Tonight the Miss America pageant is being broadcast. I’ve been flipping back and forth in order to catch an emotional break from Breaking Bad. Walter, man, seriously.
Not very many people know about the time that I was almost Miss America…
And by Miss America I mean Little Miss Lebanon, Virginia 1991.
And by almost I mean I wore a puffy dress in a pageant once.
I was seven years old and in the 2nd grade when I begged my parents to let me do the Little Miss Lebanon pageant. In our small town it was practically a rite a passage as all the other girls in my class, including the other four Stefanie’s, were all going to be in it as well. It was important to me to take my rightful place among my fellow super stars that had previously held the title of Miss Lebanon. I personally felt that I was destined to be great from a very young age, and that tiara and sash were practically made to be worn on my head.
I never had actually done a pageant before. But my mom and dad were awesome enough to make sure I got fancied up to mask my lack of skill and general awkwardness. My mom would later tell me it was because they felt bad that they were moving me to a different town nine hours away and something about me begging and throwing a tantrum and threatening to start a hunger strike. (see, drama and pageants go hand in hand).
The days leading up the pageant there were lots of practices. I even got to miss class once for a special pageant meeting at school. As the dorkiest nerd in the 2nd grade I thought was the.coolest.thing.
The morning of the pageant my mom took me to get my hair done. I think the idea was that the curls on the top of my head would somehow even out the squatty-ness of my chubby body. With my “winning pageant hair” on lock down, we moved on to the high school where the show was going to be held. My mom/pageant coach/manager/make-up stylist did my make up, zipped up my electric blue dress, and coached me one last time on wowwing the judges with my gapped-tooth smile and clunky strut.
Keep in mind, I am still acutely aware of how unqualified I am to win, but that didn’t seem to shake my peculiar over-confidence in myself.
Finally, it was time for the 7 and 8 year olds to take the stage. From what I remember it was a short pageant, where we walked in a line in a circle a few times and then were showcased individually. I waited for my number to come up and listened as the announcer read through my list of hobbies and activities, which included things that I thought would make me stand out as an outstanding candidates, someone who was worthy of the crown and the title of Little Miss Lebanon. After all, it was a tough job that those other amateur girls couldn’t possibly handle.
My hobbies included: crafts with my mom, Girl Scouts, pee-wee football cheerleading, playing with my pound puppies, and church. I wanted to make sure I played the God card.
I looked right at the judges and flashed them a smile as I sashayed my way back to my spot in line. I might have even winked.
Finally, it was time for the crowning. After all of the BS awards for things like fundraising queen and most photogenic, girls started being called up by their numbers for runner-up spots. They kept skipping my number, but I didn’t sweat it because I already knew in my heart that I was going to take the whole pageant. They just needed to call my number, number 17, the one in the poufy bright blue dress and those killer white lace gloves. A great moment in history was about to happen…
But when they did announce the winner they said number 16 in the bright pink dress instead. I lost.
Worse, I think, is that I lost to another Stefanie, with an F!
The rest is a blur. I’m pretty sure I cried. The judges surely made a mistake. I shouldn’t have included the pound puppies in my hobbies – rookie mistake. And that stupid other Stefanie didn’t deserve to win.
All of this makes perfect sense to a seven year old.
After it was over I buried my face and wiped the mascara-stained tears off my cheeks on my dad’s pant leg. I got mad when he made me go graciously tell the winning #16 Stefanie congratulations. I hadn’t yet learned to act like I didn’t care about something when I actually really did until much later. That was perfected in high school, of course.
This wouldn’t actually be the last time I didn’t win something but it did mark the end of my pageant career forever. Some things just aren’t meant to be, I guess.