I was raised around the idea that “to pageant” is a necessary life skill, not unlike reading or writing. Understandably so, women who embody beauty ideals earn higher wages than those that don’t (Cohen/Wilk/Stoeltje ). A select few of my high school classmates entered into actual beauty pageants, because in my town (and I assume many others in the south) another, even grander and somehow more troubling outlet for princess culture existed.
Los Donas de la Corte is a part of southern coronation tradition. Intended to honor local families, debutants parade around (figuratively and literally; during our Buccaneer Days celebration they must ride around in a float) in custom made, beaded and bejeweled dresses (bedazzled far beyond that of a 90‘s middle school girl’s jean jacket) with trains extending several feet and rather heavy crowns. After the pageant and parade, dresses are donated to the city and displayed in the local history museum.
(those metal braces are basically the same as stakes that hold up trees)
These dresses are inspired by important world events, my year was The Court of Triumphant Dynasties, in an attempt to add legitimacy to the event–not only are these girls wealthy and beautiful, but they are also *smart*. Oh, did I mention that these dresses run around 10,000 dollars? This effectively limits the Coronation Pageant to societies wealthiest; the girls are not chosen because of their beauty, but they are nevertheless expected to perform the body work necessary to become an aesthetically pleasing visual spectacle.
Unlike a traditional pageant, debutants must be invited to join the royal court and compete many required community service and self service tasks– A duchess of the court must be enrolled in college and have lived in the state she’s representing for all of her formative years. She must be regarded well in the community, and come from an actively charitable family. She must have an attractive male escort, essentially a boyfriend that pleases not only your father but the whole community. Once a duchess is coronated, she should keep very close ties to her community in the hopes of becoming princess. This is the utmost honor because it does not only recognize the girl that worked very hard to look presentable and be born into a wealthy family, but it recognizes her parents, who then become king and queen of the court.
(my mother would approve of him, but would I?) (no)
I debuted, but I did not make it to my coronation–it was during finals week and rescheduling all my exams would undoubtably lead to a lower GPA. I wish that I had the insight I have now, and chose not to pageant because of the weird class system it propagates, or the glorification of princess culture, or the fact that I could do 10,000 better things with that 10,000 dollars, or that I was essentially being turned into the fanciest tapestry to represent a history I didn’t fully understand, and wasn’t particularly connected to (of course I was given an Indian dynasty––one that I hadn’t heard of before, and that didn’t even rule over the part of India that my family is from).
And yet, this coronation tradition does not only exist, it thrives. Coronation culture embodies the contradictions that Cohen/Wilk/Stoeltje pointed out; it can be degrading, and it creates unfair standards along socioeconomic and gender lines. Yet, as my town gathers to view the parade they watch with a “morbid fascination”.