Miss Indiana: Pageants helped overcome OCD

CHINLE

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Courtesy photo | Salome Klopfenstein Photography
Haley Begay, Diné/Cherokee/Bilagáana, is this year’s Miss Indiana and competed in the Miss America pageant.

If you were looking for a way to overcome obsessive-compulsive disorder, entering a beauty pageant is probably not the first thing that would come to mind.

But for the 2017-18 Miss Indiana, Haley Begay, the pageant life has been just the ticket.

OCD features a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to repetitive behaviors. Most people think of a person who can’t stop washing her hands or is obsessively tidy.

“There are a lot of different kinds of OCD,” she explained. “My OCD manifests in these repetitive stray thoughts that I don’t necessarily want running around in my head.”

By the time she was 11, Begay had tried therapy, hospitalization and medication.

“Things would work for a little while, but nothing ever did the trick,” she recalled.

Then her mother entered her in the local chapter of the National American Miss Pageant.

It was an odd choice – Begay was an overweight, awkward child.

“If you had seen me, no way would you have thought, ‘There goes the future Miss Indiana!’” she laughed.

But she loved it.

“Competing in pageants takes a lot of focus,” said Begay, now a 19-year-old student at Indiana University majoring in journalism and Spanish. “It was a complete distraction. It got me outside of my head.”

A statuesque brunette who is half Anglo, one-quarter Navajo and one-quarter Cherokee, Begay kept on competing through her teen years, and two years ago she decided to go for the Big Kahuna of pageants – Miss America.

This required her to work her way up from a local affiliate to the statewide Miss Indiana competition.

“I made it my goal to place in the top 10,” she said.

But when she found herself among the top contestants in the preliminary swimsuit, talent (she sang “Hallelujah,” the same song she sang for Miss America) and interview sections, her heart started racing.

“I was trying not to get my hopes up, because you still never know, even if you do well in the preliminaries,” she said.

But suddenly there she was among the finalists, waiting for the big announcement … and, lo and behold, the tiara was hers.

“It was crazy,” she said.

She is one of the youngest-ever Miss Indianas, and, according to officials of the Miss Indiana franchise, is the first Native American to wear the crown.

“There was been a Native Miss Indiana-USA, which is with the Miss USA circuit,” she noted, “but as far as the Miss America circuit, I think I’m the first. There aren’t that many Natives in the pageant circuit.”

On Sept. 10, she was in Atlantic City for the 71st Miss America pageant, gracing the stage with some of the nation’s most beautiful and talented young women. Only she and one other contestant were Native.

What’s it like behind the scenes at Miss America? Is it more cutthroat competition, or a sisterhood?

“I can honestly say that at every single level of this pageant, the women have been nothing but genuine and wonderful,” Begay stated. “I’m sure we’ll be at each other’s weddings.”

In fact, she remembers every one of the contestants’ names. Go ahead. Quiz her. Miss Hawaii?

“Kathryn Teruya,” she replies confidently.

Begay didn’t make it to the finals at Miss America, but she came home to a rollicking reception in her tiny hometown of Pittsboro, and she hasn’t stopped moving since. Being Miss Indiana is pretty much a full-time job.

“I had to take a semester off from school,” she said. “I just couldn’t make all the appearances and keep up with my classes.”

What’s a typical day in the life of Miss Indiana? There are no typical days.

“Sometimes, like this weekend, I’m running all over the state making appearances,” Begay said. “Other days, I get to stay home and not do much.”

And after Miss Indiana, then what?

“You can’t compete again once you’ve held the title,” Begay explained, “so I guess I’m out of the pageant scene. I’m very sad, because it’s been my life for a long time. I’ll have to find some other ways to stay busy.”

Between her double major with a minor in psychology, her domestic violence charity Domestic Dollars, and spending time with her long-suffering boyfriend, we’re pretty sure Begay won’t be bored.

And now for the question our readers are already asking: So how did a Navajo girl end up as Miss Indiana?

Begay’s father, Darryl, was raised in Talequah, Oklahoma, by his Cherokee mother after his Navajo father left the family when Darryl was two or three.

While serving in the Army, Darryl Begay received a letter from a young woman in Indiana named Susan. The two continued their correspondence, and when Darryl returned home, they were married.
Darryl was first stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, moving the family to Pittsboro when Haley was about a year old.

“It’s a very tiny town, with a lot of cornfields and one stop light,” Haley Begay said. “We don’t even have a high school.”

But they know how to support the home team. Begay says she’s been overwhelmed by the cheers, banners, Facebook posts and other expressions of support from the adoring hometown crowd.

Begay admits she doesn’t know much about her Navajo side, but she’d like to learn more.

“My aunts are organizing a naming ceremony for me,” she said, “so maybe after that I’ll feel more Navajo.”

Information: Follow Haley on Facebook at Miss Indiana Haley Begay.

To learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder, visit http://health.facty.com/conditions/10-symptoms-of-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/10/ or intrusivethoughts.org.


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Categories: People
Tags: Miss Indiana

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.