The kids' pageant that celebrates true beauty

Growing up on a pig farm in rural America, Abbey Curran watched the local beauty queens parade across the stage at the town fair and dreamed of one day joining them.

"They were so beautiful," she recalls.

Years later, in high school, she saw a flyer calling for students to enter the contest and was convinced her chance had finally come. But a teacher told her: "Oh, Abbey. Be realistic. You can't do that."

Why? Because Abbey had cerebral palsy. The condition meant she'd worn leg braces until she was 10 and still walked with a pronounced limp.

Abbey ignored the teacher – "It took someone to doubt me to really motivate me to take the next step," she says – and entered. She lost the pageant – four years running – but wasn't deterred.

By 2008 she'd been crowned Miss Iowa USA, going on to become the first woman with a disability to compete in the Miss USA pageant.

At the time, she said: "I hope America doesn't see a girl who walks differently. I hope they see someone who can compete like anyone else."

While Abbey didn't win Miss USA, the experience inspired her to devote herself to holding yearly Miss You Can Do It pageants, for disabled girls in her local state of Illinois.

Now in its 10th year, the pageant has become the subject of a documentary, Miss You Can Do It, which aired in the United States last week.

"The first year was really difficult," Abbey admits. "It was so hard to get contestants to enter. I put it together fast. I had little time to work with. Each year, it seems to have gotten bigger and bigger. Now we actually take 50 contestants with a waiting list. So we are super excited about that."


No contestant walks away empty-handed. Every girl gets a Build-a-Bear, a sash, a crown, and a makeup gift bag.

Competitors have disabilities that range from spina bifida to Down syndrome. The looks of joy on their faces as they compete are heart-melting.

“I was brought up my entire life taught you don’t look, you don’t stare, you don’t ask, you sort of pretend they’re not there,” director Ron Davis told The Daily Beast. “This pageant blows every preconceived notion out of the water about what a pageant could and should be about. This one is about empowering these little girls, about celebrating what is right about them; it’s about celebrating their beauty on the inside.”

One of the contestants in this year's pageant, Teyanna, wrote an essay about the experience saying: “The meaning of disabled is not having any power. But I have the power to do anything I am willing to try. That makes me able.”

Watch the trailer for the documentary below:

Summer Documentary Series 2013: Miss You Can Do It by HBO

Read how watching the documentary moved a mum with a special needs' child to tears in the blog post: "Grieving the son I thought I'd have & celebrating the one I've been given"