A certain stigma can befall any teen girl or woman wishing to compete in pageant competitions.

With social media being used to bully and put down people over everything nowadays, it can be taxing to the psyche of anyone, especially young women.

But Aspyn Keck and Alexis Ontiberos want to change all that.

Recently, the two Dodge City teens placed in the top 13 at the Miss Kansas Teen USA pageant held in Mulvane from Nov. 25-26.

The pageant marked the second time Keck, 17, competed while for Ontiberos, 18, it was her first since 2011.

"I had competed in pageants from 2007-11," Ontiberos said Tuesday. "When I was little I had received a competition request in the mail and thought it was so cool so I competed.

"It was a different pageant class but I competed until 2011 and had gone to California for one competition that I won World in.

"But I wanted to take a break to focus on other things in my life so I hadn't competed since 2011."

Keck got into the pageant circuits through a friend which started with her love of dance.

"I like to dance and be in front of people so last year I thought I would give it a try," Keck said. "That year (2016), I placed in top 13 and I told myself I wanted to do better, so I competed again this year."

During this years competition, Ontiberos also was named Miss Photogenic while Keck was named Miss Congeniality.

Talking of receiving the title, Ontiberos said, "I was shocked. There were so many girls and so many pretty girls that I couldn't believe I was given that title."

On Miss Congeniality, Keck said, "I was shocked, it was really, really cool and it was from all of the girls in the competition that gave me that honor so it was really cool."

Both Ontiberos and Keck said that close to 30 teens were in the competition.

Among those they said were one teen from Liberal four to five others from southwest Kansas.

One thing Keck and Onitberos agreed on was what the pageant brings to those who compete not just in terms of beauty but what it can do for oneself both emotionally and for their future.

"It gives you self-confidence," Keck said. "It shows you who you really are when you get in front of people and compete.

"I get to be myself."

Ontiberos added, "We get to stay true to ourselves and not turn into like Toddlers and Tiaras. For some people it can get that way but we don't let it.

"We are not fake."

"There are times when we've been talked down to and social media is a hard place," Keck said. "People should witness the pageants and be a part of it.

"When we have to do talks and interviews for the competition, it taught me to use that in life. I love talking to people and when interviews for jobs and colleges come up I am ready for them."

Another perk the teens added about the pageant is the scholarship money they can receive.

For signing up to compete alone, the teens received a $1,000 scholarship.

"We also have to raise money," Ontiberos said. "We each have to raise $1,000 so being part of the competition, when you have to interact with people and talk with them, we are getting that experience going forward as well."

Keck will be competing next in the Miss Dodge City pageant on Jan. 6, 2018.

"I am going to be competing on a platform of, every child has a story," Keck said. "And every child needs to be themselves and overcome any struggles at home or at school and fight your battles because we all have them."

Ontiberos said she will compete next in the 2018 Miss Kansas Teen USA pageant.

"I wanted to compete in Miss Dodge City but if you win Miss Dodge City then you can't compete in the Teen USA," Ontiberos said. "But I will probably compete in next years Miss Dodge City because I won't be able to compete in Miss Kansas Teen USA because I will be too old for the guidelines."

More advice Keck and Ontiberos want to give to others is, "No one has a perfect life," Ontiberos said. "Sometimes when you're on social media with the Photoshopping and altering appearances, it can set a bad example for girls seeing it.

"Everyone needs to be confident in their own skin."

Keck adds when asked how to fight back against negativity on social media, "Just put your phone down. We are all attached to our phones, myself included, but when it gets bad just put your phone down and walk away."

Vanbros and Associates produce the Miss Kansas Teen USA pageant out of Overland Park.

Visit www.vanbros.com and click the Kansas division for more information about the pageant.

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com