Or… Lessons Learned in the Midst of Competition, by a Beauty Queen Has Been.
Once upon a time, when I was a teenager and needed approval, I entered the world of beauty pageants. Now, I know what you’re thinking…
This is 2016, and women can enter a beauty pageant without having issues. We are strong, we are invincible…
I know. Helen Reddy would be proud. But this is my story. And I had issues. Like, so many that the local library couldn’t hold them all, even on microfiche.
What? It was the 80s.
Anyway, the first pageant I entered was one called Modern Miss America. It was primarily a scholarship pageant that placed ZERO weight on looks and, erm, weight. The entire premise was one of solidarity among the contestants and finding your inner-beauty. Plus you had to have a really cool scrapbook.
I did not have a really cool scrapbook. Mine was one I’d put together for the pageant, all my “random” photos and carefully chosen newspaper cut-outs placed just so to highlight how superficial-uh-awesome I was.
After weeks of eating mostly mangoes and oatmeal and working out with my fabulous dance coach six hours a day, I arrived at the pageant and looked around at my competition.
Easy peasy. I’d have this thing wrapped up and be on to the national competition, no problem.
Except, I got to know the girls.
Some were singers, a few played instruments, and one or two danced…kind of. One girl was on her high school’s drill team, and she thought she’d perform her part of their routine. I don’t know if you know anything about drill teams, but individual parts aren’t all that enthralling. It’s mostly…jazz hands, count to 8, and move them five inches for another count of 8. And so on. And so forth…until your arms fall off or your smile really does freeze your face like that.
I couldn’t let her go out in front of God and Country like that. I worked with her, filling in the extra 8 counts where I could. A few other dancers noticed us working and asked if they could learn, too. Why not? I had my routine down and knew I was so going to win.
(Except we weren’t this cool ^^^.)
The night of the pageant, we all sang, danced, and cheesed as best we could. Spoiler alert: I did not win. But I did get second runner up.
And Miss Congeniality.
All the girls got together and voted me most helpful and friendly out of everyone there. Turns out, when you forget about placing first and concentrate on bettering yourself and others, people notice. And like you better for it.
And I got this really weird plastic version of myself as a paper doll. So who’s the real winner here?
Fast forward a year or so, and I enter the Big Leagues. Well, the entry level version of the big leagues.
Miss Teen USA. (Actually, it was the county regionals that led to the state competition which led to the USA thing, but hey.) I had fresh highlights and nude heels. I was ready.
The night before the pageant, all the girls were packed into the Best Western Ball Room, practicing how to step and smile in unison when the head honcho with bleached roots and blanched vocal chords pulled me aside. She told me that I was slated to win, and did I really want to go through with “the whole pageant thing?”
What did she mean, “Did I want the whole pageant thing?” What about the girls in the other room that thought they had a chance? Who was I to decide something like that, at 16? Of course I said I wanted the contest.
But it wasn’t really a contest. Short of my walking on stage in a clown suit and thumbing my…nose at the judges, I was going to win. And everyone knew it. I pretended not to, because no one likes a rigged game.
Fast forward to the Miss California Teen USA pageant. I’d undergone a fitness regime and the wrath of a personal stylist with an overheated blow dryer. Plus I upgraded the nude heels to a slightly taller pair that was a lighter shade of ivory. I was ready. Again.
That scene in Miss Congeniality where all the contestants ride on the bus and sing ridiculous songs? ALL TRUE.
When we were herded off the bus, we landed in the presence of a tanned teen with long blonde curls and all the attention of the pageant officials. Instantly, every one of us knew she was going to win. It had already been decided.
Sure, we went through the motions of interviews, swimsuit competitions, evening gowns. And with every day, I grew less and less interested in dragging myself through four pounds of makeup and three ounces of clothing to hurry up and wait for something that belonged to another girl.
On the day of the televised pageant, I didn’t even shave my legs. Yes. I went on television in a swimsuit with stubby-haired legs. I knew it wouldn’t matter. I was over it.
If you can see past the hair, note the ivory heels. Sharp. Amirite?
On the way home, all I could think about was what a waste of time the whole shingdig was. I mean, what kind of organization spends that amount of money of something that has a fixed outcome? Why bother?
I was ready to throw in the lip liner and the Aqua Net.
And then I got a call from the local Special Olympics chapter. They needed an ambassador to host the local television coverage and would me and my crown like to do it?
I gotta tell you. When I walked on to the field and was greeted with hugs and “Hi, Queenie!” and hand holding, I was sold. The next year when I went back as a volunteer sans title, the athletes remembered and greeted me with the same hugs and the same “Hi, Queenie!”
Didn’t even matter that I no longer had the crown. I was still a sparkly princess in their eyes.
And that’s it. That’s what matters.
Not the crown or the sash or even the ivory heels that may as well have been the proverbial tower. I didn’t win the big crown either time, but I won the respect of people that mattered. And I mattered to them because of what I brought to the table.
No amount of lip liner can cause that kind of victory.
In some way, we’re all competing for something. Maybe it’s a promotion or an agent or even some sort of writing contest. Do this sparkly princess a favor and take a look at what you’ve already won when you’re taking stock of what there is to lose.
Because that’s it. That’s what matters.
So here’s a picture of burnt out me after the state pageant with my mom and grandma. I know. We’re all twins. It’s the shoulder pads.