Groucho Marx once said,”Humor is reason gone mad.” John Lennon sang, “Gimme some truth.” Midway through my first and final small town pageant contest, these quotes could not have been anymore true or so impactful.
When I was fourteen it was the height of the 90’s. It was a time when Super-models graced the cover of every magazine; like Nikki Taylor, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Tyra Banks. It was before the sweet quirky women started posing for fashion magazines like Zooey Deschanel, Taylor Swift and Tina Fey. Even though some of the supermodels of my day had brains, that wasn’t obviously what they were known for.
Unfortunately I wasn’t almost six feet tall but at least the same height as Kate Moss and if you were ten pounds over the size of a coat hanger you should start to consider something else for a career. The summer just before I turned fifteen is when my mom and I walked into a local hair salon that ran a modeling agency as well. We figured this was a step in the right direction. It was a time when I could eat a plate full of pork chops and still look like a bean pole; I was in a growth spurt.
The instructor of my modeling class could have been a supermodel, however unlike Cindy Crawford, she was not the valedictorian of her high school, nor did she graduate magna cum laude from college. After having taken classes from her for a while, I realized she couldn’t pronounce my name no matter how many times she watched my lips repeat it to her. When I would get phone calls from the agency for try outs for the modeling team that would eventually get first calls when jobs came to town, my name had been mis pronounced to whoever was making the call every time; therefore everyone who called the house from the agency pronounced my name on the wrong syllable. This is a small side point, but it sets up the situation.
The following year things were going rather well, a little too well. I was taking guitar lessons and getting really good at it; I tried out for a school play which only had about six to eight acting roles and I was chosen for one…and then I made the mistake of walking into the hair salon where the modeling agency was.
The only thing I remember is walking into the agency and my former modeling coach asked me to be a part of the local pageant. It was a pageant where if you placed or were “crowned”, it would get you into the next round of the Miss Teen Missouri circuit. At first I said no, I already had too much going on. Then she convincingly begged me to sign up, I don’t know if it was her disparity, or if she wooed me with her perfect skin and blonde hair which is why I’ve always secretly envied my blonde friends.
The only things I needed to be in this contest was a swimsuit and a formal beaded gown. No problem, I would just burn every paycheck and then some on trying to afford all of this. (By then some, I mean borrowing some money from the parents.) Suddenly I felt like I had been pressured into doing this and not asked to do a favor and help someone I had been working with for two years. Suddenly this seemed more like a task rather than something enjoyable I wanted to do.
Once we acquired the dress, I was then informed by someone at the agency it needed a train. Not only did it need a train but it had to be fitted too. Before going in for the fitting my mom had to help me find a swimsuit appropriate for the competition. We found the swimsuit which we also had to have fitted; we’ll just say this, I wasn’t blessed in the chest.
The night of the pageant I arrive with curlers in my hair ready to get ready for the huge event. I was carrying in all my altered clothes, excited that my family and best friends would be there. I arrive in the auditorium to find we were supposed to be practicing a dance routine. This was not something I had been informed of, and neither had some of the other contestants. Imagine fifty teenaged young ladies trying to rehearse a dance routine they had only been informed of thirty seconds prior only to repeat it very confused and very poorly by the opening of the pageant.
After the horrible dance routine we had to practice getting in line, walking up to the microphone and proudly enunciate our name followed by the name of our hometown, which was then followed by the profession we had chosen to do for the rest of our life. At least that is what I thought we were supposed to do.
Everytime it was my turn at the microphone I said with unrefined enthusiasm my name, location and emphatically added, “And I want to be a cartoonist.” I remained consistent in my practice. Other girls got to the microphone and changed their life profession several times, often something science related and ending in “ology”.
After we had practiced a couple of rounds dancing and enunciating, we had to head to the dressing room to get ready…finally. This is when I found out what girls really had to do to get attention and win. It didn’t involve brains but involved spraying a solution on our rear end which was normally used for basketball players to grip a basketball. In our case it was used to help our swimsuits stay in place and not result in a wedgie in front of the judges. We were also informed to duct tape our breasts together to better enable cleavage; this for me would look like a tiny baby’s butt peeking out of my swimsuit and gown top. It was so unnatural my ten year old cousin noticed it during the swimsuit competition. He leaned over and said to my aunt, “Mom I don’t think she’s gonna win.”
“Why?” asked my Aunt.
“She doesn’t bounce like the others.”
At the beginning of the pageant we did the dance number and we all took turns at the microphone. Some of the girls finally settled on a scientific profession. I got to the microphone and again with much exuberance and feeling said, ” And I want to be a cartoonist!” instead of hearing thunderous cheers and claps like the other girls had, what I received was polite applause and the noise of crickets. I think everyone mistook cartoonist for the career of a cartologist.
After we had swam the awkward waters of the swimsuit competition where I tried to cleverly hide my hiney with a beach ball, it was time for the evening gown competition. Bear in mind I had not practiced walking in the dress with the custom matched four to five inch heels. (Yes, by the time all was said and done everything was tediously, obnoxiously excessive and pulled together.) Not only did I get what I deserved when I wobbled out in those heels but my train was adjusted by someone back stage and accidentally twisted in the process. We were supposed to be escorted to the front of the stage by a male model which made walking even more awkward.
When the time finally came for the judges’ deliberation, suddenly and instinctively I knew not only had I not placed but it was a blessing in disguise I hadn’t. When they announced the ten finalists, I breathed a sigh of relief to the new knowledge of no longer having to carry on being a pageant contestant.
During the remainder of the pageant I roamed the halls with some of the other girls with our high heels off. We observed from the auditorium doors while our families had to suffer through the duration of the program in the seats. We realized my modeling instructor who was the host and MC for the night was having more difficulty pronouncing words as the night went on because suddenly she couldn’t pronounce ANY of the words on her index cue cards. Another instructor had to take her place and MC for her.
During another deliberation they called all of us girls back on stage to hold hands while the other ten girls bit their lips in nervousness. Secretly I wondered how many of them were nervous they would place and have to go through all of this again. Just before we went on stage I got to hear one of the finalists cuss about the one of three MC’s that was managing to hold the whole program together with her dancing talent during intermissions to distract people from how poorly run this thing was. As I sat there listening to this pageant finalist cuss about the third MC, something in me knew she was a winner. She was so winning in fact she would have made Charlie Sheen blush. Once they announced the final three, the cussing contestant rushed on stage where they then announced she had won and she immediately turned from the wicked witch of the west into Glenda the good witch.
After the pageant I had learned I received low marks in the interview part of the competition. In particular I received low scores from one judge who actually sat and talked to me the whole time about her father who was a cartoonist. She was fascinating so I sat and listened trying to glean any tips from her on how to make it in the industry. Never before have I received bad marks for listening and not to mention an interview works two ways. Even as I sat there interviewing with all the judges separately, I felt like they thought I was a joke because I wanted to be a cartoonist. Apparently they never heard of Chuck Jones, Walt Disney, Charles Schultz, Jim Davis, Bill Watterson, or Cathy Guisewite; all of who have had their work tattooed on someones body or parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit, but I digress.
After watching the confusion, the breakdowns in communication, the mental break downs, the two facedness; I realized this was a very expensive reality check. Not only was I proud to realize I wanted to use my brain to get places in life, it made me realize there is nothing worth more in life than being true to thine own self. You don’t need the approval of others to feel accepted and to feel like a winner, and nor do you need anyone’s approval to win a crown. All you need is to be yourself, and pay a visit to your local mall where you can buy the same rhinestone encrusted crown for about twenty bucks and you’ve been pre-approved.
What moment in life solidified for you who you wanted to be? What reality checks did you cash and or bounce when you were a kid?