The princess and the beauty pageant

October 29, 2013

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time drawing princesses.  They had sharp triangular skirts that led to teeny-tiny waists, blonde hair that curled at the ends, and big crowns with sparkly jewels.  My older sisters used to make fun of me for them.  “No one has a waist that tiny,” they would scoff.  “That’s not realistic.”  But I carried on, translating the vision inspired by endless readings of Rapunzel and Cinderella onto the page in crayon and colored pencil.

When I was about ten, I entered a beauty pageant.  I have no idea where I got the idea, probably a direct mail piece, but I know why I wanted to enter, and it had a lot to do with my princess drawings.

During the interview section, I was asked a lot of questions that I remember seemed inane.  What did I want to be?  What was my favorite color? Why did I want to be Miss Whatever?

For my talent, I played “When the Saints Go Marching In” on my trumpet while wearing a blue and red satin matador costume.  I’m not sure what the matador had to do with anything, but my mother thought it would be cute, so that’s what she sewed for me.  I remember vaguely noticing that the other talents were mostly dancing.  Instruments tended to be the flute or piano, maybe a violin or two.  I was definitely the only trumpet and I was definitely the only one in a homemade matador outfit.

I saved the best for last.  For the evening gown competition, I wore a lavender eyelet dress with a huge satin sash that tied into a bow.  My mom made that for me, too.  I thought it was lovely, something right out of my pastel-colored fairy tale books.  Delicate and old-fashioned and, I realized after I came out into the lobby and saw everyone else, completely wrong.  Their dresses were hoop-skirted and shiny, mini-prom ensembles complete with off-the-shoulder puffy sleeves.  Their hair was curled and sprayed and poofed up high.  My own hair–waist-length and blonde–hung straight down my back in the way I liked it best.  They had full faces of make-up.  I had been permitted a little purple eyeshadow and some lip gloss.  I didn’t think I looked bad, but I knew I looked different.

After we did our walk across the stage, there was a pause before the finalists were announced.  We sat off to the side in the dark, fists clenched, as the announcer walked to the microphone.  I wondered how I should walk up when my name was called.  I eyed the path, noted cords and other tripping hazards.  I reminded myself to stand up straight.  The announcer began calling names.  And more names.  And more names.

None of them were mine.

Ten girls stood on stage when she was done.  Ten finalists, dancers and flutists in their shiny hoop skirts and sprayed curls.  And I was stunned, truly, unbelievably stunned, to find myself still in my chair.

They took a short break after that.  I quietly slipped away from the group and walked to the bathroom.  I closed the door to the mustard yellow stall.  And I cried.  I cried great big sobbing tears that I can still feel in my throat.  I cried and I cried and I cried for what felt like a very long time but was probably just a few minutes.  I tried to stop, but the reality I had in my head and the reality on in the ballroom would collide and I’d cry all over again from the sorrow of it all.  Then I began to get a hold of myself and felt like I could face it.  I wiped my eyes and blew my nose on some toilet paper.  I squared my shoulders and opened the door to two grown women giving me the most pitying looks I’ve ever received.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel sad.  I felt shame.  None of the other girls seemed upset.  They were carrying on, congratulating the finalists as they swooped about in their hoop skirts.  Here I was, the dowdy little girl in her mom-made eyelet dress, breaking the smile-and-wave pact of the pageant crowd.

I was just really bad at this.

Everyone knew I had been crying–a lifelong curse of the pale-skinned is the complete inability to cry incognito–but I figured it wouldn’t matter.  My part in this was done.

Except that I forgot they hadn’t done the special awards yet–Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality, those things.  So I had to go back on stage with my puffy red eyes and running nose, a public failure and figure of pity, while all those winners were announced.  I didn’t win any of the special awards either.

Finally it was over.  I exchanged addresses with the one friend I’d made, a nice brunette in a yellow-striped Southern Belle dress.  We’d write sporadically for a year or so, until the work of being a pen pal outweighed the fantasy of having a pen pal and we both dropped the correspondence.  I packed up my little bag with my purple eyeshadow and matador outfit, and I went home.

This experience didn’t scar me.  It didn’t damage me for life.  I don’t plan on entering my daughter in any pageants, but if she asks, and she’s old enough, I might let her try one.  There’s lots of talk about what these types of experiences teach our girls.  That it tells them they are only valuable for their looks, that they need to look like grown-ups before their time, and that they are subject to being judged and ranked.  I don’t disagree with those concerns.  I’m sure pageants do teach girls how to be a certain kind of woman.  But sometimes, they can also teach us the type of woman we are not.

Goodbye and hello

November 1, 2010

Wait.  Didn’t there used to be a blog here?

That’s what you are saying in my head.  All of you.  Apparently, you all fit in my head and while you are in there you are easily confused.

Yes.  There used to be a website here.  It is now gone.

Well, not GONE gone.  It still exists, it’s just private.  It’s…well.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

It begins, as so many things do, when I found myself rocking a one-month old baby in the nursery at 3 in the morning with tears streaming down my cheeks as I pondered how motherhood had made me a shell of my former self.

I know, right?  How much better can this story get?

Even at the time, even in the depths of the self-indulgent wallowing that was that night, I knew that it wasn’t true.  I knew that motherhood had, in fact, added a new richness and self-awareness to my life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  But what mattered is that it felt true.  And when something feels true, you tend to take it seriously, even if the objective facts don’t bear the feeling out.  So I took it seriously.  And I started thinking.

This thinking took me down a few false roads and I’ve had a few mini-plans that didn’t pan out, because I wasn’t willing to face the reality that needed to be faced: this blog isn’t going to get me where I need to be.  It’s just not.

Motherhood hasn’t made me a shell, but it has slowly killed off parts of myself that previously were important.  My interest in American culture, my creativity, my relationships with people outside my family, my sense of humor oh my lord.  And that one hurt the most.  I don’t know how to be me if I’m not laughing or making other people laugh.  I just don’t.

So, it’s no wonder that I felt like I had disappeared.  I had.  There were new parts of me that came into being, of course, many new good parts, but they weren’t enough to offset the disappearing act.  I was feeling invisible.

And you know what doesn’t help feeling invisible?  Do you know what makes you feel even more invisible?

Writing an anonymous blog on the internet.  Go figure.

There are practical concerns, as well.  I mean, if I ever want someone to take my writing seriously, what is there to prove that the person writing here is me?  Further, even if they do believe it’s me, am I comfortable with them reading some of the stuff that was here, knowing it was me?

Old Yankee privacy habits die hard, even in the internet age.

So this is the end of Alias Mother.  I’ll spare you the speeches.  Partly because it has all been said before.  This blog has helped me find my voice, and a community, and a goodly part of myself.  But it is time to go.

But not really.

(What gave it away? The title?  You clever minx, you!)

Come visit me in my new home.  It’s open to all, even those who know me in real life and that last part has me dry heaving, but so it goes.  I’ll get over it.  It won’t be as personal in some ways, but it will be more personal in others.  Anonymity was freeing, but it was also strangely limiting.  And being non-anonymous will, likewise, be limiting but freeing.

I’ll stop talking now.  Well, I’ll stop talking here.  I’ll still be talking there.  Hopefully for a good long time.



Thank you, you beautiful people.

As you were.


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