The magical hour arrives. The curtains open and we prance onstage in black cocktail dresses to the throb of Roxette’s “The Look.” Fitness wear is next, and Mrs. Shickshinny and I drop and do 10 pushups in the dressing room to boost our biceps before showing them off to the judges. We change again for our onstage question and then once more into our evening gowns.
When I meet my husband onstage, he delivers a message from Marci: “You’re slouching. Push your shoulders back.”
We kiss briefly, and then I walk alone in an oval, all the while smiling, making eye contact with the judges, maintaining good posture, and trying not to touch my gown or do a face-plant.
After a video homage to the outgoing queens, we return once again to the stage for the crowning ceremony. Mrs. Philadelphia grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze. “Good luck,” she whispers.
When they call my name, my husband, who is standing behind me, pokes me in the back and I stumble off the riser to accept a plaque and flowers. Lo and behold, I am third runner-up.
Mrs. Shickshinny wins, and I am genuinely happy for her. I know her journey to this moment hasn’t been easy and was motivated by the gain, and subsequent loss, of 100 pounds after a difficult pregnancy. She also seems sincerely committed to her platform, Blessings in a Backpack, which provides food to low-income schoolchildren.
She looks radiant in a white gown as the shimmering tiara is placed on her head. There is something iconic about that crown, something all-American about this tradition, and when my husband and I return home the next day (after a hearty breakfast of biscuits and gravy at Cracker Barrel), I feel a bit sad that it’s over. I don’t know if I’ll ever compete again, but I do know pageantry injected a healthy dose of glamour into my humdrum life. Dawn perhaps puts it best: “You get so consumed by the day-to-day — living your life in sweatpants and a T-shirt, running around to soccer practice, making dinner. Pageants are an opportunity to put on a pretty dress and feel like a lady.”
After all, every woman should have a crown. And five-inch rhinestone heels.
KATHLEEN PARRISH is a freelance writer in Bethlehem, Pa., who is now training to become the first Mrs. Dairy Queen in the U.S.