Chapter 12

I have a feeling a lot of people would want this to be–would expect it to be–a denunciation of child beauty pageants, exposing them as institutionalized vanity, left-handed misogyny, and symbolic societal baby-rape.  Work Jon Benet Ramsey into it in a solemn way to justify using her picture to get attention.

If that’s what you expect, do you know why you expect that?  Because you’ve already seen it, and our media always treats things like this the way villagers treat mad scientists.  They carry a torch for it, you might say.  Well, guess what?  I thought pageants were a three ring circus of fun.

However.  I think the fun might be getting squeezed out of.  By parents (the usual suspects)  and merchandising.  It’s not the same sort of thing I was doing even just fifteen years ago.  And the ones for really little girls are coming under a lot of fire lately.  France is outlawing them.  The whole Toddlers and Tiaras thing is breeding YouTube condemnation, congressional hearings, breast-beating, and cheap scenery-chewing.  I even saw one YouTube video that said, “child beauty contests, like pedophilic incest, are a Southern thing.”  Which shows one of the problems with the internet, right there.  It’s remote, not close at hand, so I can’t take the obvious proper steps like grabbing that self-righteous twat by her cheap haircut and bitch-slapping her right out of her sensible shoes for cracks like that.  Maybe yell, “Was Jon-Benet Ramsey from Alabama, you dum slut?”

But they kind of have a point. Up to a point.  These things have gotten way out of hand.  I see what goes on these days and get kind of queasy.  They’re not just dressing these little dolls up and doing their face and hair, they’re spray-painting them on themselves and immaculatizing their conception.  What I was around in the babyfat league wasn’t like that.  Sure you dressed up and turned out, but these things remind me of 4-H clubbers detailing their ponies and pigs for the State Fair.  Makes me wonder if they’re starting to breed for contest winners, selling gay hunk semen and calendar babe eggs.  Cooking out future spokesmodels like puppy mills.

And the thing is, how necessary is all that glitz?  Little girls are the most beautiful thing in the world.  Why try to turn them into miniature imitations of grown-up women?  Why not judge their beauty as being little girls?  Run them out on the footlights in the cute little play togs and gym suits and pajammies that you see little girls wear in real life?  That’s the way they look all adorable.  These little under-aged drag queens I’m seeing now remind me of Elvis impersonators or those kids dressing up like Darth Vader and Sailor Moon at comic conventions.  If beauty is truth, why make it fake?  Like my Grandaddy once said, “Just prance ’em out there nekkid and pick the prettiest one.”

But of course it isn’t really that simple.  That would have been fine for me.  I didn’t want to dress up in gowns and trains anyway.  Most little girls, you turn ’em lose and they end up wanting to dress up and play at being ladies, have tea parties for their plush toys in their mom’s best gowns.  And they’re cute traipsing around in their mama or auntie’s dresses and clunking along in high heels six sizes too big for them.  Maybe they should have pageants like that.

I wasn’t into that one iota.  Not that there was a lot of finery available around my mama and auntie’s closets.  If I could have dressed up in grown-up clothes, I have wanted a big old pair of Air Jordans.   Kangaroo skin cleats.  Official NBA duds with my own name across the back.  Instead of rummaging around attic trunks for granny’s lace and ratty old furs, I’d have wanted to plow through the lockers in the Hawks or Braves facilities.  Bop around on ice skates wearing goalie gear.   But I wasn’t all that normal.  Most little girls like dressing up and putting on the dog.   So okay, why not let them?

And I’m thinking that “let them” is a good way to go. Not “help them”, which starts looking pretty quick like “make them”.   You’ve got some little five year-old beauty sitting there, passive, while a team of stylists and the nail detail and the union plasterers local work her over.  And they’re hanging all this high-ticket bling and fadrags off them like a bunch of little rhinestone pinecones.  What does that do for them?  What’s that building?  On the job training for being a brainless mannequin to hang threads on?  Been there, done that.  Not all that recommended.

These “glitz” pageants (am I the only one who thinks it’s kind of pitiful that they’re actually calling them that?) have categories for “party attire”, which is where it really gets weird.  Well, I didn’t grow up on the right side of the track, so excuse my ignorance, but is there really a world in which third graders go to parties dressed up like Gator Bowl queens or Regency romance courtiers or the red carpet game at the Emmies?  Like it would be much fun having a hairdo that would come unraveled if you laughed and makeup that would turn into an impressionist mudslide if you drank any punch or gobbled some cake.

It looks to me like it’s turned into a farm team for adult pageants.  Meaning girls who don’t go through it aren’t going to win the crowns later in life.  But what if they are late bloomers?  It’s not always true that the prettiest five year-olds turn out to be the loveliest eighteen year-olds.  Face it, everybody’s cute and kissable when they’re two, nobody is when they’re seventy.  Or maybe because they don’t have the money to buy all those gem-studded crinoline wrappers. So here’s my radical idea: instead of setting up these tournaments of after-market accessories, why not just have beauty contests choose the girls who are the most beautiful?

But let’s examine that farm team concept.  It’s something I’m very familiar with, having been sort of groomed and self-molded up the pyramid of athletics.  And maybe a shade more productive for later life skills, but not enough to justify it as a pre-career training ground.  My sports career hit the wall the day I got my college diploma.  That was it, no longer eligible for NCAA play and no real professional prospects after school.

Well, where is the pageant pyramid leading?  You can get a scholarship, maybe, at the peaks of that little mountain range of pyramid pedestals. Not as good as the one I got for playing ball, though.  But let’s say you get to be Miss America or Miss Universe.  The absolute tippity top, the SuperBowl of Glitz.  Now what?

There are no professional beauty contest tours. Not as such anyway.  So where do you cash it all in?  (Those crowns and tiaras don’t have much pawn value, let me just point that out for a fact.)  Well, what do American Beauties traditionally or mythically do?  Go to Hollywood, right?  Be a movie star.  But wait, how often does that pay out?  How many Miss Americas become stars?  Not many, actually.  They mention Mary Ann Mobley, but tell me, does that name ring much of a bell for you?  She did films, worked in TV and on Broadway, but is that a “star”?  Did it pay off better than being a model or executive or anchorperson?  Is Phyllis George what you’d call a “star”?  On the other hand, she made a good living off it.  Elizabeth Ward did some film and TV, got humped over a desk by Bill Clinton, if you want to call that success.  Put you in the august company of Monica Lewinski and Hillary Rodham.  Halle Berry was a Miss World. But that one is generally Euro chicks with tailfin cheekbones and no pigment content.  And the girls I ever met from that inbred little gene pool weren’t working films, they were usually on billboards and TV commercials.  Lange ski boots girl,  UPS babe, Doritos dish.  Pageant runners-up actually do better, it seems.  Delta Burke was one of several run-ups to build a solid career of it–and that’s even after she got big as a barn.  Still beautiful though; classic magnolia complexion.

But if you want Hollywood stardom, you’re better off being a model, it turns out.  Andie McDowell, Lauren Bacall, Milla Jovovich, Brooke Shields, Rebecca Romijn, Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron…the list is a  mile long.  And those are some of the most gorgeous women ever–and lots more box office than any Miss Thing crowned head.  You get some athletes popping up in the credits: Esther Williams, Elke Sommer, Lynn Holly Johnson.  But that’s not the hot set-up, either.  Thing is, lots of big pageant winners don’t really look that good to me.  Too standard, too blank.  This will probably get more so as they get selected out through glitz pageants in grade school.

And what you don’t see all that much is pageant women moving into modeling.   It’s just not the same thing.  The pageant pyramid tops out in a sort of rarefied area that doesn’t really fit in with what people really want to see.  It may have something to do with what you see on a stage.  Stage actors don’t always make the best film actors because they’re mostly about moving their body and their voices.  Once you get close-ups involved, and the retakes and choreographed takes of film and photo model work, it selects for a different kind of face.  And same way, nothing says some princess who’s skill set is waltzing around in gowns and glimmer with her hair bronzed and her face airbrushed on is going to take so well from a foot away, full face beside a bottle of  cologne.

So where do the pageant queens end up making out on all the money and stress dumped into their careers?  Well, I met quite a few around the whole lingerie modeling/pole-dancing/escort scene.  Or so they claimed.  My impression–not backed up by research or anything real–is that they have a good probability of marrying well, but not necessarily staying married.  Many seem to do well in business, but it’s hard to see that anything they learned in pageants helping that much.  More like ex-ballplayers succeeding in restaurants and car dealerships.

So what I’m saying is, that whole glitz blitz is money down the drain.  The emotional cost/return ratio is another matter, and I’ll get around to that in another of my breathlessly-awaited chapters.

In the meantime, is there some way to get pageants back to just letting pretty little girls be pretty little girls?