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By the spring of 9th grade, I was still sitting on the middle-school quad, awaiting my period or a coveted invitation to Facebook. I had been nursing a girl crush on an older girl since 6th grade, so when she approached my best friend and I to talk about joining the Miss Teen Malibu USA pageant, I desperately wanted to impress with my maturity.
I was a feminist, an aspiring lady of intellectual repute, and steadfast in my convictions (except when it came to oregano joints behind the music room). But then, she sat down. And she laughed. And she said she was doing it as a joke, and wouldn’t it be so ironic?
How did she know queen of irony was my greatest ambition?
“I don’t know what you’re up to later,” she said, “but maybe we can go shopping for atrocious dresses, and then this weekend some friends are coming over for a pool party, you should stop by…”
I was sold.
The other girls competing appeared to need little luring. I recognized two from my high school; one had a cameo on "Hannah Montana" and had made the cover of a Nordstrom’s Training Bra catalog. Another was on the Varsity Surfing Team. At that point my hair had begun to grow out in a triangle-shaped mound of Jewish curls, and I was combing my bangs over my eyes (which I thought looked pretty sultry, but in reality made me look like a 4’11” prepubescent pine cone). I was the President Polk of the pageant, a dark horse, or maybe just a bad joke.
The pageant required no talent (why bother, when you look this good amiright?). There were three segments: evening gown, fitness (swimsuit) and interview. For evening, I wore a black dress made out of sweat pant material. I was barely passing for 14, so the Goth thing could only help.
I come from an affluent, liberal suburb of LA,which is like a younger, bohemian, black sheep sibling of Beverly Hills. Many in Malibu made bank in the entertainment business and then hermited themselves away in canyon-scaling estates and new-agey beach houses to practice a deeper, more laidback life.
So when Donald Trump’s transparently superficial sideshow came to town in the form of a new local beauty pageant, I’m pretty sure everyone was just set against choosing the typical “beauty queen."
Still, when I made top 5 out of 7, I was rising high on seratonin. During the question part of the pageant, I was asked to name five service clubs of Malibu. For some reason, community service when right over my head. I began to contemplate providers of service.
"Every town needs education services, right? We’ve got some tutoring centers. And we live on the water, so I’m sure we have boating organizations? And I don’t know if you’ve ever read 'Moby Dick,' but the ship becomes a symbol for racial harmony, which is related to yacht clubs, in a way."
Man, I’m shocked no one uploaded that to You tube, I’d surely have more Google hits than Miss Teen North Carolina (#lifegoalz). When I get nervous I start to ramble, and backtrack and giggle, and so I did, getting all flustered and red, which is horrible for me, but a relatively enjoyable experience for an audience. So by the end of what should have been a very basic question, everyone was cracking up at this kid muttering into a microphone in a black sweatpant dress on a high-school stage.
Next up was Brie, who I can describe only as the perfect embodiment of the 21st-century Barbie. Her question was her ideal role model. I was devastated; how did I get the logistical question and she gets the slam-dunk prize? Barbara Boxer, Hilary Clinton, Beyonce, and you’re in.
But she froze, and the crowd froze, and the silence caved in until finally someone screamed from the crowd, "Your mom!"
And she went, "Yes. My mom." And that was it really, because she deserved to win, and I was up there like a lingering punch line.
But I made it to top three! Brie and the varsity surfer flanked me on both sides.
For top three, they put you in the “silence box,” which means you go backstage and cover your ears while they ask each girl a final question.
“As a young woman, how do you resist peer pressure?”
It was like I soared to the top on Christina Aguilera’s wings. “I am beautiful!” I declared. “I know who I am, and I know what I want, and with that comes a very clear understanding of what I don’t want. No one can bring me down.”
Which was utter bullshit, because my occupation of that stage was completely due to the persuasions of my ultimate girl crush. But the music started, and people threw flowers at me, which I always thought would hurt, but actually felt amazing. Then the announcer said, "Mackenzie Beer, take your first walk as Miss Teen Malibu."
I realized I hadn’t done the proper research, because I wasn’t sure where exactly to go: offstage? The audience? Is this when I wave? So I did a combination of all three, which was very confusing and finally over, and the director bestowed upon me my prizes, winked and let me know we’d begin extensive training for State toward the end of summer.
Any comic remnant departed my head when that plastic, rhinestone crown dug in, because I gradually began to go pageant crazy. When my friends invited me to go camping in the canyon, I faked sick because I had to work on my walk. Do you know what that entails? Putting high heels on and walking around a room.
I trolled pageant strategy sites, and purchased a pink tulle gown with feathers that flared out like Ursula’s eels, a shiny swimsuit with a volleyball of padding that made me an inst-a-C cup.
In the Miss USA system you can pay to compete, even without winning a local title, so my former competitors and I were saddled together once again. I met my roommate for the competition weekend, she hugged me, dropped a pink charm bracelet on my pillow and remarked on the influx of "fat girls" this year.
In Malibu, it may have been cool to be an underdog, but at the ice cream social in the marble ballroom of our Palm Springs hotel, the clear front runners had already bypassed the losers at the to hold court in a tight clique of silk pajamas and pastel hair curlers in the far corner.
The evening of the State Pageant was quite an affair: choreographed dance maneuvers, voice-over speeches, and acrobatic tricks. The evening before, my roommate kissed a gold cross around her neck, and described her gratitude for her faith.
"Surely, you know how conservative the judges are?"
I did not. Did they know I was Jewish? I changed my speech at the last minute to most cheesy and fake tribute to a Lord I never had, and was immediately eliminated.
Since my reign, each Miss Teen Malibu has been about 5’8,” PhotoShopped, and tan. Just this year, Brie made first runner up to Miss California. I sometimes wear my sash and relive the glory days, but I am happy to say that my pageant days are long behind me.