“Honey, you haven’t lived until you’ve walked on stage in a swimsuit and high heels.”
These are the words of Miss Peaches—a self-professed pageant coach who approaches me out of the blue one night and lures me with the sweet promise of a national title in her plum southern drawl.
Fresh out of college and in full-on identity crisis mode, I give in—even when she tells me it will cost $50 per hour if I want to learn the secrets of her charms. During my initial visit to her home, she tells her husband and puppy to stay out of sight while she molds me into a vision, styling my hair into cotton candy-like form, painting my lips magenta, and lining my peepers with a pencil she uses on all of her girls (this is why she uses a small blow torch to disinfect it). In the middle of her living room, she teaches me how to do the beauty queen wave (it’s all in the wrist), “suck it in,” and pivot in flesh-toned pumps, which she tells me are de rigeur in the pageant world.
In the days to follow—after demanding my money back—I navigate uncharted waters by myself, determined to finish what I have started and not look like a clown while doing so. I launch Operation Prima Dona, a one-woman war against breakouts and broken nails, and watch the Spanish channel where every other show is a veritable swimsuit parade.
Miss California USA (held in Fresno, the most unglamorous of places) goes by in a blur. It’s the first step on the road to Miss Universe, which a cross between Miss America and a Hooters pageant. After three long days of competition and practically living in high heels, the fateful words are upon the eighty other delegates and me.
The envelope, please.
So many thoughts swirl through my head: Will I be sentenced to a life of contempt for prioritizing pulchritude? Might my legs collapse from these high heels? I need a stiff drink. And a cheeseburger. Smile!
And then, without proceeding drum roll, the MC announces the first runner-up: Me. Hurrah!
I am awarded a wilted flower bouquet that doesn’t match my sequined dress, but the real prize is being this close to the winner who waves to her adoring fans and wipes faux tears from her eyes, all the while making sure the jelly inserts in her bra cups don’t runneth over (all the gals wear ‘em and butt glue, too). And that’s when it dawns on me: Honey, you haven’t lived until you’ve walked on stage in a swimsuit and high heels.