During my first visit to Kentucky, my soon-to-be husband Nic took me to the eastern part of the state to meet his family. As is the regular course of summertime in the South, many festivals were in full swing, including the Nibroc Festival. Nic’s sister was participating in the Miss Nibroc Beauty Pageant, and we were keen to cheer her on.
As we entered the high school gym, I was overwhelmed by a gaseous cloud of perfume and hairspray. Many women were similarly dressed: lots of make-up, big hair and Dolly Parton-esque rhinestone chic. Silently praying that anyone who wanted a cigarette stepped outside to avoid a peroxide explosion of magnificent proportions, we made our way to our seats, which happened to be in front of the video camera and boom mike recording the event for posterity.
The beauty pageant was my first and, to date, my only such event. Since just one week later, I would be entering a doctoral program in Women’s Studies, I watched in a mixture of shock, horror and amusement. Nic gleaned as much amusement from my reactions as from the spectacle itself.
One by one, contestants walked across the stage, introducing themselves. We cheered loudly for Susan, while Nic’s younger brother Michael filled us in on juicy gossip about each of the other girls.
“And now we enter the career section of the pageant.”
My attention returned to the stage but my interest quickly turned to disbelief. One by one, the girls paraded across the stage with the various accoutrements of their intended profession and gave a brief speech about why they wanted to pursue that particular path in life. Did I mention they would do this in high heels and bikinis? And big hair. Huge hair. (Remember the hairspray?)
Enter contestant number one. The pointer in her hand indicated she would like to be a teacher. At least three girls wanted to be a teacher. Nic muttered a wish that his teachers had looked like that. A few more came out in hard hats and carrying hammers. Future engineers. A briefcase for the one would-be business major. The only girl with short hair wore a military officer’s hat with her swimwear, an indication that she was soon to enter Naval Academy. I fidgeted in my seat, hoping the event would soon be over. It had been a long day and I was keen to get back to Lexington. There was just one more contestant.
A tall redhead in heels and skimpy bikini tottered across the stage holding a weather map, a tower of curls upon her head. In a strong Eastern Kentucky drawl she announced, “When I go to college, I’m going to be a meteorologist.”
Suddenly the applause was punctuated for us by Michael, as he voiced the profound wisdom of a fourteen year old. Speaking loudly into the boom-mike, unintentionally recording his words for anyone who chose to buy a keepsake of the evening, including no doubt the future meteorologist’s family, he offered his opinion:
“She can’t be a meteorologist. You can’t see the weather for her hair!”
I remain convinced that somewhere a redhead chokes back a tear every time she watches the video. Nine years later, I’m still waiting to see her on the local news channels.