This year’s Miss Grays Harbor is in for some tough competition at the Miss Washington pageant — from her little sister.
Lauren and Paige Kuhn are both competing for the crown, Lauren as Miss Grays Harbor and Paige as Miss Apple Valley. A third Harborite, Lacey Goble, will compete as Miss East Cascades. The pageant will begin June 30 and run through July 7.
The sisters never thought they’d participate in the same pageant. Lauren is four years older, and prior to this year, the young women competed in different age brackets. Younger sister Paige said the reality that she’ll be competing against her mentor hasn’t really sunk in.
“It hasn’t really hit me that we’re competing against each other,” Paige said. “It feels like we’re just individually getting ready to compete in pageants. It probably won’t hit me at all until the night of when we’re standing backstage.”
But the Kuhns are quickly realizing that twice the competitors means twice the preparation — twice the number of dresses to be altered, double the cans of hairspray — and the family has a severe shortage of garment bags.
“You start to realize that there are a lot of things that you only have one of,” Lauren said. “But when you’re doing it at the same time, you need two of everything.”
The journey to Miss Washington
It was Lauren who first brought the family into the pageant world. As a 15-year-old sophomore in high school, she decided to compete in the Miss Grays Harbor Outstanding Teen pageant. It was the first year a crown was offered to the younger age group. Lauren placed second in the competition and continued to compete in pageants.
In 2011, Lauren competed in Miss Seattle and won. That year, she faced former Miss Grays Harbor Lacey Goble in the Miss Washington competition. Lauren returned to the Miss Washington competition in 2012 as Miss Tahoma.
She won her Miss Grays Harbor crown in February.
Paige started doing pageants as a high school freshman at the urging of her older sister. She competed for three years in the Miss Grays Harbor Outstanding Teen pageant, and made the leap to the “Miss” division last summer when she competed in the Miss Apple Valley pageant in Yakima.
The Miss Apple Valley pageant was an open competition, meaning any young woman in Washington between the ages of 17 and 24 was eligible.
“I thought, you know, it might be fun,” Paige said. “I had just aged out of the teen, and I decided to see what the Miss competitions were all about. I did not expect to win because I was only 17, and all the other girls were 21, 22, 23. I was the baby.”
She won the pageant — surprising herself, her parents and her older sister.
“I didn’t even get to go watch because I was studying abroad,” Lauren said. “I heard about it on the phone when I was in the middle of the woods in Africa.”
A family affair
The sisters said their parents, Tim and Dawn Kuhn of Aberdeen, are both very supportive of their pageant ventures. The young women have no other siblings, so their father is often stuck doing “girly” stuff.
“My poor dad — he has to deal with dresses and foo-foo things like hairspray and makeup,” Lauren said.
“But he’s a good sport, he goes along with it,” Paige said. “He knows we’re good at it and we enjoy it, so he’s supportive.”
Dawn Kuhn helps her daughters keep pageant costs down, finding them swimsuits, dresses and outfits on eBay — Paige calls her an “eBay mastermind.”
“No one knows if your stuff is used,” Lauren said. “If someone wore it five times it’s not going to look bad, but you’ll get it for a quarter of the price.”
The Kuhns also shop at Tacoma Discount World, buying pageant gowns at a fraction of the normal price. Paige said she bought her $600 Miss Apple Valley dress for only $100.
Funding their education
Lauren and Paige said the biggest benefit of competing in pageants is earning money and experience to further their educations.
Lauren said she’s won about $18,000 from pageants so far, which she spent on her education at Gonzaga University. She recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and will attend the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in the fall.
“It is outrageously expensive,” Lauren said. “Compared to other dental schools it’s cheap. Out of the five schools I was accepted to, it’s the second cheapest. It’s about $90,000 a year, including housing. So now my Miss Grays Harbor money will go to that.”
Paige recently graduated from Aberdeen High School and will attend Eastern Washington University in September. She plans to study education in the hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher.
But the sisters said the biggest benefit of doing pageants is getting interview and public speaking experience. Lauren attributes her success in being accepted to Harvard to her pageant practice.
“When it came to apply for dental school, I interviewed for five schools and I got accepted to all of them,” Lauren said. “If I hadn’t been doing this program and getting all this interview help, I can almost guarantee that wouldn’t have happened.”
Paige said competing in pageants helped her gain confidence and come out of her shell.
“When I did my first pageant I would hardly talk to anyone I didn’t know,” Paige said. “But right after I competed I became more bubbly and more outgoing. Before, I hardly would have been able to get up in front of class and do a presentation, but a couple weeks ago I was able to speak at graduation.”
“The skills you learn from this organization, you can’t put a price on them.”