Friday, 15 June 2012

Novel Thoughts: The Making of Miss B

Our B could be Brighton, it could be Bexhill-on-Sea, Or it could be Bognor Regis or it could be Bournemouth. We’ll just call it B, a jewel of a resort on the south coast of England. And its beauty queen is Miss B. And this is her story, or rather, the story of the making of Miss B.
A long time ago, before I was born, it all started by the ornamental swimming pool, where gals in modest one-piece post-war swimsuits and multiple hairstyles inspired by Veronica Lake, Rosalind Russell and a young Elizabeth Taylor shyly gathered to have their beauty graded by chaps in blazers and white ducks with moustaches and matronly spinsters from the local school of deportment. This was the time of popular end-of-the-pier jokes about beauty contestants and their embonpoint. Then came the sixties with the advent of the bikini, and the hot foreign bodies, from Brigitte Bardot, to Elke Sommer, to Britt Eklund. But it was the Bardot blonde, the sulky, cigarette-smoking girl of the Midi who changed the look and feel of these contests forever.
Before too long, however, the feminists came on the scene, at about the same time as me, to burn their bras if not their bikini tops and the beauty world seemed passé and very much part of the male dominance of society, where a woman was judged solely on her looks, even if the look of these looks changed not only with the dictates of fashion but also with social conventions. By the end of the century the beauty business was in decline with television marginalising the competitions and the competitors still an easy target for ridicule with their protestations for world peace.
But then the world of celebrity and reality shows changed all that in the new millennium. Suddenly every girl wanted to be a beauty and even the most provincial of contests was oversubscribed with hopefuls, coiffed apurpose, batting false eyelashes and sporting talons of animal length and aesthetic artistry.
I remember my first day as editor of the Guardian, B’s local newspaper. I was called in to the publisher’s office to witness him sending off the incumbent Miss B. Already four months pregnant. She had come to the town for her tertiary education at the revamped poly, now dubbed laughingly a university, in media studies. It appeared she had decided to keep the baby but had yet to inform her parents. Kirk, the middle-aged publisher, wrung his hands and lamented her position. So she was packed back off up north.
When she had left he pointedly remarked to me that he did not want another outsider crowned as Miss B, nor did he expect my management of the competion to be as flawed as that of my predecessor. Certainly there was no way I would be able to get any of the contestants pregnant! I think he was relieved at that. It was a start. Little had I known this would be part of my job desciption. Managing a beauty pageant.
‘Miss B is not just about a pretty face. The search is on to find a young lady with that special spark to represent our town in the national competition later in the summer, and, who knows, if she wins that she would go on to compete in Miss Galaxy.’
This was the dream, then. The reality was rather different. The town had never won the national competition, only getting as close one year as third runner-up, a giant of a girl, model potential if she could have lost some weight, who declared in her semi-final stage speech, that she was only doing the competition to give her a leg up in the music business. You can imagine how that went down with the judges. These days she was seen from time to time fronting a distinctly amateur band playing some of the seedier pubs on a Friday night in the bad part of town.

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