COLUMN: Boone County Fair queen I ain't

Friday, August 6, 2010 | 4:35 p.m. CDT

I have a confession to make: During my awkward teenage years, I was in a pageant.

OK, so it wasn’t a pageant in the traditional sense. For about 15 minutes, I was a contestant in the Spirit of Howell pageant. Howell, in this case, refers to the high school I attended in St. Charles, Francis Howell High School.

The Spirit of Howell pageant was an attempt by the school to host a beauty pageant that wasn’t based on good looks, but rather on school spirit.

Even so, I’m not sure how I ended up being chosen for this competition, as I didn’t have much school spirit. What I do remember is agreeing to participate because I found out the older brother of my longtime crush was also picked to be a contestant.

The first round of the competition was a written test of our knowledge of the school’s history. By this time, I had noticed that my crush’s big brother hadn’t shown up. Taking a test in front of an audience in my most school-spirited outfit (which wasn’t very school-spirited at all) when there was no chance of impressing a boy wasn’t going to fly at age 16, so I purposely flunked to save myself further embarrassment.

My talent was supposed to be some school-related stand-up comedy act that I had written, so that was definitely for the best. The winner, if I remember correctly, was a particularly outgoing boy who performed a ribbon dance to “Edge of Seventeen (Just like the White Winged Dove)” by Stevie Nicks in his wrestling team singlet. I stood no chance.

You have to imagine that at 16, if I would sign up for such humiliation solely on the off-chance that I would attract the attention of some relative of my crush's, I would certainly do it for money, which brings me to my point: The Boone County Fair queen contest and scholarship.

After hearing about the county fair contest’s prize, I went looking for the exact number of zeroes included, and I found the rules and regulations. Based on my research, I’m sorry to report that in addition to Miss Spirit of Howell, I’m not Boone County Fair queen material either.

Here are a few regulations that struck me as unfair:

  • Contestant cannot be (or ever have been) married, pregnant, or have any children.
  • The Boone County Fair Queen will relinquish her title if she enters into a marriage contract or becomes pregnant or if she chooses to cohabitate with a male in lieu of a marriage contract.
  • Contestants should have no visible tattoo or body piercing.

In addition, you have to have lived in Boone County or attended a school in Boone County for at least six months prior to the competition and be in the age group 17 to 22. You also have to prepare a speech on an agriculturally related topic or have a talent to perform (no longer than three minutes, please). Oh, and you have to be a female.

I’ll let you guess which of these rules I’m guilty of breaking, but that’s not really the point.

My feelings on contests such as this are torn. Let’s forget about beauty contests for babies and infants and thus shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras” that follow 5 year olds as they get spray tans and false teeth to hide their toothless gums in preparation for pageants. It reminds me too much of the blue eye shadow and foam curlers I had to wear for my first tap recital circa 1992, and I don’t want to think that I might have been that close to a full-blown pageant.

Let’s also assume that if the contestants are ages 17 to 22, they’re consenting to be in this competition and are not being forced by their parents. From what I can gather, the winner of this competition gets two things: money and attention.

I think the scholarship is great because college is expensive, and funds for programs that help cover the cost, such as Bright Flight and Access Missouri, are being cut. Of course, money is also a barrier in this situation because contestants are expected to pay a $100, nonrefundable entry fee, which is probably funded by their sponsors.

You also have to have a talent if you don’t want to give a speech, which probably means you’ve taken voice or dance lessons, which aren’t cheap. There’s also the evening gown portion, which means you have to have the cash to buy a prom dress.

I think positive attention is also very important for women ages 17 to 22, especially with all the negative images of women in television, movies, music videos, magazines, you name it.

I don’t even mind so much that the attention is probably based on appearances, even though there’s an interview and talent portion of the contest. There are worse things a 17 year old can be exposed to, and in my opinion, it’s not detrimental to tell a young women she’s good-looking if you’re also encouraging her to be confident in her intelligence and personality. I think the same goes for young men.

My criticism is of the group of girls and women this contest excludes. Earning the title of Boone County Fair queen means you’re a role model. As the Missourian reported when Miranda Houttuin was originally crowned queen, each contestant was asked what she would do as a role model for the community. Houttuin acknowledged that "the ideal queen is a role model, 'idolized by the girls.'"

She said it all. The Boone County Fair queen is idolized. Does this mean that girls and women who are married, pregnant, once-pregnant, divorced, living with their partners or who have tattoos or piercings that aren’t covered by their pageant gowns are not role models? Are these people not representative of Boone County? Do they not deserve the scholarship?

Further, cohabitating with a male is prohibited, but the rules make no mention of cohabitating with a sexual partner who is female. I’m assuming it’s because they didn’t think to include it. If this happened, would the contestant be disqualified? Technically, she’s not breaking any rules.

I suppose that for those who actually qualify and can fork over the cash, the Boone County Fair queen contest would be a pretty positive thing. The chance to earn a scholarship and show off your talents is enticing for a young woman. But the real negatives come for the people who are deemed not good enough role models to even enter, those who are judged before they get to the contest.

Amanda Woytus is the managing and calendar editor for Vox Magazine and a copy editor for the Missourian.

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