It was 1994 when my twin sister saw an ad in the back of her Cosmopolitan magazine for the Ms. American Petite Beauty Pageant. I don’t recall her exact words, but she mentioned it to me, pointing out that I had nothing better to do that year and that one of us had to do it and it wasn’t going to be her.
What she meant by “one of us had to do it” was this: My sisters and I come from a “long line” of tiara-wearing women — a grandmother who won a swimsuit competition; an aunt who was named Miss Krotz Springs and then went on to become Sugar Queen; and a mother who also held the title Miss Krotz Springs (her twin was first runner-up). It is therefore, apparently, our family tradition to compete for and win tiaras. A torch that must be carried by at least one member of every generation henceforward has been passed down….
And so, without further prompting, I entered the pageant.
It was open to 18- to 35-year-olds who were 5’4″ or under. I am 5’0″ and was well within the age range, which made me a viable candidate. So far, so good. But, in order to compete at the national level, I first had to win the state competition. And in order to have a chance at competing at the state level, I had to send in a photo of myself, along with a $25 fee that covered the cost of someone reviewing my photo and telling me whether or not I could move on to the next stage. Once I was accepted, I had to pay an additional fee (I don’t recall what it was), and… of course… buy an evening gown, swimsuit, and high heels.
Have I mentioned yet that I’ve never actually thought of myself as a “beauty”….?
Nevertheless, I set out about learning how to look like an actual beauty by enlisting the help of a few friends. A girl I worked with had been a model. She showed me how to walk and style my hair. I also met with my Mary Kay cosmetics consultant, who shared makeup tips with me. Then my mother and I went shopping for all manner of beauty pageant accoutrements.
I remember trying on lots of dresses and feeling awkward in every single one of them. I wasn’t used to seeing myself in long ballgown-like, womanly curve-enhancing fashions… so the act of trying on gowns was surprisingly uncomfortable. Since I had never gone to prom or homecoming dances in high school, this was a totally new and weird experience for me.
The dress I finally chose had a white satin bodice, empire waist and long black velvet skirt. I bought faux diamond jewels which I applied to the bodice so it would sparkle more and make the dress seem a lot more expensive than it actually was. (I had presumed all of the other contestants would be wearing designer gowns.)
My twin kindly loaned me a pretty black one-piece swimsuit to wear. I added black lace to all the edges to make it even more girlie. And the shoes I chose were sand-colored, to coordinate with my skin tone (and thereby lengthen my legs). Oh! I almost forgot. All contestants had to wear blue jeans and a red blouse to introduce ourselves on stage. I purchased a new puffy-sleeved silk blouse for this purpose… and off I went to the hotel with my “costumes”, makeup, hair accessories and parents in tow for a long day of pageantry.
During the rehearsal session, I remember being tagged “Contestant #7”, which I thought sounded lucky at the time. The pageant director even pulled me out of the line-up of 15 total girls pretending I was the winner, and had me walk the winning walk along the runway, so that we could all see how it would be done later on, during the competition. However, in the end… I came in second, which is another way of saying I was First Runner-Up.
As you may suspect, that ranking did not come with the crown.
Sooooo… the following year…
I would have to do it all over again.