Funny Business with Jane Wells

I Was a Teenage Beauty Pageant Mom And What A Business!

This weekend I became a teen beauty pageant mother for the first time. What I learned is that I'm in the wrong business. My 17-year-old daughter was a contestant in a statewide pageant for scholarships--no swimsuit competitions here, just evening gowns, grades, 20-second speeches, and poise.

Before I get to the money, my observations.

Never having done this before, I was concerned it might be, well, weird. Maybe sleazy. But I found pageant officials to be kind, professional, supportive, and upbeat. Most importantly, they made me feel my daughter was in safe hands for the weekend.

The 175 contestants came in all shapes and sizes, and all were lovely, because what 17-year-old girl isn't perfect? The girls did not appear to be checking each other out--that was left to the mothers. Including me.

As for the pageant itself, it was wonderfully reminiscent of a Christopher Guest film. A few families had clearly been on the pageant circuit for some time, but most were like us, dazed and amused as the "show" began. One classic moment: the singing sisters who provided much of the entertainment stopped the opening number in its tracks due to audio problems. They apologized for "that train wreck." I live for such moments.

The 20-second speeches were meant to tell the audience what each young woman wants to do with her life. I was half hoping some contestant would be honest and say, "Hey, I just wanna have a good time." But, alas, with a $15,000 first prize on the line, no one was out for laughs. At least intentionally.

Many girls want to be doctors or fashion designers. One plans to be both. Others want to be lawyers or veterinarians or TV anchors. One of the best-looking girls revealed she wants to be a plastic surgeon, "with a little nip here and a tuck there," she said with an exaggerated wink. Then she turned serious to say she also wants to help disfigured orphans.

I'm not making this up. Another wants to help the Third World's medical becoming an anesthesiologist. Personally, I liked the girl who wants to be an FBI agent, or the one who wants to join the DEA. They may actually make a difference.

As for my daughter, she wants to become a forensic psychiatrist and work with criminals--she loves "Law & Order." She figured this dream of hers--"ultimately making the justice system work, and giving hope to the hopeless"--would help her stand out. But 12 contestants before her, another girl said SHE wanted to go into forensic psychology (note: not psychiatry--I'm keeping score), but she didn't say why. Instead this girl said she was going to use her degree as a jumping off point to become President of the United States. Ah.

Ok, now for the money. All the prizes totaled $38,000. Not bad.

But here's what this contest cost us:

$750 entry and registration fees

$130 for two-day pageant DVD

$70 for LAST year's pageant DVD so you can prep.

$280 for tickets and mandatory t-shirt (some paid more).

$120 for the professional photos (some paid more).

$123 for extra room at hotel where my daughter could join me for hair and make-up since no outsiders were allowed into her pageant-booked hotel room (not even mom).

Hair and makeup: $300 (Hey, I've invested this much already...)

$250 for extra gown and required shoes (on sale!) $10 for program (some parents paid $300 for full-page ad in program, we did not. I wonder if this hurt her chances).

Our total: $2,033, of which $1,360 went to the pageant company or the sub contracting photo and video companies.

Multiply that by 175 girls and you have $238,000. Even if half of that goes to prize money and overhead, you're clearing $119,000. Talk about a beauty! Do a few of those a year...

In the end, my daughter did not win. An outrage! She did, however have fun and will have a great story to tell at dinner parties for the rest of her life ("Let me tell you about the time I was in a beauty pageant...")

Who did win? The "nip/tuck" girl.

I won a new appreciation for the business of pursuing beautiful dreams. Pageant officials told my daughter she should try again next year! Perhaps that $2,000 could be better used toward helping her become a forensic psychiatrist and give "hope to the hopeless."

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