Lisa Kuiper is most comfortable in her role as wife, mother and accountant for Ben R Edelen and Sons.
But on Saturday, sheâ€™ll assume a role to which sheâ€™s still getting accustomed â€“ that of pageant contest.
Kuiper, the current Mrs. Plus Louisville, will head to the Hampton Inn in Winchester, Ky. to seek the title of Mrs. Plus Kentucky. The nearly three-year-old competition is a preliminary for the 2012 Miss Plus America Pageant, which is June 27-30 in Memphis, Tenn. The contestants compete in a variety of groups based on age and marital status, but all must wear a size 14W and up.
In only Kuiperâ€™s second pageant (she competed in her first at age 5), sheâ€™s had to enlist the help of her pageant director to prepare for the contest. But, her greatest asset may be someone much younger than Kuiper â€“ her six-year-old daughter, Dakota, whoâ€™s an experienced pageant queen.
â€œMy daughter competes in pageants,â€ Kuiper explained. â€œI get to experience what she does. â€¦ Iâ€™ve learned â€˜pretty feet,â€™ which is the way to stand and Iâ€™ve learned how to answer questions on stage and give a beginning, a middle and an end. â€¦ I think if I didnâ€™t have (my daughter) in it, Iâ€™d be completely lost, so I think that gives me a little bit of advantage.â€
Having Richard, her husband of nearly 13 years, around for support has also been key to keeping Kuiper calm and collected before facing the nerve-racking critique of the judges.
â€œMy husbandâ€™s proud of me,â€ Kuiper said. â€œThis is so not me, and he said this is my time to shine. I worry about my husband and my daughter all the time, so this is my turn.â€
As a child, Kuiper lived far from the glamourous, pageant lifestyle. Her parents and sister were deer hunters; her father and grandfather were firemen. Kuiperâ€™s husband, too, is in the fire-fighting business as a member of the Zoneton fire department. And, it was through her husbandâ€™s profession, that the opportunity to vie for Mrs. Plus Louisville first came to fruition.
â€œI direct a pageant called Mr. and Ms. Zoneton Fire Pageant for the Crusade (for Children), and I needed judges,â€ Kuiper said. â€œI found the Ms. and the Teen Ms. Plus 2011, and they came out and judged my pageant, and so they convinced me to get into this.â€
Kuiper later found the pageant application online and submitted a headshot, resume and essay, which earned her the title of Mrs. Plus Louisville. The competition for Mrs. Plus Kentucky, however, will call for a bit more effort and pressure, as Kuiper will be placed on a stage in front of a live audience and judges.
â€œWe have an interview portion where we wear a business suit and we go in with a panel of judges, and theyâ€™ll ask us about current events and what we think is beautiful and why,â€ Kuiper said. â€œThen, when the pageant actually starts, we have an opening number, which Iâ€™m terrified of,â€ she laughed.
Following the beginning of the ceremony, Kuiper and her fellow contestants will be scored on elegant pant-wear and evening gown attire. As part of the competition, Kuiper also had to select a platform to promote. Under the label â€œCrusading for Children,â€ she will advocate special needs awareness and the WHAS Crusade for Children.
â€œIâ€™m not in it to be famous,â€ Kuiper said. â€œA lot of (contestants) say, â€˜I want to be modelsâ€™ â€¦ but thatâ€™s not what I want. Iâ€™m amazed by watching my daughter with a crown on her head and wear her sash (and) the attention she gets. â€¦ But, me working with the fire department and the Crusade, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™d rather do.â€
Win or lose next Saturday at the Mrs. Plus Kentucky pageant, Kuiper will hold her head high. Sheâ€™ll also have proven she could fulfill a role outside of her comfort zone, which she hopes will send a message of encouragement and positive self-image to those who may struggle with self-doubt.
â€œIf I can do it, anybody can do it with self-confidence,â€ Kuiper said. â€œAnd, I am really shy, but when I put the crown on and the sash on, itâ€™s like youâ€™re putting on a costume and you can be anybody you want to be, and you can still grow up and be a princess even if you donâ€™t fit the mold.â€