Backstage at the Pageant, mothers busily smoothed the eyebrows of five year-olds, attached fake hair pieces to toddlers’ pony-tails, and frequently threatened to beat their daughters with various beauty accouterments if they didn’t “straighten up and act right.” And I’d known from the moment we walked in the door, this was not going to go well.
I thought about fleeing right then… but Ms. Mary, who is apparently high-up in the pageant hierarchy, selected that moment to whisk us onstage and demonstrate the “proper walking.” Proper walking? Was there something wrong with Diva’s walking? Did she have a limp, a swagger a splinter in her big toe? No, apparently, there is some type of special child beauty pageant walk that all potential child beauty queens must know. For obvious reasons, I would not be aware of this. Panicked, I urged my three-year old to pay close attention to Ms. Mary, who led her to the various taped x-marks and chanted instructions: “And stop, pose, pose, model, model. Make pretty feet, and count – two, three, four, five, and move, move, belly button to the judges! And make pretty feet, and count, two three…”
Several mommies gazed at Ms. Mary with intense expressions. They were too busy committing the “pose, pose, model, model” move to memory to see the humor. Meanwhile, I couldn’t get beyond the fact that were at the old American Legion building, learning about pretty feet on the same stage Uncle Cub vomited on last year. He apparently gagged on his tongue while trying to sing Lee Greenwood with too many Miller High Life’s under his belt.
Ms. Mary finally returned my daughter. I think, after Diva’s fifth trip to the middle of the stage to perform “Shake your groove thing,” she had found us to be a lost cause. I was relieved and ready to call this whole thing off – but Diva had found her buddy Em and the girls were admiring their “dress sparklies” over a pack of shared fruit snacks.
We quickly headed (I mean stepped, stepped, model-modeled and posed, posed) into the Backstage Battle Zone. The rooms were humming with activity and clouded with White Rain overspray. No one paid much attention to us. They were too busy teasing, combing, powdering and coolly assessing the competition with a studied eye. The baby beauty “pageant tubs” were open, which meant time to get down to business. (Yes, apparently, the plastic rubbermaid totes are necessary to hold the $200 special, handmade costumes, most of which looked like they’d caught the debris from a parade float explosion. Anybody who’s anybody in the child beauty pageant circuit has them. I’m not anybody though.)
Feeling out of my element and beyond uncomfortable, I found a corner and stuck myself in it. From my spot, I could pick out the other “tubless” moms, like myself. We were all tucked in cubbyholes, identifiable by our Wal-Mart bags of coloring books and snacks we’d brought to keep the girls busy. So, while others were going through the process of creating Gibson Girl dolls out of toddlers, we were stress-binging on the Dora fruit snacks and wondering – WHAT HAVE WE GOTTEN OURSELVES INTO? We were so out of our league.
Finally, it was time for the pageant to begin. I made Diva stop picking her nose and get into the line of seemingly boogerless beauty queens.
“C’mon, Sue Lynn,” said one mother as she jerked her daughter roughly toward the door, “You get up there and smile, blow kisses, now straighten up and quit that crying. You’d better show some personality out there or you ain’t gonna wanna deal with me.”
Sue Lynn promptly hit the stage and burst into tears. I empathized with the kid. We had been at the American Legion for HOURS. I was tired, hungry and on the verge of tears myself.
“Oh, bless her heart,” I said.
“Bless her heart hell,” said her Mother looking at me as if I’d sprouted a third eyeball, “I cannot stand her when she acts like this. She’s being a brat.”
Sue Lynn did much better the second go around because Mom was standing behind the judges, waving a $100 bill to get her to blow kisses and prance for judges. $100? For prancing? Would she give it to me if I pranced? What if I did the Macarena? Hey, that’s a lot of money. My kids wouldn’t get that kind of cash if they kissed the judges clear on the mouth, cleaned the gutters, mowed the lawn and did the laundry.
Okay, to be fair, I didn’t understand the whole child pageant scene or the purpose of it. And I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. Other moms had attempted to talk me out of participating. I’d even been told that the pageant circuit is like the White Trash version of the cotillion. Of course, daddy always says in regards to such comments: – let he who hath no kinfolk in the trailor park cast the first beer bottle. I won’t comment on the “class” of people participating, but I can see why I was advised to avoid it.
The most shameful thing about the whole experience though is this – I can understand why some mothers get sucked into the competition.
If you lose, this is akin to someone calling your child ugly. That doesn’t go over well with most mommies. Even I, mother of the third runner-up secondary alternative princess, had to stifle a little flicker of competitiveness. I mean, how dare they! Diva was far more beautiful than any of those girls. We just weren’t prepared. We came in at a disadvantage. But we could practice and buy one of those tubs. And then next time… we’d come back and crush all of them! Muhahaha.
At that time, the pageant director instructed us to stay afterwards to receive score sheets and speak with the judges about our performance…. Performance of what? They didn’t sing. They didn’t dance. They didn’t play the flute or stand on their head… Okay, this snapped me out of my “warrior” mommy mode and we left.
Look, I’ve heard the arguments in favor of child pageants. Some think pageants teach poise and confidence. This may be true. It may even be an enjoyable activities for some, and I’m not knocking you if you do it – at least not here, publicly to your face. But as for us – well, I think we are more suited to scuffed dance shoes, piano lessons and soccer balls. And if my failure to provide Diva access and entry to all the “right” pageants will result in her growing up to carry a wallet on a chain and having a boyfriend named Samantha, its a chance I’m willing to take.
She’d make more money in product endorsements as a US Women’s Soccer Team forward anyway.