What I Learned From Some Beauty Pageant Queens

As a little girl, I aspired to be many things when I grew up: an ob/gyn, a marine biologist, an anime character -- you know, normal kid stuff. But by some grace of god, a pageant queen was not on that list.

But that didn't stop me from being curious about those glamorous, world peace loving, dazzling-smiled beauties. Who were they? How did they get their teeth so white? How did each one have a talent? And how did they move with such grace and poise in a swimsuit without ever getting a wedgie? (The answer, as I was baffled to learn years later, is double-sided tape or hairspray.)

If that wasn't confusing enough, I'm now forced try to make sense of child beauty pageant queens who, to me, are the bite-sized living embodiments of everything that's wrong with our superficial, sexist and consumerist society. Perhaps it's the reminder of JonBenét Ramsey's tragic fate that sinks me into dispair every time I see a bizarre scene from Toddlers and Tiaras, or dare I say, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Who are these mothers signing their little girls up to prance around scantily-clad in full makeup? And what happens to these girls when they get older? If the thought of Honey Boo Boo as an adult member of society frightens you, you're not alone.

So I talked to some current and former beauty pageant queens as well as an expert who has written about them: Crystal Brown-Tatum, the reigning Mrs. Black Louisiana and current pageant mom and judge; Hilary Levey Friedman, a sociologist and Author of Here She Comes; Ida White, a Miss Senior Sweetheart International Contestant and the Former Miss Virgin Islands Senior America and our very own HuffPost Live L.A. host Nancy Redd, who was the 2003 Miss Virginia and competed in Miss America.

Here's Crystal Brown-Tatum on beauty:

And here's former Miss Virginia and HuffPost Live host Nancy Redd talking about her experience in pageants:

The pageant world is a bit more nuanced than I expected, but I was most interested to learn about the non-mainstream pageants that include black pageants, which Crystal and her daughter compete in, and pageants for senior citizens, which Ida has taken part in since her mid-60's.

Here are former beauty pageant contestants talking about the skeletons of the pageant industry.

Check out what these pageants mean to the women who compete in them.