My Defense Of The South As A Former Pageant Girl

INTRO: Some things tie you to a place forever. Caroline Ballard shares a link to her past with Uptown Radio.

My class is sprawled in chairs and couches. We’re in a circle in my professor’s living room. We’ve just finished our first eleven week reporting course of our graduate program. We’re kicking back and cheap wine in plastic cups flows freely.

We’re recalling “embarrassing days of our youth”. I’ve already made everyone watch the trailer of the indie film my classmate was in at sixteen.

Before you know it. I’m in the middle of the circle. Doing pushups. And smiling.

I’m no fitness junkie. These pushups are a throwback to my days as Bedford County’s Junior Miss.

I’m from Virginia. Not the just-outside-of-D.C. Virginia. Technically I live in Bedford County, just outside Lynchburg. Lynchburg Vurginiuh.

Senior year of high school I competed against 26 other girls at our local Junior Miss. Junior Miss was not a beauty pageant. It was a scholarship program. A good one. Diane Sawyer was America’s Junior Miss 1963.

To win the title of Greater Lynchburg’s Junior Miss we were judged on talent, self-expression, academics, interview, and fitness. This is where the push-ups come in. Fitness consisted of a seven-minute routine where you have to smile at the judges through the whole thing.

Pushup. Smile. Pushup. Smile.

That’s what I find myself doing in the living room of my teacher, an Emmy Winning documentarian. My classmates watching me are cosmopolitan. They’re from India, Kenya, Canada, Los Angeles, Florida. They don’t really get Junior Miss.

It’s a southern thing, y’all. I’m kind of proud it.

My parents aren’t from Virginia. They lived in Texas, New York, and New Hampshire before I was born – just two weeks after my family moved to Lynchburg. I was the first real southerner in our family, but I had a hard time feeling it.

I was never totally happy or satisfied there, especially in high school. I was a band geek, something our football-loving town didn’t always appreciate. Junior Year I took off as a foreign exchange student to Portugal, where the cliquey girls in my class mocked me for being American. I came back to the U.S. wondering where I belonged.

So when they put that white and gold Junior Miss medal around my neck at the beginning of my Senior year, it was like I was finally accepted into the Southern club.

Junior Miss was sparkly gowns, scholarships, jewelry, pantsuits. The competition values poise and intelligence. To win was validating. These judges thought I was worth representing the entire town.

I live in New York now and if you saw me on the street you’d never know. I’m just another overworked girl in head-to-toe black. But Jr. Miss connected me to Lynchburg irreversibly. You can’t take it back.

I don’t have an accent. I don’t wear camo or blaze orange. I don’t fire guns and I’ve only ridden an ATV a couple of times. But I’m a Virginian, I’m blonde, and I was a Junior Miss.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Caroline Ballard hails from Lynchburg, Virginia and was Bedford County’s Junior Miss 2009. She laments that there was no place in this commentary to mention that the program’s theme that year was NASCAR.

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