Beauty Pageants, Bowe Bergdahl, and Precious Memories
I have a confession to make: I am a former pageant contestant. Yes, me, the feminist bedwetting liberal lefty-left-mclefterson Editor-in-Chief of this very website, Happy Nice Time People. (Did you know we have a Twitterz? Follow us there!) And so while I find pageant snafus like the recent one with Miss Louisiana USA quite entertaining, I can’t help but feel a little bit hypocritical for mocking these gals. For you see, I once was one of them.
Oh, I was never as pretty or sexy or glamorous as Miss Louisiana USA or Miss Teen South Carolina 2007, who may sound like a stoopid but certainly looks gorgeous in this oldie-but-goodie video.
I was dorky and awkward and had unfortunate eyebrows. In fact, I looked like this.
Not exactly the hottest seventh-grader on the block, but what can you do?
Anyway, I loved doing pageants because I thought doing pageants meant I had to be at least a little bit pretty. Surely they wouldn’t let just any uggo with the $100 entrance fee compete in their beauty contest, would they? (They would.) And surely I could prove my own talent by excelling in baton twirling, right? (I couldn’t, because I didn’t.) And surely I would immediately transform into a graceful princess as soon as I stepped out on that middle-school gymnasium floor and did my patented pageant walk in my formal gown, correct? (No. No, that is so totally incorrect. In fact, I got points off for holding my fingers too stiffly at my sides.)
For an uncoordinated child with unmanageable hair and a strange predilection for reading, of all things, pageants seemed like a wonderful way to quantify one’s worth as a girl with scores and ratings from judges. I asked my parents if I could do it, and since they were excited I wanted to do anything at all other than hide in the dark with a flashlight reading a book, they said yes. I wanted validation, and I was sure pageants would provide it.
You will not be surprised to learn that I was wrong.
Wrong about talent; wrong about beauty; wrong about grace and charm — I had very little of these attributes. But I did excel in one area, and that area was the interview. I kicked ass at the interview, each and every time. In fact, I was so good at the interview portion that judges occasionally pulled my mother aside to whisper advice on how to “fix” my curly hair and thick eyebrows, because I really did have “potential” to at least place third or even second someday, if the competition wasn’t too stiff. I knew big words; I was articulate; I made eye contact with the interviewer and displayed the kind of intellectual confidence that comes from having parents who actually encourage their daughters to be more than just underage Barbie freakshows.
And yet, with all my intelligence and my good grades and my books, I wanted nothing more than to be one of those underage Barbie freakshows — to look as pretty as the top pageant girls, even if my interview score wasn’t so high. I’d gladly trade a few points on the interview for pretty blonde hair, or more coordinated baton-twirling moves, or the kind of innate grace that attracted boys (at least I assumed it was grace). I still feel that way, sometimes, in a grown-up sort of fashion.
Anyway, my pageant days are far behind me. But when I see these pageant contestants flub their interviews, I always feel a certain familiar sensation begin to tug at my heartstrings.
Is it pity? Is it empathy?
It’s the smug superiority of my inner ugly duckling seventh-grader who knows that even if she never made it out of the Miss Hunterdon County, NJ, competition in the Miss USA system, she would’ve at least known how the fuck to express a sensitive, nuanced opinion about Bowe Bergdahl — all while smiling, smiling, smiling.