The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

July 12, 2010

Miss Directed

Drag queens on Christopher Street -- meet the actual Miss Deep South, Julie Amelia Falgout

When I was a seven year-old, I wanted to be Miss America for Halloween.  My mother obliged me, going to Toys ‘R Us and buying this pink apron of a costume with a sash on it and a mask of a blonde woman.  At the Halloween Party my elementary school threw, I saw kids dressed as many things with magical super powers — witches could cast spells, superheroes could stop crime, cats, though not supernatural, could jump and claw, but what could Miss America do?  I believe this was my first feminist realization, and I took the costume off in disgust before the party was over.

I was not the only one — several years earlier, the one time that it might be said that feminists burned their bras was in a trash can on the Atlantic City Boardwalk as a protest to the Miss America Pageant.  There is something about those artificial trappings that make women angry who are trying to be in charge of their own lives on their own terms.

When I moved to New York, there was a show on Christopher Street where drag queens played mean rival pageant contenders, and the sluttiest one of them was called — in a double entendre — Miss Deep South.  It was ironic and delicious, and the drag queens were subversive in their appropriation of the symbols of American “beauty” for their own.  I later took a cue from them when I organized a protest of lack of women coverage in sports by crowning myself in deep-tissue irony Miss Sports Ill Lust Raided 1992.  I vogued in front of the Time Life building with cameras rolling, calling myself Ruth Babe, and giving the president of NOW-New York City a media moment where she could talk about job discrimination for women in Sports.

However, I have moved from the land of irony to the land of cotton — old times here are not forgotten.  Look away.  Look away.  Et Cetera, Dixie Land.

Pictured to the Left is the real Miss Deep South 2010.  She wears the crown without irony, and she has gone home from Vicksburg, where I now live, dejected no doubt, as she did not win the Miss Mississippi Pageant, which is held here every year.

I am sympathetic to the plight of the would-be beauty contest winner in a way I was not when I vogued  in front of the Time-Life building.  If a young woman is interested in broadcast journalism and is from the smallest towns in the country, how else is she going to get out of Dodge?  Some mothers — including mothers of contestants in this pageant — don’t understand the aspirations of daughters who want, say, PhDs in clinical psychology, as one contestant did here, but they understand the swimsuit competition.  Ten thousand dollars in scholarship money, when parents will buy Preparation H for dark circles but no College Preperatory academy, that might be the ticket out of Pine Scratch in Yoknapatawpha County.

The pageant even calls itself a scholarship pageant, not a beauty pageant these days, but don’t apply if you have love handles or a hairy upper lip.  The standards of beauty are, if anything, more artificial than ever.  Vaseline goes on teeth.  Cream for the rectum goes under the eyes.  Glue spray on the buttocks makes the swimsuit that is a little too tight not ride up.

The local papers ask Miss Mississippi what she thinks about a variety of issues, as if she were not some empty head.  However, there is no reason to suppose she is not judged chiefly on her ability to look artificially pretty while she struts in evening wear and a one-piece non-thong with high thighs.

In New York City, being Miss New York is not really most young women’s aspiration the way it is generally accepted as such here.  Young women who are pretty might aspire to be models or actresses, talent optional.  The standards of beauty are about 20-40 pounds lighter, less vaseline, more scowls on the cat walk.  They are absurd as well.

The most beautiful woman I ever saw in my life in person was from East Africa.  She was getting off a plane from Nairobi and landing in JFK, and I was standing behind her in customs on a summer day.  She was wrapped in colorful cloths, and she wore a high turban.  She looked a little tired, but she still glowed.  Her smile at her children was broad and strong.  These were clothes that were not available in a boutique in the US anywhere, and yet she looked more elegant than any other women I can remember seeing.  She was thin and tall, but she was so in a way that appeared effortless.  She wore no make-up, doubtless in part because of the long flight.  She looked like a queen, not a judged pageant queen, but an actual queen, one with real authority.

The most beautiful woman  I have seen in Mississippi does not wear a crown.  Her name is Jessica, and she is a farmer who sells vegetables her family grows at the Vicksburg Farmer’s Market.  She has a daughter and a husband, and they call their farm Ebenezer Farms, and their sign is emblazoned with a quote from the Bible.  Jessica is so wholly uncynical about life, I sense, that it is a source of inner beauty to her.  She has perfect farm girl skin — as if someone had poured cream into a clear glass jar.  She has honey blonde hair, uncolored, un hairsprayed, that hangs down the back of her cotton blouse to her waist.  She does not wear makeup to the market, and she focuses mostly on her little girl.  She was kind enough to offer to pray for me.  How could a pageant judge a woman like this?  What would be the point of her entering a contest, given who she is and whose she is?

I would like to take the tiara off the woman who won the pageant — Miss Metro Area Jackson — and give it to Jessica, but I know what she’d do with it.  She has read the Book of Revelation, and she would cast any crown on her head at the feet of Jesus, as it says to do there, because it means nothing in face of eternity.  Hence, perhaps the real Miss Deep South, whom I do not assume was a tenth as slutty as a drag queen, Miss Julie, perhaps she need not feel bad about losing to another competitor.  Perhaps all of us should take off our Miss America costumes before the party is over and see what superpowers we actually have inside of us despite unrealistic and oppressive standards of appearance for women.

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