed, and what leads many parents and caretakers feeling burnt out. When you prioritize the needs of others before your own, you will be left feeling depleted. If you feel stuck here, consider what it is you’re lacking and how you can provide that nourishment to yourself. As cliche as it sounds, this level suggests, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. When you’re living your life in service to others, it is vital to your success (self-actualization), to take care of yourself first.
The next level is safety, this incorporates physical and environmental safety, but also emotional safety. When your physiological needs are met, only then can you ensure that your safety needs are being met. Safety according to the Hierarchy of Needs can range from having job security, adequate housing and food supply, freedom from emotional, physical, or psychological abuse, and an environment that prioritizes equity and inclusion. If you don’t feel safe in your body, relationships, home, workplace, or any other psychosocial element, it will be impossible for you to feel grounded (opposite of fight/flight), feel safe forming interpersonal connections, and or have a sense of belonging in the world.
Pageantry promotes a sense of community belonging, level three, love and belonging, for many who compete is provided here. However, for those who feel stuck in level two, pageantry can feel like a giant case of imposter syndrome; “Do I even belong here?”, “what will other people think of me?”, or “I feel that I need to win in order to be accepted.” Along with love of family, friends, and peers; level three of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs requires that the individual seeks to gain a sense of belonging in other ways outside of external sources. Routed in acceptance, this is where the struggle of codependency (relying on others to meet your emotional needs) can prevent one from moving forward. Here acceptance of others isn’t necessarily the primary goal. While it is important to have a shared experience with a community, it’s hard to truly feel belonging without a sense of authenticity and self-acceptance. Those who find themselves stuck here, even while surrounded by loving family and friends, often lack love for themselves, carry deep rooted shame around who they authentically are; and as a result, create masks to present themselves in a way they think will lead to acceptance. The caveat is, that mind-trickery rarely actually leads to anyone feeling fulfilled or happy. Authenticity, self-love, and feeling safe in your own individuality is key to being able to move forward from level three and reach esteem.
It’s exciting to reach level four, you can see the finish line, self-actualization is in your grasp! However, many people never actually reach this level due to the radical honesty required to have a true sense of self, acceptance, and belonging. Self-esteem isn’t the absence of worthiness, we are all wildly worthy of reaching our dreams, worthiness is a basic human right. This level forces us to stop self-sabotaging out of fear or out of the desire to maintain perceived acceptance. This can be an excruciating task, as it forces you to, yet again, get real honest with yourself about what is holding you back and holds you solely responsible to face it. If you lack love, acceptance, authenticity, and radical honesty surrounding who you are and what sets you apart from everyone else, this level will continue to be unattainable, resulting in what we know as low self-esteem.
So you’ve reached the top, level five, self-actualization, but what does that actually mean? Self-actualization is radical acceptance, “I am flawed and still worthy of love, acceptance, and meeting every single goal I have set for myself, without any question”. Self-actualization is not actually completing your goal, it’s recognizing that you are capable of it, it allows you the flexibility to be creative and pivot when your vision doesn’t go as planned. The ability to be adaptable is not only an important element for survival, but also leadership, success, compassion, perspective, reaching your goals, and maintaining it. Without fueling yourself adequately, feeling safe physically and emotionally, having a sense of connection to the world and yourself, or believing in your highest potential, you will never actually set yourself up to obtain it.
So, say you’ve checked off all of the levels, you’re at the top of the pyramid and have set yourself up for success, what’s next? Transcendence is having everything you need to go out into the world, with authenticity, belief in your abilities, and self-acceptance to create your own sense of purpose and meaning in this world. When we talk about our “why”, and what motivates us to create change in the world, this is transcendence. It requires you to dig deep, lean into emotional suffering, challenge yourself, and dismiss the opinions of others. Reaching transcendence is winning the title, taking action, and making your mark in this world. I hope you all believe you are capable of reaching it, and if you feel that you are not, I hope you’ll lean into the honesty it takes to radically accept yourself and stay curious about where you’re stuck and how you can propel yourself forward.