As I flipped through the channels the other night, I rolled past the Miss USA pageant just in time to catch the vital statistics of one contestant. Her hobbies? Dancing and shopping. I laughed out loud. Notice she didn't say ballet dancing or tap dancing. Just dancing in general. And shopping. Girlfriend didn't even try to dress it up into something substantial. Now, I've never been to Arkansas, so perhaps there's not much to do there, but I hear the countryside is beautiful and that lots of folks find plenty to do in the great outdoors of Razorback country. But not Miss Arkansas. She's into shakin' her boo-tay and buying stuff. Did she miss Pageant 101 class? She was supposed to list her hobbies as reading Shakespeare and volunteering at the local food pantry feeding homeless veterans. It's like the fumes from all that hairspray went to her head and disrupted her thinking. Or maybe the duct tape holding up her ta ta's was too tight.
The fact that we still have those silly pageants in this country just cracks me up, and I find it highly appropriate that Donald Trump bankrolls the Miss USA contest. I mean who better to pay for it than a man who spends as much on hair product as the average contestant? I used to get offended that we still parade young women around in swimsuits and evening gowns while pretending that it's their intelligence we're judging them on. If that were the case, we'd put them all in gunny sacks and drill them on questions about history, math and political science until we whittled them down to the one who got the most correct answers. Does the ugly girl ever get chosen as Miss America or Miss Universe? Of course not. But Hula, it's a SCHOLARSHIP pageant, you say. To which I say, blah, blah, blah. Tell that to someone who wears high heels. I just find those contests a ridiculous holdover from the past, but I figure they will die a slow death in the next few years so I don't get upset about them anymore. They do remind me though of the three personal experiences I've had with the darn things though. Hula? In a pageant, you say? Well yes. Not that I was really a contender. It did however, teach me some things.
When I was seventeen, our electric cooperative held an annual "scholarship" pageant, and since I was all about generating whatever money I could for college, I thought what the heck. I read the rules, sent in my form and showed up on the appropriate day with my swimsuit and my evening gown, which in my case was the swimsuit I had on hand and my prom dress. We spent the day rehearsing and going through the preparations. One of the contestants was a girl I had gone to school with, and as I watched her that day, I had one overriding thought: that girl came prepared. Her swimsuit was the perfect fit (padded bra), her evening gown was more of a pageant gown (padded bra), and she had the flashy smile and the model stance. Hula, on the other hand, just kind of showed up and hoped for the best. She didn't know there was a model stance. And if she had it to do over, she would have gotten the padded bra and tried to hide the fact that she's a tad bit pigeon toed. But I didn't. And I felt like a fish out of water the whole night. At the end of the evening, my friend from school won, and I was happy for her. She deserved it. Girlfriend had WORKED it. Hula, well, I'm not sure what Hula did. I guess you could say she muddled through it. She took her $25 consolation prize home and spent it on Calvin Klein jeans, which she considered to be a great achievement at the time. It was 1982 after all.
A couple of years later, while in college, I was nominated by the communications department for a pageant held at the college each year. It was a precursor to a state pageant of some sort. I wasn't too enthused about the whole thing, given my previous pageant experience, but I showed up and did what was expected of me. I was a people pleaser at the time, what can I say?
I had learned from that first pageant, so I figured I'd up my game a little. I had no dreams of winning, but I figured I'd do my best to at least wear the right thing. This time I made it to the top ten, probably due to my answer to the question of which Hollywood celebrity I'd like to meet and why. I said Katharine Hepburn because of her independence and her empowerment of women within a male dominated industry. I actually saw the eyebrows of a judge go up on that one. Mmmm hmmm, I said to myself. I'm startin' to get the hang of this. I forget what my next question was and apparently, my answer was just as forgettable because I failed to make it to the top five. I was not upset. I sat in the audience during the last round and clamped my hand over my face to keep from laughing out loud when the biggest ho on campus told the judges that if she were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book with her it would be the bible. The judges, not knowing about that wild party she'd had at her house two weeks prior, bought it and declared her the winner. The absurdity of it just cracked me up. Miss PCC went on to the Mountain Laurel pageant. I went to Dairy Queen to have a Blizzard.
Flash forward to the last semester of my senior year at college, and the communications department nominated me for Homecoming Queen. Now, every club and department on campus got to nominate someone so I didn't consider this any kind of special fete. And with graduation close at hand, I was only interested in wrapping up my classes and getting out of there. I was tired of going to school. I wanted to get on with life. The college I attended was small. There was a large Greek contingent, and while that may not be a bad thing at other campuses, I felt like it was completely out of hand at my college. You could literally look at a girl or guy and predict what sorority or fraternity they belonged to based solely on looks. It was very clique-ish and smacked of high school drama. I'd had my fill of it by the time that semester rolled around. To me, the Homecoming Queen thing was just a big popularity contest.
All of the contestants had to show up for a formal interview. I threatened to blow mine off, but at the last minute I threw on my dress and showed up. After some thought, I had decided I could have a little fun with it. I flashed a big smile, I gave my best model stance when I walked in the room and sat with perfect posture. I flashed another big smile at the big semi circle of judges that faced me, and proceeded to answer their questions. They were a well coifed bunch, made up of folks who as daddy likes to say, thought their s8#% didn't stink. I gave them what they wanted to hear when we began. The questions were simple enough. I was poised and charming. They smiled back at me. And then they finally asked me what one thing I would change about the student body if I could. And smiling just as Miss America like as I could I launched into a very polite and yet pointed speech about how our campus needed more diversity, how were weren't welcoming enough to foreign students and how we worked too hard at being alike instead of celebrating our differences. I expressed my concern over our low number of minority students and how the sororities and fraternities were a sea of white faces. I talked of inclusion and openness and a desire to break down some barriers. I could see the smiles stiffen on some of the judges, and they coolly ended the interview with a polite "thank you". I gave them another big smile and glided out there with my best beauty queen stride. And when the door closed shut behind me, I smiled again...to myself. And I bounced joyously back to the dorm, quite tickled with myself in only the way you can be when you're young and think you know everything. "How'd you do?" my roommate asked. "Just fine," I said. "Just fine." I was not surprised to find out later than I did not make the Homecoming court. And I was not surprised to learn that the Queen was a well known member of one of the prominent sororities on campus. They had proven my point. I packed my self-righteous bags and headed for home. Oh, how I laugh now at how little I knew about the world in those days. And how full of myself I could be.
I can still be pretty full of myself now, but over the years, I've come to learn that not everything is as black and white as I thought it was back then. There are women who have earned a fair amount of scholarship money by parading around in swimsuits and evening gowns. There are other women who have earned a lot of money for college by swinging around a stripper's pole in skimpy outfits. I'm really in no position to judge why they do what they do. And to be honest, I probably shouldn't be too hard on Miss Arkansas USA. I'm pretty fond of shaking my boo-tay. That whole pageant thing wasn't a complete bust for me. It taught me a little about how the world turns, and that's never a bad thing. I just can't do that whole model turn. Perhaps, if I knew how to walk in high heels it would help.