A friend told me that he saw my picture in a 30th-anniversary issue of my hometown newspaper, the Forest City Summit. It was a picture of me along with the other members of the Miss Forest City Pageant court smiling at the camera. Miss Forest City was a preliminary to the Miss Iowa and Miss America pageants. I competed in two local contests, but I never made it to the state level.
A crown would mean I was worthy
Gazing at my young face awoke an old memory in me of how much I used to want the Miss America title. I grew up watching the beauty contest on the television and the contestants looked like they had it together. Unlike other pageants, Miss America contestants were also judged on talent.
In my teens and early 20s, there was an emptiness in me that I was trying to fill. I was looking for validation — that I was worth something — and everything I saw in the culture pointed to the idea that a woman’s worth was dependent on what she looked like on the outside. I mistakenly thought that winning the Miss America crown would make feel loved. I’m not saying every contestant feels the same — I am sure they had many reasons for entering.
In my mind, being crowned and walking down the stage with an arm full of flowers while Bert Parks crooned, “There she is Miss America” would mean that I was someone, and I would finally feel good enough.
This silly idea only grew when the guy I was dating happened to meet the reigning Miss America, and he asked her out. It was an amusing machismo move on his part, but it fueled my insecurities.
When I was a senior at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I even filmed a humorous short called, “I Want My Crown.” It was about pageants and how having a Miss America crown would make me feel beautiful.
A former professor told me something I will never forget
Two years after graduating from college, I came back to Minneapolis to visit one of my favorite media arts professors, Robert Lawrence. We were in an elevator together on our way up to the art institute’s restaurant, and he guffawed, pointing out to me, “Lori, you finally got your crown.”
Professor Lawrence was referring to my 6-week-old baby daughter, Ella, who lay sleeping in her car seat. His eye-opening words were like a whoosh of wind opening up the curtained windows of my mind.
I was 25 when I found out why the Catholic Church wisely has rules regarding premarital sex. The young man that I was sure I would marry broke off our 16-month relationship, so the next day I took a pregnancy test without anticipating that two pink lines for positive would emerge. (Read the full story at BirthrightofBoise.com.)
Discovering I was pregnant and alone was, at that point in my life, the most devastating thing to ever happen to me. I was terrified to tell my parents, and I didn’t see that there was any way that I could raise a baby on my own. I had two part-time jobs and no health insurance. I was only scraping by.
I was alone and fearful of the unknown. I thought I might lose one of my jobs, and I was worried that my parents might reject me.
Still, I wanted my baby.
A male co-worker scoffed at me and resented me for continuing with the pregnancy. I think he thought I was ruining my life. Fortunately, I didn’t listen to negative advice, and I went to Birthright, a crisis pregnancy center. My counselor showed me compassion and helped me solve my problems — from finances to telling my parents.
Motherhood is a glorious crown
From the moment I found out I was pregnant with Ella, my perspective changed. I realized that I had to stop thinking so much about myself because another life depended on me. In becoming a mother, I finally found my self-worth. Looking into my baby’s eyes, I saw a different me reflected.
I saw a mama, and I liked her.
Becoming a mother was the most precious gift ever given to me. My baby didn’t care if I was put together or not. I was her world, and she was mine.
She did for me what a Miss America title could have never have done. Professor Lawrence’s declaration was apt. I finally got my crown. I was blessed, after marrying my husband David, to have three more crowns named Gemma, Trystan, and Max.
In motherhood, I finally realized my self-worth. Being a mother didn’t take away anything from me — it completed me.