by Faith Nibbs
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Date Posted: 11/ 8/06 5:38:52pm
Beauty, in every connotation, has been an obsession of women for centuries. Fashion magazines glorify it, the silver screen canonizes it, pageants reward it. Even among the pages of the Bible we read about queens chosen for their aesthetic appeal. Unlike any of these glamorous stereotypes, competing in the Mrs. Wisconsin pageant changed my opinion of beautiful through some humbling and hysterical experiences.
As a Christian, I had entered the pageant under the belief that we are all beautiful. I was excited about the opportunity to let the glory of God shine through me.
"Oh, no . . . no," snickered the pageant director. "No one is born beautiful. You will need to learn the craft of aesthetic pretense if you are serious about winning."
Aesthetic pretense didn't sound very glamorous to me. The advisers, however, went on with great pride to enlighten me about their theory of beauty as a sculpted art as opposed to a natural gift. The more I listened, the wider my eyes became: What had I gotten myself into?
The first project to take on in the arts and crafts of pageantry was my weight. I was already thin and had entered this thing sure that I at least had that part under control.
"Oh, no!" exclaimed my craftician. "You are going to need to slim down."
"A size what? " I exclaimed looking at the measuring tape she held in her hand. I didn't even know they made clothes that small.
Next, she prescribed a "good old-fashioned colon cleansing." (As if people in the good old days actually did this.) That good old-fashioned process, I found, was about as much fun as trudging through a swamp. I had to live, for three days, off nothing more than a tonic made up of molasses, warm water, lemon juice and maple syrup.
"The syrup is for taste," gushed the weight expert. What taste? I'd nibbled on tree bark during a Scout outing; it had more flavor than this concoction. Reluctantly, I chugged it down.
Next, she suggested pampering myself at the local spa with some body wraps. They were supposed to be great for toning. The pampering process involved a total stranger slathering me with lotion whose scent was reminiscent of the goop I had just finished drinking, then being mummified in Saran Wrap. During this whole process I was feeling a lot of things‹none of them pretty.
Walking and standing, two other skills I'd always taken for granted, merited relearning. To falsify a tall and long-legged look, I was encouraged to wear 4-inch stiletto heels. For days I practiced walking with would-be poise and grace up and down the hallways of our home. My children laughed as I teetered about and my husband‹God bless him‹kept yelling, "Are you all right, Honey? I thought I heard you fall." He did, often.
Over the next few weeks, I worked to achieve that coveted "look" of beauty. I had my hair straightened, braided, beaded, twisted, curled and colored; my skin slathered with seaweed, mud, red clay, puree of avocado and Australian tea bags. By the end I looked, well . . . pretty much the same as I did before. The only thing thinner was my wallet. I also had sore feet and a colon crying out for revenge.
As pageant day neared, previous contestants encouraged me to tape and glue for the swimsuit and gown events. I didn't want my clothes to slip out of place as I sauntered out on stage, did I? And as for the duct tape, you don't want to know! Suffice it to say that giving birth was less painful than removing it.
I remember well when pageant day finally arrived. My five suitcases of "essentials" and I settled into the dressing room and watched as 94 other contestants stuck on false eyelashes and fingernails and ace-bandaged their tummies flat. I was quickly whisked away to a makeup artist and her palette of delights. With total disregard for anything natural, she carved and chiseled a work of art on my face, topped only by a team of hairdressers fussing and spraying my locks into a perfect statue.
After the preliminary rounds, they herded us backstage where we waited like prized cattle ready to parade before the judges whatever it was we had become. Two minutes before curtain call the heel of my sky-high shoes caught in the hem of my gown. The bottom of my dress began unraveling. Luckily, I was able to tear off some extra duct tape, which brought sweat to my brow, and made an emergency fix to the dress.
Before this night, I hadn't worn my shoes for longer than my hallway practices. Now, I had been teetering in them for several hours. I couldn't feel my feet at all. I looked down at my shoes, just to make sure my feet were still there, and almost fell into the judges.
When all was said and done, we peeled off the eyelashes, fell off our heels, pried away the makeup and had our clothing surgically removed. There we stood, just as we were before, stripped to the natural loveliness and dignity that God had created. And it was a beautiful sight.
Ironically, I learned what magazines and their airbrush magicians or pageants and their model contestants don't tell you. Something King Solomon knew all along: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Proverbs 31:30).
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