Pageant Brain

Last summer, I received a letter from the Miss Teen Beauty Pageant. The letter informed me that I was recommended for the pageant by someone anonymous. When I first received it, I threw it aside and didn’t look at it for a few days. I wasn’t interested in being in a beauty pageant. Still, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should give it a try. The day of the initial meetings and interviews was the day I officially decided I would attend. I didn’t tell a soul I was doing this. It wasn’t something to brag about. Right after I got off of work, I changed into some semiprofessional clothes and headed to the Antler’s Hilton.

I waited in a room full of girls ranging from seven to nineteen, most of whom were obviously previous pageant winners. Each one looked the part of a stereotypical pageant queen. I was clearly the oddity. I wasn’t going to let that scare me away, though. I waited patiently until my name was called, at which point I entered a room where a woman was waiting to conduct my interview. This woman was obviously a previous pageant queen. Her hair rose at least three inches from her head, and she had layered so much make-up on her face, she looked like a mannequin. She sized me up as if already deciding if I would be in the pageant or not without even having to ask me questions.

“Why did you want to join the pageant?” The she asked.

“Well, I got the letter in the mail and thought ‘Eh, why not?” I said.

I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t happy with my answer, so I quickly added, “I always wanted to make friends.”

She just nodded and wrote down on her clipboard. I could tell she wasn’t impressed.

“On a scale of one to ten how confident are you?”

“I’d say about a nine,” I said. I felt like saying “ten,” but I didn’t want to seem too confident. She looked at me like that number was too high. “I’m a pretty confident person,” I said, beaming a huge smile.

“I can tell,” the woman said with a hint of disdain in her voice. “Alright, we’ll let you know within a week.”

That was all. I left thinking I wasn’t going to be in the pageant.

A week later, I received my acceptance letter. I started going to the weekly rehearsals, still without telling anyone. I hated the rehearsals. I felt like every girl in the room was judging me because my hair wasn’t the right shade of blonde or it wasn’t straight enough, or curly enough. I’m not normally one to care that much, but they made me self-conscious. The rehearsals drained all the confidence in me on most nights. Still, I went back every week, hoping that when the show came, I could prove them all wrong.

I couldn’t quite pinpoint my feelings for the whole ordeal. Part of me despised everything about it, including the girls, outfits, and rehearsals. Another part of me was almost enjoying myself. A small part even wanted acceptance. I felt silly for that, and I would have never admitted it to anyone, but I was tired of being the “underdog.” I wanted the girls to look at me as an equal. I didn’t want to win, but I didn’t want to be the one who got disqualified first because she didn’t fit the mold.

I felt as if I was in my own little reality television show. All the girls were characters; although, they all portrayed the same character. It was as if they were all from the same mold, but when the mold got to me, it broke. All the rehearsals consisted of how to walk right in high heels, how to do a “pageant wave,” and most importantly, how to answer questions without sounding like a complete bimbo.

One girl in particular stood out to me. She was about five feet, two inches tall and as dumb as a post. She was blonde, too, and I wondered if she was a contributing reason for why blondes have a reputation for stupidity.

One of our practice questions was, “If you could meet any of the past presidents of the United States, which would you meet and why?”

She said, “If I could meet any of the past presidents, I would meet Abraham Lincoln. I would meet him because I think it was so cool that he was the first president ever. And he must have been best friends with Martin Luther King Jr. because they both fought against slavery and stuff.”

I felt my IQ drop at least ten points with every word she spoke. But did anyone bother to correct her? No, they just went on to the next contestant.

This girl represented at least ninety percent of my competition. None of them were very bright, but at least they were pretty when they had make-up on. I had tried to spark conversations with some of them, but I decided against it after tiring of talking about heels, lipstick, and what kind of self-tanner to use.

With each rehearsal, I looked forward to the pageant even less. All it meant was that I was getting closer to the moment where I could stand in front of a few judges who would let me know if I was pretty enough to move on to the next round. All the other girls were craving judgment. It seemed as though they were getting prettier, darker, and bitchier as the competition drew near. They all had a common goal, and every single one of them seemed willing to kill to achieve it.

I’m sure some of these girls weren’t as vicious as they seemed, but I couldn’t picture them in any other light. They could have been the sweetest things outside of the pageant, but they fed off of each other’s crazy. All it took for a fight to start was for one girl to say how badly she wanted to win and how much she deserved victory, and then another would swoop in with why she wanted it more. Then it just kept going until someone was threatening murder. It was a domino effect. I called it “Pageant Brain” — the deeper into the pageant, the more insane the girls became.

I wouldn’t dare to ask to borrow anyone’s blush or eye shadow, or anything else for that matter. Catfights broke out daily just because one girl wanted to wear the same color dress as another. I steered clear of the battlefield and watched. One girl (we’ll call her “Jenny”) was disqualified a day before the pageant because she punched another contender. Jenny had been doing her make-up for the dress rehearsal and one girl went up to her and simply told her that her hair would look better down. Jenny snapped. She shrieked, spun around, and hit the other girl square in the jaw. Then, she just sat back down and continued doing her make-up. No one said a word about the incident, but everyone avoided Jenny. She didn’t show up the next day, so I assumed she had been disqualified.

Another girl was disqualified because of her mother. It was easy to tell that she had joined the pageant for her mom’s sake and not her own. Her mother nitpicked at everything she did. The girl left in tears almost every rehearsal because of her mother. Most of the moms were crazy, but this one was psychotic. The morning of the pageant, when we got to the venue, we heard her mother screaming and cursing at one of the judges louder than I’ve ever heard anyone scream. They literally had to drag her out kicking and screaming. The girl was obviously embarrassed, but she also seemed somewhat relieved that she wouldn’t have to deal with that turbulent situation any longer.

I was shocked by how overbearing and awful these mothers were to their own flesh and blood, and I was glad my mom was better than that. I hadn’t even told her I was involved in the pageant until the night before. Even then, she didn’t show much excitement.

When the day of the pageant arrived, I was overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. I was overwhelmed by being surrounded by so many anxious pageant queens and their equally anxious pageant moms. On the other hand, I was underwhelmed because I wasn’t nearly as excited as anyone else around me. All I saw was a compilation of glitter, fake smiles, and insecure girls waiting for a judge’s approval. There were three categories: casual wear, formal wear, and the question round. The casual wear for the majority of the girls was absolutely ridiculous. About eighty percent of the girls considered high heels and cocktail dresses casual. I had just grabbed something out my closet that I normally wear. Why put too much effort into that round, anyway?

I was disqualified in the formal wear round. I think it was because I just pulled out my old purple prom dress from high school. All the other girls wore dresses that resembled artwork. There was beading, gold stitching, and glitter on almost every gown except for mine. These girls had spent thousands of dollars on those dresses. I didn’t spend a penny. As I walked off stage, all the other girls just stared at me with smirks on their faces that read, “We knew you wouldn’t make it.” I looked back at them with a broad smile. Five girls had been eliminated before me, which meant I wasn’t the first to go, and that was all I cared about.

The question round was something out of a comedic movie. I was almost glad that I didn’t have to do it because I had already suffered enough guilt by association. Every girl had a uniquely senseless answer that she had made her own. I could just hear a contestant on Jeopardy! say, “THOUGHTLESS BEAUTY QUEEN ANSWERS for three hundred, Alec.”

All of the girls were asked different questions. A judge looked at the girl who took third place and asked, “Where do you see yourself in a year?”

“Well, I hope to be president, or at least running for president. That way, I can change the world the way I want it to be changed,” she said with the biggest, phoniest smile. The judges were underwhelmed, and she took third.

“How would you make the world a better place?” the judge asked the girl who took second place.

“I would make the world a better place by recycling more, and asking my friends to recycle too,” she said. She was smiling so much, I could see her face twitching from off stage.

Lastly, the girl who won was up. Her name was “Ivy.” The judge asked her, “If you could meet any famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?” Unlike the other two, she actually took a moment to contemplate her answer. Then she said, “If I could meet any famous person, alive or dead, it would be Demi Lovato. I think she’s just an inspiration. She was in rehab for being bipolar, cutting herself, and drugs, but now she is back on her feet. She has come up from the ashes and really wowed all of us.”

Ivy had long, flowing, chocolate-brown hair and green eyes that glistened like emeralds. She towered over the rest of us at five feet, eleven inches tall. Although she was a bit of a beanpole, she wore it perfectly. Her skin was “Sun kissed beach,” the product of only the best tanning salons. The brightest thing about her was her snow white teeth. She was the epitome of a pageant queen whenever she took the stage. Off stage, she was the epitome of a pageant brat. Everything beautiful about her disappeared whenever she opened her mouth. The minute she stopped talking to someone face to face, she was talking about her behind her back. She deserved to win. She had clawed her way to the top.

When I think about the pageant now, I can’t help but smile. I didn’t get much out of it except a few laughs. I may not have cared that much or put in as much effort as I could have, but I got farther than I thought I would. I didn’t do it to win or to brag about being in a pageant. I did it for the memories. I’m sure Ivy is touring the country doing whatever beauty queens do, while the others are competing in more pageants, too, hoping for a win. Once was enough for me, and I’m going to focus on school instead of worrying about being judged for my appearance.