Monday morning my Facebook feed was full of snarky commentary from the previous night’s Miss America Pageant. I had hosted a game night, so I spent the evening with rollicking laughter instead of smiles made possible by Vaseline.
I used to play bass for “Smiles Made Possible By Vaseline.”
Judging from the commentary of the friends who watched it, it’s more a contest of what-embarrasing-thing-will-she-say-next or how-poor-is-her-grasp-on-that-which-encompasses-talent rather than a “scholarship contest.” Honestly, why are people still doing these things?
As someone who went through an undergraduate degree primarily on scholarships (and I mean LOTS of teeny tiny $500-$1500 scholarships that I wrote many, many essays, and for which I followed up with many, many handwritten thank you notes) I call bull-[expletive deleted] on the whole “scholarship” pageant thing.
And here’s why:
I once participated in a pageant.
That’s right, dear readers.
I ONCE PARTICIPATED IN A PAGEANT.
At one point, I suffered from crippling audition anxiety. It was something that seemed like it would be an impediment to my career if I didn’t get it under control (and it would be). My hairdresser at the time, a man who wore more rings than me and who collected vintage Barbie dolls, suggested that I do a pageant to bolster my self-confidence and face the fears of being in front of a crowd.
If you can walk in front of people who are judging you in a bathing suit, you can certainly do something you are good at, like singing, in front of people.
Fair enough. Also, I have a pretty twisted sense of humor, so this seemed like an opportunity for my kind of snark. And it was in Texas, where the only thing bigger than beauty pageants is the hair for beauty pageants. It would be a comic gold mine!
He recommended that I not do the Miss America circuit, which relies on [dubious] talent, but rather, the Miss USA circuit, for which no talent whatsoever is required. In fact, it might be a detriment to your success.
So I signed up for the Miss Heart of Texas pageant. And then hustled to local businesses to support the FIVE HUNDRED DOLLAR ENTRY FEE.
So already, $500. But if I were to win, it would make that money well spent, right? (I’m convinced that this is how compulsive gamblers and young artist opera singers and minor league baseball players justify their life choices).
I prepared for the pageant like one would expect: gathering crap I already had rather than spending lots of extra money on wardrobe and hair spray and butt glue and chicken cutlets. I also limited myself to only half a pack of Oreos the night before.
And then: the wardrobe. During the day, we would do interviews (a mother of the bride suit would be most appropriate, especially if it is really tight. Bonus points for pale baby-[expletive deleted] green or hot pink. I wore the only suit I had—my navy blue Nancy Reagan suit that says I Mean Business.
We would also do a preliminary bathing suit judging, in glaring sun, in Texas heat at
the gaping entrance to Milton’s version of hell the end of spring. I wore SPF 70 and a bathing suit I’d had for 3 years.
The pageant would open with a fashion-show-esque display of the
goods young women who do in fact possess souls. I wore an old recital gown.
Then we would put on a second bathing suit, and parade in heels for some odd reason.
Then we put on another gown (here I used yet another old recital gown) and line up and hope that a shiny piece of metal and rhinestones would weigh heavily on our own heads and not that of our neighbor. And bring on the Miss Texas pageant, and then, USA, and then, the world.
You may be wondering what the people who were in it were like. Were they like the loveable characters on Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock? Did they all want world peace?
The answer here is a resounding NO.
There was the girl who was blatantly rude to everyone. There was the girl whose mother took her salad away and said, “that’s enough!” and who was failing out of community college because of her mother forced her to be in pageants all over the state and she’d missed so much class she had no hope of actually getting a degree. There was the girl who worked as a receptionist in a dentist’s office and had the personality of a potato. There was the girl who was doing everything for this pageant on her own at a budget as minimal as mine, but was fiercely determined to be Miss Something-or-Other before she aged out of it. There was the girl whose mother was baffled as to why she would want to do this thing, and who thanked me for being a decent role model for her daughter. There was the girl who offered to spray everyone’s bathing suits with butt glue so they’d stay put (and by butt glue, what she meant was spray adhesive from Hobby Lobby. I got a rash, ruined a bathing suit, and a recital gown from that crap being on my skin).
And they wanted the spotlight. And a check. And they were willing to spend hundreds, and in some cases, thousands on wardrobe, hair spray, and “pageant coaching” (yes, that is a thing) to accomplish that.
And then there was me. Those who know me well know that my sarcasm is rarely thinly disguised, and that I fit in well with the New York City-quick-wit-scathing-commentary crowd.
Here, in Pageant Land, my sarcasm was confused for “being genuine” and kindness. Maybe I was kind. I’m not really sure. I do try to treat others like a decent human being should, but then there’s that mouth of mine. This was not a problem for the other girls, who voted me Miss Congeniality.
That’s right, folks. I WAS VOTED THE NICEST GIRL AT THE PAGEANT.
What does that say about pageants?
More than my feedback from the judges, which included “needs to work on swimsuit figure” when I clocked in at 102 pounds.
Here’s a picture of me, seven years later, in a bathing suit, ten pounds heavier, to give you an idea of how [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] that comment is.
They also said that my interview comments were very interesting and well informed, but that it “was just too academic for a pageant.”
The next year, when I did my Fulbright interview (which I also lost after being a finalist, surely to the aforementioned swimsuit figure issue), I’m pretty sure I didn’t make myself sound too intelligent for the crowd.
To those who try to justify pageants, can you feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head at your mere thought? They basically called me fat. And too smart.
Isn’t there some other way that women can demonstrate that they are physically fit (ie, like the first girl who won American Ninja Warrior, or that ballerina in the Under Armour commercial) other than parading around in a bathing suit and heels? Isn’t there a better way to empower women to fight for what they believe than a 20 second answer to a question on topical subjects?
Did it solve my audition anxiety? No. That was solved by a steady growth and comfort in my vocal technique thanks to wonderful voice teachers and coaches. Did it make me feel more confident in myself? See the preceding comments about what a fatty I was in a bathing suit. I became more confident in my body once I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training, and not because it made me super fit, but for the strength and awareness it gave me.
I’d like to host my own pageant, complete with a physical challenge (like one of those 5Ks where people dressed as zombies chase you), talent portion that does not include flaming batons, and an interview moderated by Chris Matthews. Where you are judged by your ability to lean in rather than to look like a plastic figurine, and where you are expected to get dirty and hold your own and show strength and be a real [expletive deleted] woman.
Now that I’d watch.