There She Is . . .

My daughter is still getting mail asking her to be in beauty pageants. Not that I’m surprised - she is beautiful and could kick ass in an actual scholarship competition. But she’s not only not the beauty contest type, she’s like the anti-Christ of high heels, big hair and all things pink.

But according to her mail, she could be Miss Teen USA or at the very least Junior Miss Dairy Princess.

I’m so glad we finally get to talk about beauty pageants. Everyone is all abuzz about Miss California’s double what!?: her stance on gay marriage and the provocative semi-nude pictures she posed for. But did you expect anything less or more? She’s Miss California. What did you all expect? A flat-chested lesbian in a pants suit?

I don’t take any pleasure in the missteps of beauty queens. I’m not jealous or spiteful that they are pretty enough to be in a contest that I could never get into because I couldn’t get my acne under control until well into my late 20s, when the age limits disqualified me.

I used to watch the Miss America pageant on TV with my mom every year. My mom was somewhat of a feminist, but she did love an excuse to go all rah-rah over Ohio. And in the ‘60s, the only televised state competition was Miss America and Miss USA, so if you were going to root for your state, you had to watch.

According to, an exhaustive (and, frankly, exhausting) list of pageants around the world, there are some highly specialized beauty contests, some of which, if held nationally, I think Ohio could take down easily.

• Miss Deaf Virginia

• Mr. Strawberry Pageant (Yes, this one is for the gentlemen. And not just Daryl.)

• The Black Mother-Daughter Pageant

• Miss Chinatown U.S.A (Described by Pageant Center as for young ladies of “Chinese descent.” It’s all downhill after winning this contest.)

• Supermodel of the World (But Heidi Klum is named winner every year, dang it.)

• Ms. Long Distance (Can you hear my essay now?)

• Golden Girls Contest (The only place in the universe where you get to see Rue McClanahan and Betty White in bikinis and heels.)

• Halo Pageant (Not sure if this one is for angels or violent video game enthusiasts, but either way . . . Could be fun to watch the talent competition.)

• Miss Hemisphere Pageant (Pageant Center says this is only for Texans. I always heard Texas was big, but I was not aware that it had its own hemisphere.)

• Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador (I hope they mean the island and not the dog.)

• Miss Wheelchair Texas (Because Texas doesn’t have enough beauty contests to fill its hemisphere.)

• Miss Milky Way (Some intergalactic travel required.)

I think some of these smaller, more local pageants could be highly entertaining. I have two stories about beauty pageants. I hate to admit this to people who might be under the impression that I used to be a real journalist, but I covered a couple of pageants as a reporter.

(click on this photo so you can get a better look.
This is a real ad. I'm not making this up and nothing was Photoshopped. Honestly.)

When I was a clueless intern at The Niles Daily Times, I was sent to cover the Little Miss Niles Contest. My editor made it clear that I was not being sent to the Miss Niles Contest, but because I was new and hadn’t made up any quotes yet, I could maybe handle the midget version. Local legend Boots Bell, a DJ from Youngstown’s WHOT Am radio station, was the master of ceremonies. My enduring memory of Little Miss Niles is standing at the foot of the stage, my sense of sight on red alert overload with my close-up view of a badly aging, local pop music icon; 4-year-old girls in whore Halloween costumes and Dolly Parton makeup; and their mothers, who were crying and screaming with rage because Jessica didn’t curtsy at the judges like they had practiced for hours in the basement. I had to occasionally bite my own lip to snap out of it long enough to write down something in my reporter’s notebook. Jessica did not win.

Then, a couple years later, when I was a reporter for the Coshocton Tribune, when you’d think I’d have garnered enough experience to get off the beauty pageant beat, I was asked to be a judge in Miss Vo Tech, the pageant for the county vocational school. Southern Ohio + girls majoring in home-ec = they so made their own dresses and matching scarves for this.

The panel of judges was made up of me, some guy from the Ford dealership in town, and an assistant principal. There were only about 10 contestants and we had to choose Miss Vo Tech Coshocton County, a first runner-up and a second runner-up. We had one class period to watch them strut their stuff on the cafeteria stage, listen to their speeches and then get sequestered in the lunch lady supply cabinet to decide on the winners.

Assistant principal badly wanted a smoke break and he quickly agreed to whatever anyone said. We could have said we’d give the trophy to the shop teacher and he’d have been fine with it. Ford dealer and I quickly decided on the winner (cute, blond and as smart as a vo tech kid can be), and a second runner-up (a shimmery aqua evening gown, big smile and seemed nice). Ford dealer wanted to give first runner-up to a clone of the winner - blond and almost as pretty. I wanted to give it to the fat girl.

The fat girl was adorable. She had more confidence and self esteem than the entire graduating class put together. She was pretty and funny and she made eye contact. When she walked in heels, she didn’t hunch over and march with bent legs like all the other girls inexperienced in heel-walking. Ford guy kept laughing and shaking his head. “No, we can’t pick her,” he kept saying.

I decided I was choosing my battle and this was it. I dug in and said, “I think we should talk about it. Let’s list her good qualities and bad. Here, I brought a notebook.”

The guidance counselor popped his head in the door and said, “Hurry up! The bell’s about to ring!”

She got first runner-up. At the time it seemed like a huge victory for plus-size, career-minded girls, but now that I look back on it, it probably didn’t make a bit of difference in her life. In fact, I’d bet that of all the beauty contests and pageants I covered, attended and judged, not one of them showed up on a resume.

Reporting on them never made it onto mine.

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