Soon after I hit puberty, I got a letter in the mail saying I was eligible to participate in a statewide beauty pageant. It was as if my period had sent a letter to the world announcing my coming of age.
Mia kind of has boobs now and is fertile. So, let’s get this party staaarteeed.
Also, she’s 12.
Like American boys must register for the draft at 18, I was enlisted to serve my country through choreographed group dance numbers and being good at wearing ball gowns.
My application for the pageant was accepted, and I was named a “regional finalist” or “county finalist” or whatever title they chose to best convey “This mess of hormones and braces hereby referred to as ‘preteen girl’ has parents so blinded by unconditional love they paid $400 for her to stomp around in a fancy dress and have adult strangers decide if she stomps the prettiest.”
Here’s me at the pageant looking very comfortable and not at all sweating through that red t-shirt.
If you want to hear some sweet, sweet Wisconsin accents, you can watch a breif video of this on Instagram (@mia.market)
I will never understand why my parents let me do it. Maybe they thought it’d shut me up about thinking I deserved my own Disney Channel show. Maybe they were overcome by the aforementioned unconditional love. Either way, they now have a fantastic thing to hold over my head should I ever threaten to put them in a home.
Before you get too excited and/or intimidated by the fact that you may be reading something written by the reigning 2003 National American Miss Preteen Wisconsin, let me tell you now: I did not win.
Before you wonder, “Okay, but surely you made Top 15, given your natural introversion and poor, 12-year-old interpersonal skills,” let me go on record saying: I did not make Top 15.
Before you think, “Sure, fine. No big deal. Top 15 out of 100+ girls doesn’t put the odds in your favor. But you had to have won Most Photogenic, a portion of the competition your parents paid an extra $50 to enter you in, using photos Dad took of you leaning against a tree and slouching on the broken swing set in the backyard…right?” let me stop you and say: I did not even get Top 5 Most Photogenic.
Before the life leaves your eyes and hope leaves your heart entirely, begging, “What about Most Spirited? Miss Personality? Best Volunteer Service? Most Promise as a Model? Best Resume? Most Tickets Sold, given to the girl who sold the most tickets for the pageant? Most Recommendations, given to the girl who referred the most other girls to participate in the pageant? BEST THANK YOU NOTE TO A SPONSOR???” I need to tell you 1) Yes, those were all actual awards given out and 2) The only prize I won was a participation trophy. I quite literally won nothing.
But LOOK AT ME NOW, WORLD. A totally-together, adult woman just reminiscing on her middle school years by herself on the anniversary of America’s independence. Exactly as our founding fathers intended. So, excuse you for thinking John Adams wouldn’t have been a dedicated Pageant Dad, and back to me talking about more irrelevant things.
I could tell you about the weird pre-pageant prep meetings, where the pageant owner/runner/head mistress/Supreme would tell the parents that when they left the room she would definitely not be “taking their girls to Denny’s,” which is now the euphemism I use whenever I cook eggs topless. I could tell you how said Pageant Supreme would also repeatedly mention how the pageant after-party would have “only cake and punch, NO SHRIMP COCKTAIL,” which I’m sure was a deal breaker for the high-society crowd definitely in attendance at this suburban Wisconsin preteen beauty pageant. I could tell you about the evening wear portion, where I was escorted by a random dad because my actual dad lost his pants. And in the hierarchy of escort appropriateness, Stranger Dad with Pants trumps Actual Dad without Pants.
But I want to take a moment to consider the absurdity of the adults running the situation. Because while yes, I now have both memories and video footage of me dancing in jean shorts to royalty-free music, me attempting to walk in heels without looking like Bambi on ice, and me crying on stage after realizing I would not be 2003 National American Miss Preteen Wisconsin, I am not what’s most embarrassing here.
Here is the host welcoming everyone to the 2003 Minnesota National American Miss Pageant.
We were in Wisconsin.
The adult humans running, hosting, judging, and ultimately profiting from preteens in Kohl’s clearance-wear were by far the most hilarious part of the spectacle.
There was the aforementioned Pageant Supreme who looked, sounded, and acted exactly like you’re imagining. There was one of the competition judges who was a Navy vet with a Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical science. So, if you’re keeping track, his résumé goes: Pilot, Veteran, Preteen Pageant Judge. And we can all take some time to try to connect those dots however we see fit.
Then, there was the pageant host, pictured above. A woman who I can only assume is the product of “Always the runner-up, Never the pageant queen,” which I say with only partial judgement because at least homegirl likely got more than a participation trophy.
I will leave you with what may be the funniest thing I have had and will ever have the pleasure in experiencing firsthand.
This is a clip from the Top 15 crowning ceremony, in which the pageant host consolingly sings Wind Beneath My Wings to/at the 90-some preteen girls who just found out they lost the competition, while the girls who did make Top 15 stand front and center with roses in their hands and hope in their hearts.
God bless America.