I remember sitting in front of the television, calculating how many years I had left to compete for Miss Teen USA.
My glasses at least three-quarters the size of my face, my teeth roughly the same, and my coordination displayed in a flawless ability to walk into walls and trip while standing still, I was a sure thing.
Determined to grow boobs, grace and a national title within a few short years, I was glued to the screen for clues to their success.
Over the weekend I had that moment where you think a thousand thoughts in the breath before you say something, and stopped myself one millisecond short of telling my daughter about the Miss America pageant. Pretty dresses and great hair are her greatest loves so I thought she would enjoy it as I always had.
Then I remembered the naive girl she still is, unknowing of the comparisons that await her future and the tug-of-war with perfection she may endure if she inherits anything from me.
I’m sure there were amazing, talented girls competing for that Miss America trophy but I’m not quite sure why the organization still holds competitions the way they do. Why do the contestants need swimsuits and size 0 frames and teeth whiter than their eyeballs? Why can’t they earn their places with brains and hearts alone, beauty and balance aside?
I think we are inching closer to girls who represent diversity with competitors like Miss Montana, the first contestant to have autism, but really aren’t we just parading a long line of unrealistic expectations in front of the television for two straight hours on a Saturday night?
I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking pretty wins, I don’t even want her to think pretty matters. I know this is completely unrealistic and soon enough she will be interested in her appearance and may not pair a fushia tutu with purple and orange pants, but for right now I want to keep her safe from that nagging future.
I’m determined to fill her mind with books and numbers and reasons to love herself and keep refilling it as her understanding of society develops.
We skipped the Miss America pageant Saturday night for her favorite chapter book. If she wants to watch beauty pageants in the future I won’t stop her from doing so but I will remind her of her smart mind during every commercial break.
Almost thirty years later, I have grown into my glasses and my front teeth and gained a ferocious need to raise a daughter who knows her brain is her most important asset.
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