I grew up competing in beauty pageants, or beauty reviews (as we called them when I was little), and I enjoyed them too. It was fun for me to get dressed up, put on makeup, and get my hair styled. My mom and aunt would fawn over me, telling me how stunning I was, and I sure enjoyed their attention. Sometimes I placed, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I won, and sometimes I didn’t even make it to the top ten. I tried to understand that each judge had a different idea of beauty, and my mom and her sister would try to make me feel better when I lost.
“That ugly girl’s mom must know the judges!”
Hey, y’all don’t gasp too loud. You know all your mommas said stuff like that. Or maybe it was just mine. Bless her heart. She just loved her baby. But anyway.
I competed in everything from tiny-town USA pageants, where less that a dozen girls participated, to Miss Teen of Mississippi pageants, where the winners were chosen on talent and scholastic achievements too. Some titles got me a tattered banner with Elmer’s glue and glitter words across the front, while others offered scholarships for college and modeling opportunities. So what I’m saying is, I know how the pageant thing works. I’m no expert, but no novice either. I played that circuit for years, and though I placed less and less the older I got, I typically enjoyed myself and tried not to think I was getting uglier with age.
I suppose things began to change my senior year of high school. I can remember getting all glitzed up in a tight, sequined number that my mom was convinced brought out the green in my eyes. She had also insisted on taping my chest and adding some eye shadow to create the illusion of cleavage and further sell the twenty pounds of padding in the dress, since I had exactly zero boobies to fill it out. Did you know they put darts in those formals for breasts? Us flat girls were out of luck. Big boobs equaled pretty, but I digress.
Back to senior year. Despite the extra fluff up top, I did not place. I didn’t even make the top ten. Dang, southern girls are gorgeous and hard to compete with. Afterwards I tried to dampen my disappointment, even though my crush couldn’t look me in the eyes backstage (I think the sudden cleavage thing made him uncomfortable). At that moment, as I watched my fella stare at the floor and stammer, a group of friends, who also didn’t place, came up to me.
“The judges are letting you meet with them,” one girl exclaimed. “They’re telling us why we didn’t place!”
I found this kinda odd, and I asked what they had said.
The first girl was so excited to spread the good news of epic judginess that she had wandered off, and another friend told me her flaws per the panel.
“They told me my lips were too thin,” she shared.
I thought to myself, my lips are thin.
“They told me my hair was too straight,” she added.
I had curled my hair, but really? Too straight?!
Dress too sparkly.
They were looking for natural beauty that year.
The hits just kept coming, and they weren’t even about me, but I was offended nonetheless. I didn’t know what made someone beautiful compared to another. I mean, I was no expert judge, but I did know that the thought of going before strangers, opening my chest cavity before them, and then allowing them to rip out my heart with their ideas of why I was ugly sounded awful. Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic, but really, have you met a seventeen year old girl?! All I knew was I didn’t want to hear their opinion. I was sensitive enough as it was. I didn’t think I needed the constructive criticism. I let the pageant thing go.
As I’ve gotten older a lot of my opinions on life have changed, and I am aware that many of them don’t go along with popular opinion. I’m the same mom who doesn’t let my girls wear bootie shorts, and the same woman who herself won’t wear a bikini. I think I could rock the bikini bod in a forty-one year old mother of three kinda way, but I also figure I’ll just save that show for my husband. So, point being, my opinions aren’t mainstream, and that’s why they’re called opinions. I get that beauty pageants are a Southern Staple. Kind of like sweet tea and saying y’all, getting gussied up for a pageant is just what you do. So I’m not judging anyone, but rather simply sharing my thoughts. And my thoughts are no pageants for us.
The story I told from high school is just one aspect. It seems almost ridiculous for me to have women judged beautiful by other people. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So while one person may love blonds, another will think bushy eyebrows are where it’s at. To win or lose placed on only the outer surface is superficial at its best, and it puts inner beauty in the backseat. And to me that’s the most important part. You can be an absolute stunner physically, but if you have a mean personality then it’s downright ugly. I’ve done pageants with interviews, and even those only touch the outer edge of a person’s heart. How can we rate people in order of awesome based on five minutes of their life? You can’t.
Am I being overprotective of my girls’ self-esteem? Perhaps, in a way I am. I totally understand that they won’t always win in life. I’m realistic. I know I can’t guard their hearts forever from the judgement this world provides, but I think they get plenty of real-life, worldly judgement just walking out the door each day. Young hearts and minds are easily molded. So to promote to them an idea that celebrates outward beauty on a pedestal while telling them it’s ok to say this girl is prettier than this girl, that just seems so totally out of whack to everything their father and I teach to them.
We teach them to be kind. We teach them to love everyone, to love like Jesus. We teach them that inner beauty is the best attribute. We teach them to be humble, to not think too highly of themselves. Yes, I tell my girls they’re beautiful, but to put them in a contest that tells them one is prettier than another? I can’t get behind that. It would be like sitting my daughters down and giving them banners that ranked them amongst themselves.
You are the prettiest daughter.
You’re the most photogenic daughter.
Sorry, kiddo, you don’t get a place this time around. Maybe next year, if you work hard and practice how you walk and smile.
Again, I know, perhaps a bit overboard, but deep down isn’t that what a beauty pageant does. I can’t understand why we as parents love them so. It’s like, here, let me drop a bunch of cash I don’t have on a dress you will wear one day, put enough makeup on my toddler to make them look twenty, and pump them full of sugar so they’ll stay up and smile all day long. I’m going to tell you that you’re the prettiest girl in the world, but let’s go a step farther. I need you to stand in a straight line smiling next to a dozen other pretty girls so we can prove you’re the best. We’ll have this total stranger who competed in a bunch of pageants fifteen years ago rate you based on things like the fullness of your lips and how high your heels are. Sure, she won’t be able to see how you help your grandma do dishes, pray for the sick kid you saw in the doctor’s office, or suggest we make cookies for the garbage man, but she can place you in order of importance based on how many sequins you have on that rented dress.
I don’t know. Again, I don’t fault anyone who finds them fun, but I guess I just can’t understand. I can’t get how we live in a society where women want to have the right to chose what to do with their own bodies, to get paid the same as their male counterparts, and to stand on the frontline along the soldiers who are men, but they still get giddy about judging each other based on feminine appearance. They want to be respected for their mind and to stop sexual harassment, but have no issue putting on a plunging neckline or tiny swimsuit to walk on a stage and be judged like livestock. Too much?
I love y’all. I do. And I love seeing photos of your precious daughters in gorgeous dresses with their hair just perfect. It makes me smile huge! Every picture I see I think, that girl is beautiful! They are! And I hope they feel that way. I hope they don’t feel like they are less lovely if they don’t place against their peers based on a stranger’s opinion of what pretty is. Heck, my mom told me I was Most Beautiful every day, and that it wasn’t about winning; it was about dressing up and having fun. I’ll bet that’s what you say too, and that’s great. Really. But I also remember what it’s like to be little, to have a mind that doesn’t completely understand how the world works or a well-established self-esteem. I remember not understanding that it was not what other people thought of me that mattered, but rather how I loved others. Or the huge fact that how God sees me is what’s most important. I didn’t get that until I was like, thirty! Not sure how we expect a six year old to catch up.
I am sure that beauty pageants can teach a kid camaraderie and how to be a graceful loser. I certainly learned those things, and I had fun for the most part doing them. My mom didn’t make me do it. I wanted to. The scholarships are awesome, and a little healthy competition is good for a child. I can support all those things. But for our family, pageants aren’t an option. We’ll chose other activities to foster those things. I have beautiful daughters (in my opinion), but I don’t want to raise just beautiful daughters. I want to raise kind daughters, loving daughters, daughters who see themselves and others more than skin-deep, daughters who know their worth in Jesus, and most importantly, daughters who know the worth of others because of Jesus.
I don’t want to confuse them about what matters most in this life. I can’t say, “it’s what’s inside that counts,” on one hand, but have them compete with others based on the outside on the other hand. It would be like I was talking out both sides of my mouth. It’s my job to guide them in life, not confuse them. It’s my job to practice what I preach, and to model behavior for them. Maybe I don’t trust how I would act as a pageant mom. I only have one chance to raise kids after God’s own heart, the kind of kids who make the world a kinder place. I could be totally off base with this pageant thing, but I guess I’ll take my chances.