A fellow blogger paid me the lovely compliment yesterday of supposing that I’m constitutionally incapable of being “boring.” I’d like to imagine that’s so—I certainly haven’t led a monotonous life, and some of the exploits I’ve undertaken puzzle even me, in retrospect… An episode that definitely falls into that category would be my one-and-only stunt as a Pageant participant.
I should lay the groundwork on this one by saying that “Beauty Pageant” is way way WAY off my radar as an admirable or interesting thing to do. That’s my opinion now, and it was twenty years ago as well—at least, until a comment from my mother… I actually have no recollection, now, of exactly what she might have said—in fact, I have no memory of the conversation at all. The only “memory” that lingers with me is the impression that she’d hinted (or possibly said) that I wasn’t a pageant-kinda-girl.
So? If she did in fact make such an observation, it was an undeniably accurate assessment of my personality. And yet… I was a teenager, she was The Mother, and I had this primal urge to prove her wrong about stuff. (With very little success, I have to add.) So guess who jumped feet-first into the Miss Idaho pageant.
Well, actually, that was the year they were trying to re-brand it as a “Scholarship Program,” so it was going by the unwieldy name of “Idaho’s Young Woman of the Year.” A year or so later they gave up on that and went back to plain old “Miss Idaho.” My aim in entering wasn’t to WIN, by any stretch of the imagination—I acknowledged my limitations in this arena. I was the geeky class-president type with a boyishly short haircut, a penchant for ripped jeans and grubby Keds, and no performance talent whatsoever. (Somehow I didn’t consider Writing a “performance art,” though I’ve since had the pleasure of experiencing a plethora of poetry-slams and wonderfully dynamic author-readings of poetry and literature–so now I know better. Oh well, too late.)
I didn’t plan to win, only to prove I could do it—enter and see it through. Maybe scoop the “Academic” section of the awards. And since I wasn’t worried about the win, I was (according to my fellow contestants in the first-round home-town competition) rather shockingly carefree in my interactions with the judges. We all met the judges for a lunch at a local pizza joint, and while the other young ladies were attempting (probably for the first time ever) to approach their pizza daintily with knives and forks, I picked mine up in hand as I always have… And did the crossword on the back of the menu while we were at it. (Two of the judges helped with that.)
When we all had to ride in the University of Idaho Homecoming parade, the other girls wore their Homecoming dresses, and I wore my letter jacket. (I was the only one of us who didn’t freeze my way down Main Street.) When we had our portraits taken for the printed program and marketing materials, fifteen girls showed up in ball gowns, and one in a suit borrowed from her lawyer-Mother’s closet. Having gotten myself into the gig on purpose to prove I could be a “pageant kind of girl,” I perversely spent the entire experience refusing to be a Pageant Kind of Girl.
Going into the night of the pageant itself, I knew exactly who the winner would be—a beautiful cheerleader with a truly generous heart, a noteworthy musical talent, good grades, and a sweet and lovely presence about her. No-brainer; Laura Hansen was the shoo-in. So I must report… that in the front-page picture the next morning, the gaping mouth of the winner was no simpering demur; it was an honest expression of shock. I was in for more than I’d really meant to sign on for—I’d intended to see myself through the local-level competition, chalk it up as “something I’d done,” and go home. The rigors of a state-level competition (and the year-long duties as “Miss Moscow”) had not figured anywhere in my calculations.
Fast-forward six months to the Idaho pageant—this was a whole different game. Instead of a chummy atmosphere with home-town girls I’d known for years, this was a group of driven and focused young women armed with suitcases of hair products and cosmetics, some of them with “coaches” in tow, who had been training for this competition. My own preparation had consisted entirely of walking around in my gym-clothes with my new high heels until I could traverse the stage with something resembling a graceful stride, and composing the little ditty about some of my interests & experiences, which (along with a selection of different hats to go with each verse) served as my “talent.” Oh, and I had bought a new formal dress, having been sternly told that I wouldn’t be permitted a second time to flout the parameters of “formal dress” with my flirty little knee-length number.
The other contestants didn’t take me any more seriously than I took myself, which is just as well. I was so out of my element it wasn’t even funny. Which actually made the whole thing pretty funny—I guess my sense of humor is as perverse as I am. I’ll skip the gory details and jump right to the ultimate yuck-ness of the Pageant night.
The most dreadful portion of the Pageant itself was the “Presence & Composure” element, when we donned our dresses and swanned around the stage in a choreographed number in which we all held sparkly wands trailing silver ribbons. Please, someone, shoot me now. I pretty much thought it couldn’t get more humiliating than this insipid display—until the moment, midway through the choreography, when my new dress slid right off my shoulder while I was front-and-center stage. Okay, “partially topless” just upped the humiliation factor. I had my hands full of wands, so I kept smiling and swooping until I was at the rear of the stage and could adjust my garb less obtrusively. I don’t know about my “Presence,” but I will say for myself that I kept my Composure.
Once backstage, I suffered the glee-disguised-as-sympathy from the other girls, and discovered that everyone knows you’re supposed to tack your gown in place with Carpet Tape. Duh. Now I know that too—but I expect not to need that bit of information in the future. Who knows, though… I do have a stubborn, feisty, perverse—and beautiful—little critter of a daughter… If she insists on an experience like this one, I’ll at least arm her with carpet tape.
Although… I’ll confess to a tiny, devilish bit of satisfaction in remembering the dismay of some of those too-serious Pageant Girls when The-Girl-Whose-Dress-Fell-Off walked away with the Runner-Up Miss Idaho scholarship. I wouldn’t have traded that for carpet tape after all.