WILTON, Maine — Pageantry has been a big part of 19-year-old Valerianne Hinkley's life. In 2017, she took part in her first pageant as a freshman in high school to raise awareness about bullying. From there, her passion for the hobby has spread and resulted in new missions.
Hinkley is the founder of "Be Bold Stand Up to Bullying," a website where she blogs about her experience as a victim and shares the newest projects she is undertaking. The latest is the "Bee You Dress Borrow" project, designed to help more girls and women compete in pageants without the cost of clothing as a barrier.
"My very first pageant, there were girls that would be traveling to Florida for week-long coaching sessions," Hinkley said, noting a lot of them had custom gowns that cost a few thousand dollars each. She, on the other hand, was using dresses she could find at thrift stores and even on eBay — anything that wouldn't break the bank. Now, she wants to provide that opportunity to other people.
"One of my biggest things is I think everyone deserves to feel like a princess at one point in their lives," Hinkley said.
So far, Hinkley has collected more than 240 outfits, 45 pairs of shoes, and 40 accessories. She said many of the items have come from fellow pageant contestants from as far as California and Florida. She has also donated some of her old gowns.
A couple of weekends ago, Hinkley hosted her first "Bee You Dress Borrow" event, with a few girls and women, young and old, coming out to pick up items of all sizes. The event was purposefully scheduled in advance of the Miss Holiday Angel Pageant, which will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday at Le Club Calumet in Augusta.
"It's super important to have a program like [Valerie's] so everyone can come out and do this because pageantry is all about inclusivity and having everyone come together," Abigail Peabody, the director of the Miss Holiday Angel Pageant, said.
Rebecca Fournier of Farmington is one woman who is borrowing from Hinkley and will be taking part in the pageant with some of her daughters.
"I had always wanted to let my oldest daughter do it when she was younger, but being a single parent, I couldn't afford it," Peabody said, later adding, "It's a struggle when you have to tell your child, 'No,' and they hear other kids in their class or in the community doing it."
Fournier said she's excited, especially after choosing her and her daughters' clothing at Hinkley's event.
"[It was] almost like you’re in heaven, you know? It just was a really warm, amazing feeling," she said.
Darlene Peters and Tiffany Estabrook of Chesterville know Hinkley personally and are also participating in Saturday's pageant to support her mission.
"I've supported Val and seen Val throughout most of her pageants, and she asked if I'd be willing to do a pageant for charity," Estabrook said, also noting, "It's very surreal watching Val grow in her journey."
"I went through the different dresses, and she brought some over," Peters said. "[We] picked them off of colors that would match my eyes."
Estabrook said she bought shoes to wear Saturday and will be donating them to Hinkley's cause after the pageant. This is the fourth Miss Holiday Angel Pageant, and all proceeds (money and goods) go to the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers. To date, the pageant has raised more than 3,500 items and more than $1,900 for the home.
"It's not about what you wear," Hinkley said about pageants. "It's not about how much money you put into it. It's about who you are and what you believe in."
If you want to give to Hinkley's mission or are looking to borrow, you can reach out to her directly through her website.