What do I see?
Big and Bold and Beautiful Me!
from Big Bold Beautiful Me
written by Jane Yolen and Maddison Stemple-Piatt
illustrated by Chloe Burgett
Magination Press, 2022
From 1967 to 1987, Bob Barker sang every girl’s dream song, “Here She Comes, Miss America!” But the winner wasn’t even the best of the best. That was Miss Universe. Crowns and gowns and one girl more poised and more beautiful and more talented than the next were on display for the better part of a couple of hours. My mom insisted a girl’s or woman’s best quality is not necessarily beauty. I don’t think she had a problem with the talent section, the interview, or even the evening gown. It was mostly the swimsuit competition she disliked. She described the show as a meat market or something just as derogatory. But she watched with us all the same. Scowling, if my memory serves.
For weeks after the new queen was crowned, I practiced balancing a book on my head as I walked around the living room, even though I never got more than a few steps before it fell off. During my obligatory 30 minutes of daily piano practice, I imagined myself on a stage. I didn’t care too much for dress-up, but my wish for the end to the swimsuit competition was fervent. My short, round body would never win any points.
And I always mentioned my wish for world peace in the made up interview in my mind. And I meant that with my whole heart. I hoped it would cancel out everything else, especially my short, round body exposed in a swimsuit in front of the whole world.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it was all silly. Remember I also wanted to be a ballerina!
It takes a lot of practice, dedication, and money to become a contestant. Most girls are well-versed in the competition atmosphere from a very early age. A website called We Have Kids addresses the topic with thirteen useful tips.
It advises even before your little girl knows whether or not she wants to compete, or likes to compete, or is driven to compete, she can be part of a baby contest. Less stressful? Maybe. If your daughter expresses the desire to take part in a pageant, the advise is to accentuate the “fun aspect.” Less stressful? again, maybe. Personality can count more than natural beauty. A natural smile is priceless.
Toddler contests can be expensive, very expensive. The advise is to rent a dress instead of spending $1,000 for one. (Kids really grow fast!) Socks with a single layer of lace are appropriate, but a few small Swarovski stones added to the socks will make them stand out more (and cost more!) And the hair. An updo is not a must, but a bow is. Add a few Swarovski stones to the bow, too, for added sparkle.
Fluffing up her dress the moment she goes on stage is important, but so is planting someone familiar in the audience, preferably sitting behind the judges. That will keep your girl focused in the right direction.
If all this sounds facetious, it is, except it’s all written out, just like the rules and the entrance fee.
Pageants can be good for kids, though. A well-run organization will allow the kids to be themselves. Some kids like getting dressed up. If parents’ attitudes are focused on the well-being of their child, lasting friendships can form among contestants (and their parents).
For older girls, too, Google can help find many tips to win a pageant.
An article on NPR in 2012, put the cost of competing in the Miss America pageant between $800-$2,900. It includes the evening gown, swimsuit, make-up and coaching, but not travel expense. Or a fitness coach. Or nails… all in 2012 dollars.
The article continues. Some girls work to pay their own expenses. Competitor and graduate student Jessica Bermudez worked part-time at as a technical project manager at the National Institutes of Health. She also received sponsorships from local businesses in exchange for promoting their products. She spent a lot of time fundraising. If she wins the Miss D. C. crown, Jessica will win a cash price of about $1,000 and the right to compete in Miss USA. She did not win. I Googled around a little, but could not find out what she’s doing now. She’s probably fine.
Here's what Miss Universe Organization (MUO) has to say about itself. “The Miss Universe Organization exists to advocate for a future forged by women - women with the courage to push the limits of what’s possible, who are curious enough to make world-shaking discoveries, and audacious enough to do this over and over. We believe that the future of humanity rests on reaching gender equity around the world.” That sounds a lot like the Barbie movie to me. Mom used to say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Hmmm.
I wonder how important being judged “the best” is for a child’s self-esteem. How much more important, it seems to me, to be able to internalize the feeling.
While I recognize physical beauty and admire a beautiful person, cat, flower, or sunset, my mom’s disdain for the beauty culture was not lost on me. Do I wish I was taller/thinner/had better hair? Sometimes. But I really wish that I’ve been able to instill in my girls the importance of kindness, empathy, and compassion.
And I really, really wish for world peace. Really.
The 72nd Miss Universe Competition will take place in El Salvador this Saturday, November 18, 2023.
Last week I read The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Julie Morstad (Candlewick, 2023). This quick read, at first glance, is about five puppets and the story they tell. Looking closer, it’s really about two sisters and their housekeeper who think up the story. While we readers are privy to the interior thoughts of the puppets, it’s about the sisters’ dreams and their housekeeper’s dreams and how they all make their dream come true.
-—Be curious! (and look for interior beauty)