Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love, right? Romance and pink things and flowers, too. It’s supposed to be about couples, but I want to selfishly celebrate by acknowledging a woman who made me love myself a little bit more. So often, I think we’re trying to make ourselves appealing and acceptable to other people. We’re worried about how we look to them, how we come across, if we’re pretty and likable. But once, when I was a kid, I saw a woman who made me think there might be another way to do things, and I’ve never forgotten her.
This is my love letter to a buzz cut beauty queen.
I was nine. My dad, a Jazz pianist, was playing a gig at a beauty pageant. I don’t know why. But for some reason, he was playing in a little Jazz band at intermission at a local high school beauty pageant. I really wanted to go.
My mom, who wouldn’t let me have any Barbies because she was concerned about the insidious messages about beauty and femininity they were transmitting to all of us unsuspecting little girls, said I could go, because of the music. She wasn’t thrilled, but my dad swore that he was going to work the melody of the sh’ma, the simple, central Jewish prayer that we were so familiar with from synagogue, into his big solo. He thought that would be really funny. And my brothers and I couldn’t wait to see if we’d spot it. And I couldn’t wait to see the girls in the pageant. What would they be wearing? Would they be very beautiful?
Not to be all anti-climactic, but I don’t exactly remember what they were wearing. It’s been a while. I do remember that there was a lot of pink. And some surprisingly puffy sleeves. I do remember that lots of them sang for the talent portion of the competition. But what I remember best of all was the girl with the buzz cut.
She was tall, curvy, black, and graceful, and she held her head high. She barely had any hair, and her smooth head caught the glare of the spotlights. She wore a tight, short red dress instead of a billowing gown, and she gave a speech about sexual abuse, and how it needs to stop. She spoke with such force that I thought she should be President of the United States. I thought she should rule the world. I thought she was beautiful and I wanted so badly for her to win.
Maybe the no Barbies rule worked. Maybe I’d learned to think of femininity differently than so many other girls. Maybe I was open to gender-bending creativity and flagrant dismissals of tradition. Probably not, though. I loved princesses as much as the next little girl. I drew them endlessly in my notebooks. They wore pearls in fat strings and had flowing blond and light brown hair and they were always inside the palace. I loved the buzz cut beauty pageant contestant anyway. I loved her automatically, wholeheartedly, and instantaneously. She was just the coolest one. She stood out. She was brave. And she was breathtaking.
Of course, she didn’t win. She didn’t even get second or third place. She wasn’t the first runner-up or the second runner-up.
I couldn’t believe it. She was by far the best!
The girl who won had neatly curled long hair and she was very thin except for her breasts and she was wearing a long, sparkling pink dress. I thought she was boring, and I didn’t even remember the song she sang.
My dad managed to slip the Sh’ma into his big solo at intermission, and my little brothers were totally delighted. Everyone thought he was great. But it was the buzz cut girl who made the biggest impression on me that night.
I wonder what she’s up to now. I hope she’s out there, changing the world. She definitely showed me a different version of the world that night. A world where women could be gorgeous for being bold and different and looking nothing like the fairytale princesses I kept doodling. A world where women could talk about big, serious issues while wearing beautiful dresses, even if they were just supposed to say something simple about world peace. I love this version of the world. And I love that girl for showing it to me. She will always be my beauty queen for that.
So to all the women who dare to walk into the most traditionally feminine environments and be whatever they feel like being…
And the women who ask the tough questions.
And the women who flaunt their uniqueness.
And the women who like the weight they’ve gained.
And the women who cut off all their hair.
And the women who speak their minds.
And the women who teach little girls by example that being a real, complicated woman is a whole lot more exciting than being a princess.
I love you all. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other week on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.