Last week, I went ice skating with some friends. Unfortunately, however, a person much larger than I lost their balance, ran into me, and then tried to use me to save himself from falling. This was a terrible idea. I know that many of you don’t actually know me, but for reference, here’s a picture of me at homecoming with some friends. I’m the one in the red dress.
In other words, that plan did not end well for him. Although, actually, he wasn’t hurt. I, on the other hand, bounced on the ice with my head. We went to the emergency room, where we discovered that, luckily, I have no structural damage. Just a pretty standard concussion (thank god).
But even with a standard concussion, there are precautions that have to be taken. No reading, writing, texting, watching tv, etcetera. In short, it is a very dull experience. I discovered rapidly that I had to somehow entertain myself, or else be incredibly, painfully bored. My mother hit on the idea of an audiobook, and though I had been opposed to them before, I was very willing to try. I picked Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray, for two reasons. 1) I had been wanting to read it ever since I gave it to a friend and 2) I had loved The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, also by Libba Bray.
The book turned out to be entirely lovely, but not at all what I had expected. Having read Bray’s previous works, I had anticipated a more serious tone. What I got instead, was a very satirical novel which brings to light major issues in reality tv, the beauty industry, sexuality, identity, and beauty. I loved all of it. We all need a little bit of silliness in our lives sometimes.
“Survival. Of the fittest.
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.” -Beauty Queens, Libba Bray.
This book is not Lord of the Flies inspired, as far as I can tell, although that is what I expected based on the premise of it. This is a clash between Mean Girls, James Bond, and Lost. It is witty, satirical, hilarious, and important. Even in the most technologically advanced age to date, even despite the products and the infomercials and the creams and the lotions, and the general “better-ing” products, we are among the most insecure teenagers to ever have lived. But is it despite these products- or because of them? Anywhere you look in the media, there is someone telling you that you can be better. It is a very subtle maneuver, so much so that one has to truly pay attention in order to see it. Nothing about you is ever good enough, in this culture. Even your eyelashes need to be working a little harder.
And the line between feeling beautiful and beautifying yourself for the sake of others is a very, very thin one. I’ve crossed it. You’ve crossed it. I don’t think it is inherently wrong. I love makeup, and makeovers, and clothes. There is something empowering in making yourself the best that you can be. The place that we lose ourselves is the same place that tells us that blue eyeshadow is slutty. That is a stigma, and, like most stigmas, it’s wrong. The eyeshadow isn’t slutty. You’re not slutty. You’re just you. And maybe other girls will think you’re a slut if you wear blue eyeshadow. But maybe those are the same girls that got up an hour early so that they can be beautiful for someone else. Maybe, just maybe, those aren’t the girls that you should listen to. Sometimes you have to make a big statement. Sometimes, that big statement is as small as blue eyeshadow, and red lipstick, and saying yes to what makes you feel like the best and most beautiful version of yourself. You can’t please everyone. Don’t limit yourself. Someone will dislike your choices. That much is inevitable. So you, at least, should choose that which makes you feel happy.
“I’m not a slut or a nympho or someone who’s just asking for it. And if I talk too loud it’s just that I’m trying to be heard.” -Miss Nebraska, Beauty Queens
There was one character in the book with whom I identified deeply. I felt as if the conflicting feelings that so often plague me had been painted smoothly onto the canvas of this novel. This character is one who feels like there is so much feeling inside of her that surely it is too much for one body. This is a character who wants to be wild and live a big life. This is a character who feels stuck between what she is supposed to do, and what really makes her feel alive.
“Occasionally from the school bus windows she would see other wild girls on the edges of cornfields running without shoes hair unkempt. Their short skirts rode up flashing warning lights of flesh: backs of knees the curve of a calf a smooth plain of thigh. Sometimes it was just a girl waiting for a bus but in her eyes Mary Lou recognized the feral quality. That was a girl who wanted to race trains under a full moon a girl who liked the feel of silk stockings against her skin the whisper promise of a boy’s neck under her lips who did not wait for life to choose her but wished to do the choosing herself. It made Mary Lou ache with everything she held back.”
Not everyone feels this. Some people, I think, are content in the lives they are living, comfortable in their own skin. I don’t think it’s often that people feel as though they are too much for one body. There is so much that I want to do. And that wild feeling, that shivers-up-the-spine feeling, is one I know too well. It’s an addiction. But maybe, just maybe, not all addictions are bad. We cast such a negative shadow on that word, and yes, I recognize that there are negative aspects of it. But isn’t that true of everything? We all have a dark side. Every label, every word, can be twisted into something frightening. But we forget that there are two sides to every coin. There is something beautiful about being addicted to the feeling of a pen on paper, of moonlight on your face, something beautiful about loving the feeling of falling. True, all of these things can keep you up at night. True, you might wake up at three in the morning and run across your bedroom to write frantically for an hour. True, your mother may yell at you when she finds you at five in the morning, writing to save your life. And also true, there is sadness in this lifestyle. In recognizing that good and the bad inside yourself.
But there is so much beauty to be found inside the blank pages of yourself, in the places where your heart beats too fast and someone’s voice inside your head whispers no. Libba Bray lives there, I think. At least her writing does. She does not merely touch on controversy, she dives into it. This book is not written to please anyone, and in fact is important in that it taps into such real world issues as what it means to be transgendered, lesbian, or discriminated against because of race.
If you happen to subscribe to the love is love is love philosophy, as well as have a sense of humor, this may be the perfect book for you. If not, I recommend you do not read it.