“Next up is little Bobbi Lynn from Rochester Hills. Come on out, Miss Bobbi Lynn!” The announcer had a voice that was radio gold. Smooth, clear and with just the slightest metallic ting.
Bobbi Lynn bounced on the stage. Her cotton candy pink dress swirled around her legs. High heels clicked on the floor. Eyes, lips, cheeks, all plastered with color. Puffy blonde hair, stiff with spray, sat atop her head. A bow as big as a dinner plate and as pink as her dress clipped into her hair. White, straight teeth sparkled through her smiling lips.
She was perfectly pretty.
“Bobbi Lynn is 10 years old. Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese. She loves the color pink and playing with her dollies. Her best friend is her mom,” the announcer crooned. “Now, isn’t that sweet. What a beaut. Right?”
The audience cheered as Bobbi left the stage, winking and waving.
“Next we have little Cyndie Anne…”
The Little Pretty contest was held every year in the spring. Girls from all over the state came with their doting mothers and enough hairspray to keep a yak’s coat standing on end. Tiny Barbie dolls trotting around. Their mom’s in tow, doting and prodding at the same time.
“Remember, audience, this competition is decided on the following categories; evening wear, talent, poise and swimwear. Now, get ready. The Little Pretty contestants are excited to bring you the talent portion of our show!”
Backstage was a bustle with costume changes, extra powder on foreheads, temper tantrums. 20 sets of batons had to be found for 10 nearly identical routines. Tragedy struck when the tappy part of one girl’s tap shoes fell off.
Bobbi Lynn hated these contests. She wanted nothing more than to throw off the ruffles and bows and wigs and false teeth that covered her awkward-growing-in teeth. To scrub off the make up, throw out the wig, pull her real hair into a pony-tail, get into some jean shorts and tshirt. She wanted to climb a tree, scrape up her knees, learn to throw a curve ball. Sit on her bed for hours reading a stack of books, wondering about the world.
But instead, she had a purple tutu around her waist, a top that looked like a corset and cowboy hat on her head.
“Oh, Bobbi,” her mother said. “Your spray tan looks good.”
“I don’t like it,” Bobbi said. “I look too orange.”
“Oh you do not. Now, quick, do your dance right here.”
“No. I won’t do it here.”
“Little Pretty winners have to work hard.”
“I don’t care if I win or not.”
“Well, Bobbi Lynn, if you do win mama will get you that new Barbie you want.”
“I don’t like Barbie dolls.”
“Sure you do.” Her mom stood. “Now run through it.”
During the routines Bobbi’s mom watched the other girls from the audience. She rejoiced when they dropped their hula hoops or had a boot fly off during a summersault. Each of their errors gave her daughter more of a chance to win. Her feelings of never being good enough were satisfied by Bobbi’s beauty, her talents. Bobbi Lynn’s mom didn’t know that she was pushing her daughter so hard to accomplish what her 40 year old life never could.
And there were a hundred moms back stage, most doing the exact same thing.
They justified false teeth, spray tans, manicures, wigs, teeny-weeny-bikinis, strict diets. And a few paid for the occasional botox to keep a forehead from creasing or a chin from dimpling.
Little Pretty. Little Fake. Little Empty.
“And next,” the announcer boomed into an already too loud microphone. “Bobbi Lynn will grace us with a dance choreographed by her mom!”
Bobbi stepped out onto the stage. Her mom gasped, stood up, hands over mouth. All around her, the audience whispered and stared at the little girl.
All of the fake stuff was off. Bobbi’s dishwater blonde hair was free and with a few messy strands. All her make up was smeared off, her freckles showing even under the artificial tan. She wore the sweatpants and flannel shirt she stuffed into her bag from home. Dirty sneakers on her feet.
She smiled. Beamed. Hers was a real and truly beautiful face. But not for the perfectly swooping nose or the prominent cheek bones. She was radiant in determination, joy.
Music pumped out through the speakers. Bobbi’s mom tried to get her attention, performed the dance moves from her row in the audience.
Bobbi Lynn beckoned the announcer, whispered in his ear.
“Stop the music,” he called out into his muted microphone. “Stop!”
As he yelled louder, the sound tech unmuted him, his microphone squealing and the music stopping.
“Okay, folks. Bobbi Lynn has just informed me of a change in plans. She has a poem she’d like to tell you. She wrote it herself. I’m sure it’s cute as kitties and rainbows.” He handed her the microphone.
“I wrote this poem for my mom.” Bobbi cleared her throat.
The audience “ahh-ed”. Her mom sat down.
“I am just 7 years old
And all my life I’ve been told
To be pretty and cute,
I need to be a little beaut.
But I just want to say
That it’s better to play
Or read a good book.
So please don’t look
At my face or my nails,
My curly pony tails,
My shoes or my dress.
See me through the mess.
I’m smart and I’m funny
I won’t make you money.
I just want you to love me
For who I might be.
Stop trying to make
Me live like a fake.”
Bobbi walked off the stage. She didn’t wink. Didn’t wave.
No one clapped. In fact, no one made a sound.
After 20 minutes the competition continued. Bobbi Lynn and her mom were on their way home. It was a quiet ride.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” Bobbi said.
“Yeah, me too.”
Her mom pulled into a McDonald’s.
“Can I get french fries, please?”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Sure.”
They walked in. The line for the counter was short. Just a few elderly ladies. They chatted as they waited for food to fill their tray.
“Can I help you?” asked the teen behind the register.
“Yeah,” Bobbi’s mom said. “I want nuggets, a double cheese burger, large fry and large soda.”
“I’d like a cheeseburger kid’s meal, please.” Bobbi was eyeing the toys that came with the food.
“Well, would you listen to those manners?” one of the elderly ladies said. “Little miss, it’s nice to hear young people being polite.”
“Thank you,” Bobbi said.
“Do you like school?” the other lady asked.
“I do!” Bobbi moved closer to them. Her mom, rolled her eyes.
“What’s your favorite subject?”
“I like our reading time. I love to read.”
“Well, that’s a very good thing. What’s your favorite book?”
“There are too many! I can’t pick.”
“Then read them all. And enjoy every one of them. Life’s too short to worry about your hair and clothes. Fill it with great things like books and people.”
“Thank you. I would like that.”
“What would you like to do when you grow up?” the first lady.
“I don’t know yet. But I think I might want to do something that helps other people. Like a teacher or a doctor.”
“Polite and a kind heart. Now that’s a nice thing to see in a little girl.”
The ladies carried their trays to a table. Bobbi and her mom took bags of food to their car for the last bit of their drive.
Bobbi rode in the back, eating her burger.
She felt beautiful deep down into her heart.