Sixty years ago, the Miss America Pageant was broadcast on television for the first time. I was seven years old, it was a Saturday night, and my siblings and I were going to be allowed to stay up to see the whole show. It was Miss America, for goodness sake, and no one wanted to miss that.
Truth be told, I did not have a clue who or what Miss America was, but the chance to stay up late, and watch something that seemed like a big event was intriguing and exciting. By the time the show came on the air, we were in our PJs, had blankets, pillows, popcorn, and hot chocolate at the ready. I could tell this was going to be very special.
And then it started. Music and lights. A man introducing ladies who were everywhere. Ladies parading around the stage in long dresses. Ladies parading around the stage in bathing suits. Ladies singing, playing musical instruments, reciting dramatic readings. Lots of commercials. People jabbering about the parading ladies. I was mesmerized.
After each part of the show, it seemed there were fewer ladies participating in the next event. This went on and on, and I became more and more interested. It was obvious the show was a competition, and it was leading up to something important. The prettiest, most talented, and best of all. There were judges who watched and took notes, deciding who would be declared the finest representation of the American female.
The show finally concluded when Lee Meriwether was announced the winner. She received a beautiful crown, cape and huge bouquet of roses. After her crowning, she walked and waved and cried; and the audience went wild. I was hooked. Miss America was a modern day, real life princess, and the announcers said anyone could be the winner of the contest.
Then I asked the question any little girl would ask at such a crossroads moment in her young and eager life. “Could I be Miss America some day?” Oh no. The long, pregnant pause. The furtive, nervous looks exchanged between parents. This was not what I expected, and it was not looking good. After a few moments, I was given the answer that is not an answer, but lets every kid know the answer, “We’ll see.”
Of course they meant, “No, that’s never going to happen; you’ll never be Miss America“, but did not want to put it on the plate of, what they perceived as, a not very pretty seven year old; at least not that night. I went to bed wondering why my parents had hesitated, and what I was lacking which could prevent me from becoming Miss America, because I had not yet learned the idealized version of beauty, and up to that point in life, never considered I was not absolutely fine just being me.
It did not take too many years or experiences before the accepted standard of beauty became clear to me and to my friends. We saw it everywhere. From print to electronic media, we were confronted with examples of how we should look, how we could look; if only. And over the years, the standard has not changed too much. We all recognize pretty when we see it, and we all know if someone is not, because that standard has been so deeply ingrained into us.
I have been trying to figure out what happened along the way that gave some of us the good sense to become comfortable in who we are, the totality of ourselves, and not feel compelled to devote excessive time attempting to create an illusion, a washable, disposable version of how we should look versus how we do look. Speculating has been just that. Speculation. I do not know the answer, but I do know there is peace in acceptance. Accepting who we are, how we look, and especially as we age, how we face that future person looking back at us from the mirror.
Miss Americas come and go, their standard of beauty established long ago. They reign for a year, and then most slip into obscurity for the duration of their lives. For the rest of us, the standard of beauty is a daily renewing, refreshing of ourselves, inside and out. We live and grow, with our journeys imprinting experiences on us and about us every single day. We have our crowns, capes, and bouquets; they just are a bit disguised. Husbands, wives, partners, singles, children, grandchildren, friends, homes, activities, and more. Yes, I do believe as we love those things in our lives, and receive love in return, we are taking that walk down the runway; waving, laughing, crying, and thanking everyone who was instrumental in our arriving at that moment in time.
So, rather than Bert Parks singing a song praising a fleeting beauty as we take our turn on the runway, I choose Josh Groban to sing a deeper tribute to all who know what it takes to get from here to there. Our runway is life’s journey, and not having to make it alone looks, to me, a lot like a crown.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up to more than I can be.