By Carly Hall
It was last week. I needed flour.
I’m one of the lucky few who live around the corner from that big, yellow Southern staple known as the Dollar General. This company should give me a sash, a title or something, because I’m often there; singing in the aisles and talking with old ladies about which pancake mix I prefer and why. I could extol the virtues of the dollar store with great fluidity and have everyone cheering; I should be “Ms. Dollar General.” But I digress…
On this particular day, while the cashier rang up my nut roll, I remarked, “You have the prettiest eyes.” I quickly caught myself, fearing I had annoyed her, and added, “But you must hear that 100 times a day.”
“No,” she answered, “no one has told me that in about 15 years.”
I was flummoxed – Before me stood a woman, plump and pretty, on the downside of 48 or perhaps the dawn of 50. Her hair was blonde, pulled tight, and her big, round eyes were the color of a glacier shining in the Alaskan sun. Her eyelashes were long and perfect. She had, perhaps, the prettiest eyes I had ever seen. Yet no one ever told her so. No one ever noticed over their tall packages of toilet paper, dinner plates or laundry detergent. They were being “cashiered” by a woman who had been blessed with optical magnificence.
I wondered who had last told her she had beautiful eyes. Her husband? A friend? Her father? And why had they not mentioned it again in 15 years? I could not help but think of another Southern staple, Mark Twain, who once said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” This woman and her beautiful eyes were in the red and it made me sad.
I don’t think any woman, young or old, should run such a deficit. And this, my friends, is why I pageant and think you should too.
You’ve heard all the arguments against it; I’ll not review them here. My mission today is simple; to encourage you to find your pageant and COMPETE!
How wonderful, I kept thinking, would it be if the cashier I met that day had a black and white score sheet somewhere. It could live, folded away forever in a box, marked “pretty eyes.” Even if it were tattered and torn, even if she had not won, even if she had fallen off the stage the day she competed in my imaginary pageant for her, the evidence would still exist that she had been noticed…recognized. There would be, for her, a reminder that could always be revisited.
It is rare, you see, that one enters themselves or their child into a pageant and leaves crushed and transgressed. Usually (especially in the modern pageant structure), someone leaves with a “best smile” or “pretty hair” prize. Contrary to popular belief, pageant contestants spend a great deal of their time together, admiring each other. Organizers are quick to praise and bolster their contestants. For someone like me, who has struggled with self-esteem, pageants made me feel terrific and left me with enough compliments to last for more than two months.
In addition (even when I didn’t win), I felt wonderful, knowing that I had managed to simply pull it off….to eat right for a few months, to exercise with vigor and to smile and speak when I thought I would collapse from nervousness. That, in itself, was worth the cost of entry every time. I only wish I had started younger with pageants, building an arsenal against self-doubt and loathing. Confidence does not self-create, it comes only when we try and try again.
Even today, I keep one giant trophy in my closet. In the harsh light of the nearby vanity I often see a hard line or wrinkle on my face, but can easily turn my head towards the giant trophy and remember: Remember that the girl who the judges clapped for long ago still resides in me today. I have proof that when I hate my hair, there were stylists willing to go on record and say it was the best they had ever seen. Proof that when I think I’m ugly, there were people who put a crown on my head and said “you’re not even close.” These are the eternal gifts of pageantry and why I think you should compete.
It’s why if I had a time machine, I would enter the cashier with the pretty eyes in a pageant. I think she would look back with favor and gratitude and maybe then not even know how many years it had been since she had heard “you have the prettiest eyes.”
(Author Carly Hall plans to enter at least one more pageant before she dies. She tells all of us here at Winning Beauty Pageants they are just a blast. The first step on her journey? To stop eating Nut Rolls from the Dollar General.)
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