Her first words after receiving the crown were, “I don’t think everyone understands how important Miss MSU is.”
The crowd collectively groaned.
I was in that crowd back in 1991.
We were witnesses to an annual Southern tradition that takes place in nearly every town, university and agricultural festival, and by God, it IS important.
I’m talking about beauty pageants and how these scholarship competitions help identify the best and the brightest of what womanhood has to offer.
Nothing identifies the best and brightest better than a parade of young women strutting the stage in swimsuits and stilettos and a 45-minute talent showcase featuring young women twirling batons, singing show tunes, twirling fire batons or dancing to show tunes.
I should know because I was one of those young women.
Just three years earlier in 1988, I did my first pageant as an 18-year-old college freshman.
How I got sucked in
I volunteered because everyone else in my sorority had healthy self-esteem.
Whoever said pageants build self-esteem needs to have a stiletto crammed into their nether regions. Nothing destroys self-esteem faster than strangers critiquing you from head to toe and mercilessly noting your shortcomings with a score sheet – too heavy, too thin, too short, too tall, unflattering dress, tripped on stage, boring talent or not pretty enough.
Why would any woman willingly subject herself to this? For me, it was the hope of winning $250 to $2,500 in scholarship money because I had no idea how I was going to pay for my dorm room the next semester.
For others, it was the hope of strangers deciding you get a crown because you are the prettiest, smartest and most talented girl on this stage. They had been trying to collect those crowns since they competed in their first Little Miss Narcissus County and wouldn’t stop until they were Miss Tennessee or Miss America.
Duct tape, spray adhesive and AquaNet
So I did it, without the coaching and without the money.
I spent $20 on an off-the-rack swimsuit. The sympathetic pageant fashion coordinator took pity on me and glammed-up an old prom dress I could wear for the evening gown competition. I wrote and performed a monologue because I couldn’t sing, dance or twirl batons, even if they weren’t on fire. While other girls had professional stylists or veteran stage moms coiffing them backstage, my best friend and I did our best with hot rollers and AquaNet.
There were four official circles of Hell in that pageant– the judges’ interview, the talent competition, swimsuit competition (later changed to “fitness – in a swimsuit”), and evening gown competition.
A fifth circle of Hell, the cheesy opening dance number, was required for all contestants because, as our choreographer, Satan, cheerfully explained, “This is the first chance the crowd gets to see those beautiful faces, so smile, smile, smile!”
A panel of judges scored us based on how we did in every circle of Hell, except the opening number, which was a blessing for girls like me who weren’t majoring in interpretive dance.
In retrospect, I think I did well with the judges’ interview because one contestant emerged from her interview and optimistically proclaimed, “I am so glad I’ve been reading newspapers. They asked me what I thought about the Iran Contra hearings, and I told them we shouldn’t be sending birth control to the Middle East.”
I was scarred by the swimsuit competition, emotionally and physically. Prior to the pageant, I did some covert intelligence gathering and learned other contestants used a spray adhesive on their rear ends to prevent their swimsuit from riding up when they walked across the stage. Pure genius! I sprayed my butt and was thrilled to learn the adhesive really worked. There was just one small problem; some of the adhesive managed to get onto the front part of my body as well. I injured some tender parts that night. I imagine the pain was much worse for the girls who duct-taped their boobs so they’d look fuller under their swimsuit and evening gown.
It may be a psychological defense mechanism, but I don’t recall much else from that evening. I must have done a few things right because the judges selected me as an alternate, even though I could barely walk in high heels and failed to use flammable materials in my act.
Just for the record, the gal who won the pageant that year twirled fire batons.
So did one of the alternates.
Ditto for the gal who said, “I don’t think everyone understands how important Miss MSU is.