So this is the point in the blog when I admit that once upon a time, I competed in pageants.
Now, before you go imagining Toddlers & Tiaras, I was far from your average beauty queen. I won a handful of titles but mostly enjoyed having permission to dress up for no particular reason at all. The older I became and the more of a feminist I grew into, I realized how parading oiled up half-naked across a stage and being quizzed on my current events knowledge with a pound of makeup on my faces can seem a little contradictory and not give me the best image of integrity. And while I did attend school with the infamous Ms. South Carolina (I met her, she’s actually quite smart), pageants taught me how to be comfortable on stage, how to own my power when I’m nervous, and how to fake a smile even when I’m shaking.
When I first expressed interest in this tired Southern tradition, my mother -who is far from the Débutante; she’s everything but – couldn’t understand why I would purposefully encourage someone to judge me. I was raised to believe everyone has their own level of loveliness and by words of the renowned Ms. Eleanor that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Fearing I’d compare myself to the other contestants and lose some of my self-worth and value, or worse – develop an eating disorder of sorts, she wasn’t easy to convince. She eventually gave in, seeing the potential confidence and public speaking ability it could give me. However, I had to vow to be honest and to remember beauty is as beauty does, and while it may only be skin deep, I’d have to keep my head high and not fall too hard into the pageantry world.
And while I was part of this microcosm, more than the elegant dresses, the spray tans, and the dazzling crowns that still have their place in my childhood bedroom, being a so-called title holder taught me how to think on my feet. Or really, in 4 inch sparkly shoes. It has been a while since I traded in my mermaid dresses for a voice recorder, and my economy-sized hairspray for a higher, modern hemline – but throughout my journalist career and adult life, being able to think quick and speak elegantly is well worth any dues I paid as a pageant girl.
However, as a 20-something fielding cascading lines of bachelors who strut the streets and trains of Manhattan – while I often play the part of judge, picking the contestant who is a winner in my book, sometimes, I feel like I’m back up on that stage, lights shining, and gracefully fighting for a title. In the past, that title was always Ms. Girlfriend or when my overly premature and idealistic self would take over, Ms. Love of His Life or better yet, Mrs. Right.
But the one title I always felt like I claimed without trying (or was it trying too hard?) was Little Miss Too Much. All those lessons about thinking on the spot flew out the door and putty I become in the hands of the man of the hour.
Whenever I started to like a guy or date him regularly, I always developed this fear of being “too much.” We’re instructed by the women older than us, by our friends who have been there, by everything female that surrounds us that guys are easily intimidated and deathly afraid of commitment. I won’t deny either of those statements, even if they are rather generalized. However – in an effort to prevent the stepping-on-the-loafers of men who I hoped would eventually deem me worthy to be their girlfriend and tie up their loose ends with other ladies – I held myself back. I acted uninterested when I was highly intrigued, I bit my tongue instead of speaking my mind, I held back my frustrations and my longings instead of expressing what I felt, when I felt it. Because while men want to sleep with the beauty queens and date the women who hold the highest title, I had never met a man who wanted to date Little Miss Too Much.
That is, until I did.
When I decided to date above the curve, to raise my standards, and demand more out of a partner, I stopped worrying about being too much to handle. And in return, I found guys who wanted someone just like me – who may be outspoken and demanding and opinionated – but they find it beautiful and inspiring. Because really, those apprehensions come from insecurities and also partly derive from the remains of men who exited without a notice or didn’t care to stick around when the going got going – or got tough. From the dudes who prefer women to be their escorts about town and hang quietly and nicely on their arms, without pressuring or condoning or challenging them. They are the ones who would never fit the bill of what it means to date a woman who has things going for her, who wants to be with someone who not only encourages her thoughts, but engages in wild conversation with her. They are the guys who are too little for a girl who is seemingly “too much.”
And those emotional outbursts or those topics that make our blood boil don’t grant us the title of the crazy ex-girlfriend or the gal who pressured a man into a relationship, with no avail. There really isn’t such a thing as being too much unless there is also such a thing as being too human. Because if we didn’t worry from time to time, if we didn’t let certain things crawl under our skin because we were passionate about them, if we didn’t desire to only be with someone who only wanted to be with us – then what would be the point of attempting anything? Or developing opinions, tastes, and desires? Or deciding how you’ll give world peace to the nations, as every pageant coach instructs you to stay abreast of?
Now, when I’m dating and when I’m with Mr. Possibility and I feel the need to test the waters that I normally wouldn’t have waded for fear of sending a potential partner sailing away- I instead make quite the splash. I don’t make excuses for why I’m upset or why something they say rubs me the wrong way or if I don’t agree with a viewpoint they stand firmly about. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not just to be crowned Ms. Irresistible. I’ve learned they’re competing to be center stage in my life as much as I am in theirs.
Because while pageants may have given me great balance and the ability to bullshit when need-be, they also showed me to be my greatest and most forgiving fan. If you trip, you trip – and you keep walking. If you stutter, you stutter -and you pause and move on. If you lose, you lose – and you try again.
And if you feel like you’re being too much, you put even more out there and give a little extra kick to that hip. Because no one – not even a pearl-ridden Southern girl with hair almost as high as the heavens – makes excuses for being herself.