By now you’ve probably read my previous post where I sang the praises of Angela Ponce, who this week is competing for the title of Miss Universe 2018. You also probably saw the first couple of paragraphs in that post and learned that I don’t get into beauty pageants too much. Yes, I’ll still admit that the sight of lovely looking women parade up and down a stage wile a certain panel of luminaries pass judgment on their beauty and composure, has never been my cup of tea.
Perhaps part of my thinking on that is the likely rules that are laid out in such competitions, and how the members of said judging panel — and, for that matter, the viewing audience who doesn’t have an official say in who wins or is runner-up — interpret them. No two judges or audience members will interpret those rules in the same way, nor do they have in their minds the same form of beauty, talent, and virtuosity that make an “ideal” woman. By comparison, the judges and audience at a drag show may have similar ideas of the “ideal” drag performer, especially if performance is the biggest factor in judgement.
But as I did hint at in my last post, I do not fault, nor will I ever fault, anyone for taking the beauty pageant route to get advancement into their chosen field (education, business, modeling, etc.). As Angela Ponce herself said in an interview with TIME magazine, she and her fellow Miss Universe competitors are there by their own free will, seeking a title they’ve wanted since they were young. And in Angela’s own specific case, “I’m showing that trans women can be whatever they want to be: a teacher, a mother, a doctor, a politician and even Miss Universe.”
(Side note: You want proof that a beauty queen has to get up pretty early in the morning to commit to their task? When Miss Universe airs live tonight at 6PM here in Wisconsin, it’ll be 7AM in Bangkok, Thailand, where the pageant is taking place.)
Those thoughts have to make you think, even if you don’t care for beauty pageants: What steps have the women in your life taken toward advancement? For a couple of women in my own life, that included donning that evening gown and parading for a panel of judges. One of them was my stepfather’s daughter, who for the sake of reference I’ll call K. When she was around 16 or so, K. was an entrant in a local beauty pageant. My family was part of the audience at that pageant, which was a mix between highbrow fanciness (spacious auditorium, dancing numbers) and local flavor (the tuxed-up hosts were DJ’s from the local rock radio station).
Unlike, say, Miss America or Miss Universe, K. and her fellow entrants (about 10 or 12 total, I want to recall) didn’t have to pose in swimsuits or twirl batons in a talent segment, though they all did take part in a pre-results musical number. Each entrant had their own individual segment where they posed and glided along the stage for the benefit of the judging panel and the proud parents in the audience, among them my stepfather, who was distant from his daughter (she lived with her mom) yet was hopeful for her success. In lieu of an interview segment, they also recited some small words of praise for their parents and whomever was sponsoring them in the contest, (in K’s case, my stepfather’s employer).
In her speech segment, K. came across as not quite polished yet poised and promising. Looking back on it, that was in contrast to how she could be in the times she visited our house: Frustrated with life at times, complaining, bummed out and sulking on the couch. (I think she got all that from her parents.) We were hopeful that K. would win that night. Unfortunately, she was not among the placements (winner, 2nd runner-up, etc.). If K. was disappointed, she didn’t show it when we met up with her after the event.
One of my aunts didn’t show any disappointment when she didn’t place in her own pageant a few years later. Unlike K. and her and my families, my aunt (whom’ I’ll refer to as Jan) and my grandparents lived on the other side of Wisconsin. As a result, it was a surprise to me when we visited Grandma and Grandpa one June summer, saw Jan’s, room, and noticed a purple sash resting on her dresser — the same sash she was wearing along with a color coordinated gown in a photo on that same dresser.
“I didn’t realize you were in a pageant,” I told Jan. “Yep,” she replied. And with that, later that evening she and the rest of the family watched a tape of her pageant from earlier that year. The ceremony was a little more grand than the pageant K. took part in. Matter of fact, I want to recall it was a regional pageant, i.e. contestants from part of western Wisconsin and not just one county. Jan was all poised and smiling for the audience. Probably beaming even brighter were her parents/my grandparents when watching the video and reliving that night. (Side note: Jan is actually 14 months younger than I, not to mention 24 years younger than her sister/my mom. Yes, they come from a very big family.)
Jan did not make placement (i.e. the 5th runner-up on up) in that pageant. Still, she did get some sort of a scholarship just for being in the top 10, money that went to her post-high school education. Jan is happily married now, content with life as a wife and mother and operator of her own crafting and quilting business (it’s not a large conglomerate but a success just the same). Somewhere up there, her parents/my grandparents are looking down on her with as much pride as they are with the other 14 children they brought to life. My stepsister, K., would have some ups and downs after her own pageant and her own high school graduation: Military service. Marriage. Two children. Divorce. Legal problems. She’s in her early 50s now and mostly well adjusted.
As you may guess from the results of those two stories, participating in a pageant doesn’t automatically guarantee success in life. But a pageant can lay the groundwork for that “next step” in a participant’s life. Commit to doing well when gracing that stage, even if they don’t take home the crown or even gain placement, and they can make quite an impression.
But a pageant ends with a crowning of a winner, who will hold the title for just one year. After that, they will join their fellow participants in that “next step” in life and that next career. If they’re smart (and I’m sure they are), they’ll take the commitment and lessons learned in making a good impression on others and succeed in their chosen field: Teacher. Mother. Doctor. Politician. Model. Role model. And to think it all began with putting on big-girl shoes, fitting into that sparkly gown, and smiling for a panel of judges.