Earlier this month, the “popular” girls at Grand Prairie High School in Texas attempted to pull a prank on an innocent senior, Lillian Skinner, by telling her she would be nominated for homecoming queen. Little did they know two of Lillian’s friends who were nominated had made a pact. If either of them won, they would give the crown to Lillian. Sure enough, one of the girls did win and she followed through, crowning Lillian homecoming queen. This story struck me in a complicated way. When I was a senior in high school, I was nominated to the homecoming court. There were five of us and I was friends with each of them. At the football game that Friday night, I ended up being crowned my high school’s homecoming queen. I’d like to think it was because I tried my hardest to be kind to others, but I will never really know why I was voted this meaningless title. Anyone in my class could have put down any person’s name and mine happened to be the one that was written down the most.
Looking back, comparing my story to this recent story of kindness and going against the norms of a “homecoming queen” in the case of Grand Prairie, I feel ashamed. One of my fellow homecoming queen nominees was my friend but I also know she was bullied based on her looks, her interests and her personality. But she was so extremely kind that I always thought to myself, “She had to be nominated because is so nice! She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body!” I also had the thought in the back of my mind as they revealed the nominees over the morning announcements “Could this be a prank?” I feel that I am a kind person, but now seeing this compassionate act of teens in Texas, made me realize that while I had the thought in my mind of whether her nomination was a cruel prank or not, I never had the thought to give up my crown. At that time, I wanted to be the queen, I suppose. I wanted a title and some sort of micro-fame. I felt good about myself. It made me feel confident.
I know homecoming courts and beauty pageants are not identical realms, but I feel the homecoming tradition definitely has ties to and resembles the pageant phenomenon. I did not choose to be on the homecoming court and I can honestly say I didn’t vote for myself, but I was paraded around and I chose to look pretty – even curling my hair and buying a new outfit for the occasion. I was in student council, I played sports, I was at the top of my class academically, and I kept up to date with what the popular crowd was wearing. I made myself fit in with the top tier of the stupid hierarchical system of high school (I only have this view after the fact). I was singled out as a female who fit a certain mold; I fit it so well that I won something for it. In their “Introduction: Beauty Queens on the Global Stage,” Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje state, “Beauty contests put gender norms – conventionally, idealized versions of femininity – on stage in a competition awarding the winner a ‘royal’ title and crown,” (2). While not a beauty contest, I feel I was voted an idealized version of a female high school student. People I didn’t know voted for me and people who voted for me didn’t know me – they thought they knew me, they had an idea of me. They go on to say, “Beauty contests are places where cultural meanings are produced, consumed, and rejected, where local and global, ethnic and national, national and international cultures and structures of power are engaged in their most trivial but vital aspects,” (8). I would argue that this place where these cultural meanings interact in beauty pageants also interact in the realm of the homecoming court. Cultural meanings were produced and consumed through the winner of homecoming queen and rejected in those who did not win. In “Miss America, National Identity, and the Identity Politics of Whiteness”, Sarah Banet-Weiser says,
“The Miss America contestant’s body, through her disciplined physique, her commitment to virtue, and her testimony to stability represents a well-managed collective white American body. Through the displace of female bodies and the insistence of an ideology of whiteness, the beauty pageant transforms a culture’s anxiety abut itself … into a spectacular reenactment overcoming of that very anxiety,” (86)
Looking back at this moment in my life, how it made me feel then and how I am struggling with it now makes me uncomfortable. Was I a “well-managed collective white American body”? Is the homecoming court linked to the premise of pageants? Are high schools overcoming their anxiety by nominating a female who best represents them? Jillian Skinner and her friends are a specific case that goes against the idealized high school homecoming queen. Maybe I should have given up my crown that now is packed away in my closet at home in Pennsylvania. Or maybe I should have pulled a Mean Girls and broken off a piece for everyone.