“There she is:” Beauty queens are my role model, and should be yours too

June 29, 2022

Naturally as a gay man, I gravitate towards the beauties of the world. Somehow, I always end up at pageants. The dresses, the jewelry, the pomp of and grandeur of it all is just my bread and butter. The most enjoyable thing in the world is a preposterously beautiful woman with great confidence in herself. I myself am a bit over the top, so I feel as if I am constantly trying to find people who match my energy to make company with. The femmine presenting is my favorite to toss thoughts around with, get a good thought rolling. 

Julia Mohr and I met during our freshman year at Herrin High School through student government. She is a boisterous personality with a character-like feel. She is quick and decisive, and is very meticulous. Although her personality is bubbly, inside she is always thinking. She’s observant and has an eye for detail, and never strays away from her usual taste. The most notable thing about her is her confidence. Our junior year, while I sat beside Julia having a conversation, I couldn’t help but ask her “Have you ever done a pageant?” to which she promptly responded, “No, but if I did, I know I would win”. She is the most confident woman I have ever met. We continued the conversation talking about how she should do pageants.  This started something, she knew and so did I. I truly didn’t mean to plant that bug in her head, but it’s in my blood. 

Soon after I planted this seed, Julia eventually surrounded herself by the pageant world. She got a job at a dress boutique and pageant showroom. Being submerged in the culture of her surroundings, she thought perhaps she might dip her delicate foot into the waters. Julia now sits pretty with three titles under her belt, and a hankering for more. I firmly believe if she would have been introduced to it earlier in life, that number would be much higher. 

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The pageant world was introduced to me and my sisters at a terribly young age, as most children of past beauty queens are. My mother was Murphysboro Apple Festival queen of 1987, and all three of my elder sisters went on to be Little Miss Carterville. Laugh as you might at the hilarity of that title because it is quite funny, with  an even funnier event. The need for a very beautiful girl to be crowned as a winner and paraded around like royalty is so odd when thought out by any average person, but to any queen or  person in the circuit, a title is serious, and a crown can weigh heavy while balanced on high hair. 

Lets clear something up now, pageants are not for the faint of heart. They are tough not only on the body, but also on the mind. This is not something written to bash or take down the world of pageantry. I see it as a test of your mind and body. It is strenuous work to appear as if you are a floating being.

While sitting in the audience of the Miss Herrin Festa Italiana pageant, I got this suspicious lump in my throat. I thought, perhaps it was my nerves for Julia, but I knew it couldn’t be that. I tried to pin it on the fact that over the past couple years I have developed a terrible disdain for large gatherings of people. I thought about it as the girls took the stage during the first number. 

With these girls’ deeply bleached smiles, freshly waxed legs, and hair so big it could topple if you trip, I realized just what my discomfort was: their discomfort. 

I know what it’s like to be a bit too dressed up for comfort, but when you add the routine and jubilance , it simply just hurts. It is very apparent as they strut in their clomping clear heels, whisked from left to right by their own accord. I cannot help but wince as a girl holds herself so tight that her legs begin to shake. They are shaking with the pain of holding this facade up, or is it as simple as just an adrenaline rush. 

I played football in the fifth grade, and honestly was not too bad at it. I was a right guard, and I knew my job well. I was a chunky-like gay kid, and I had a whole lot of fruatration towards the world. Football was exactly what I needed. I needed an excuse to tackle a kid to the ground with enough force to almost break a bone. The adrenaline after getting back up after tackling someone down and being successful with it was exhilarating. Obviously you are playing harder now and aiming your goal at winning the game with your teammates. There are no teammates in pageants. 

Depending on your type, and if you are in pageants, my dear you are the type, your legs are shaking because of two things. You are terrified and are feeling the weight on your shoulders, or you are seeing that other girl shake with self doubt and feel the adrenaline kick in. Blame it on human instinct. Competitiveness takes control, and seeing a competitor stumble is only going to make someone try harder and fight to win.

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I have never understood the stigma that everyone has about beauty pageants. The stereotypes are always very basic and worn out. The stamina and grit some girls have is inspiring. You can see the gameplays in their head as they move, fully controlled and coordinated. That is why it frustrates me to hear people speak down on them. All of the dumb blonde, world peace, and air headed jokes have been endlessless looping through mouths for generations. The most mind-boggling perception that people always have would be about weight, and the strenuous acts that these girls will go through to keep it off. 

My discomfort at the Miss Herrin Festa Italiana Pageant wasn’t fading for some reason, and I was still feeling uneasy. My brain was running rampant with thoughts about everything that it was consuming live in front of me. I could not focus on one given thing. I came to my thoughts as I recalled something my mother remarked about her life of pageantry and the pains it took to keep in competition mode. 

“I ate one Snickers bar if I was truly hungry, mostly it was just coffee,” my mother uttered nonchalantly while reminiscing her days in the crown. I wince now at the thought of that, but as a person who struggled with an eating disorder, I really didn’t pay any mind to it at the time. In my head, I thought of how some athletes carb load and some starve, why would this be any different? Sports are not completely ruled by self image and beauty standards, pageants are. 

Not everyone looks like Heidi Klum, but if you do it is time to get into pageants apparently. Tall, slender, and bronzed beyond belief is the expectancy for most pageants. These standards are not only set by society and the way we have put women in this role of expectancy, but also the overindulgence of the pageant women before us.

“Thank the Lord there are no ugly girls here,” I once overheard an old retired beauty queen say to herself while entering a crowd of young and fresh competitors. She smiled and proceeded on as if she didn’t just say what she did. The smell of drenched-on expensive perfume wafted behind as she aimlessly drifted around the room to mingle, wearing a gold threaded caftan and her old crown brooch. My interest in overly staunch characters in the world enamored me from speaking, only leaving me to observe as she continued her role many years later. 

The entire pageant world is mostly made up of retired queens (both women who held the title, and the gay men who somehow ended up there). Of course, the current competing girls are the main show, but the only reason we even have girls walking the stage is because of the women who continue on meddling in the background. Women who can still recall the warmth of the lights on their face, or sequins brushed against their skin, and their days of glory slipping away as they age. 

A secret that nobody lets you in on is that once you wear a crown and give it off to some new deserving person, you start to feel this itch again. This little birdie in your ear that tells you to do it all over again. Its addiction at its finest. After your first win, you constantly crave that feeling of ambition and power, and the only way to get that high is by being up there surrounded by your competitors knowing deep in your gut that you have got this in the bag. 

Time progresses on and is terribly cruel on everyone. Bodies change and become less capable than before. Girls become grown women, and eventually evolve into elders. When time has gone on and you can no longer be the one wearing the crown, responsibility of serving the crown becomes the biggest option. Old queens are usually the ones funding and pulling all the strings of the entire marionette like show. They are the ones setting the rules, ideals, and expectations for the generations after them. They are the ones who have deeply instilled body dysmorphia and high self worth into it all. 

In 2018, the chairwoman of Miss Americas board released a statement to the nation stating, “We are no longer a pageant; we are a competition,” regarding the organization’s decision to no longer be doing a swimsuit competition. They were no longer going to be  judging a girl by her appearance, but by what she’s made up of academically and socially. This caused an absolute uproar within the community. This meant it was no longer a game for just tragically pretty girls, but also for girls with thoughts behind her eyes. Many people who claimed to be valuing the original principles of pageantry decided to step back from the Miss America program completely, making their way into the longtime notoriously degrading Miss USA system. This weeded out many of the “filler queens” and made room for actual competition. 

After many years of attending beauty pageants and watching girls that look nothing like me grace the stage, I am refreshed at what this split has done for the community. I am finally seeing girls of different proportions and brains being allowed to participate, and that is incredibly important, especially for the job they are fulfilling and for the people who are looking to them. 

As they are dressed and paraded around like royalty, so they should act it as well. Gaining a title is equivalent to giving your name a boost in your area. This makes a pageant queen more of a socialite than anything. Someone to show up and cut the cake at a mayor’s birthday, or to read to children at the library. When accepting the crown and the sash, you are also accepting the list of obligations that you must fulfill. These obligations usually have to do with the organization you are representing as a spokesperson, charities connected to the organization, and your own personal platform. 

Think of a personal platform as something you feel strongly about and that you want to fight for, and then set up some fundraising for it. It’s a game plan to help… something. A platform is not always required in every pageant, but most demand it. If they do, it better be strong. Some girls come in with very good, well researched platforms that are deeply connected to them and their own story. That is what is wanted and needed. It gives the platform roots to grow from. Charitable acts of kindness by girls in crowns mostly just for media coverage is sincerely one of my most favorite parts of the pageant world of grandeur. 

A queen’s job is very similar to what the actual roles of the royal family are in society. Show up, be an ambassador, and commit yourself to public servitude. With a crown comes great responsibility to lead by example. To be a glimmering piece from an alternate reality. A distraction from the cruelties of the world, but also for little kids to look up to. 

As a little boy, I dreamt of it. I used to use beach towels as robes, and a stick as my scepter as I pranced around my home wearing my sister’s Little Miss Carterville tiara. I dreamt of glamor and prestige. With an old baton in my right hand and a gut full of confidence, I would imagine I was standing in front of a sea of people, with big-barrel curled hair, tap dancing to Yankee Doodle Dandy and throwing batons. I imagined myself as every queen I had looked up to all of my life. In my little head, I was Susan Sugarbaker giving her notorious Miss Georgia performance. I would float across the yard pretending as if I were up for the next big title. In reality of course, I was just a stocky little boy with big fabulous dreams. 

I grew up, and still dream of it from time to time. Dreaming of the deep rush I imagined while receiving a monstrous bouquet while tears cascaded down my face and an auditorium rang with cheers for minutes. All just pipe dreams, but I can’t help it. As every person around me holds a title for some little town around here, I ponder on what title would suit me most. In a backyard sitting on a hill in Cambria, Illinois, I hold the self proclaimed title of Miss Cambria At Large circa 2007ish. It sounds podunk and small town and that’s because it is. I’m not really pageant material. It is not much, and it is certainly not real, but it still puts me to sleep happy every night whilst singing myself to sleep to the tune of Miss America.  

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    DJun 30, 2022 at 7:30 am

    Well written, well said, well done Miss Cambria!

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