Chapter 1: Vanity
Weight: 142 pounds
Pants that are too tight: 3
Wrinkles: 8 too many
Resolve to lose 7 pounds and double up on eye cream.
Tara McClary’s a good-lookin’ woman—the quintessential Southern belle. Perfectly mannered and manicured, blonde hair and brown eyes, tall, thin, and tan. It’s little surprise, then, that in 1990 she and her mom were crowned Mother/Daughter USA. She’s a pageant success story, and in truth she’s the kind of woman most of us love to hate. Problem is that once you get to know her, you’ll have a hard time finding just cause.
I met Tara when I was a junior in college. My boyfriend, Dallas (now my husband), and his family had known the McClarys for years. And after reconnecting in their early twenties, Tara and Dallas came up with an idea for a book they wanted to cowrite. As a non–title holding, average girl, I felt a bit unsettled when my boyfriend told me he'd be working hours on end with a beauty queen.
When I expressed my concern, he explained that he didn’t think of her that way. She was a family friend, and besides, she wasn’t his type; she was too perfect. He preferred the girl-next-door.
Much to Dal’s surprise, I didn’t feel better. That is, until I met her. Turns out she wasn’t a threat—and not because she wasn’t perfect; she kind of was. But she was beautiful without pretense. She was genuinely likable.
The three of us spent the weekend at Dal’s parents’ house (she to flesh out ideas for the book and me to stand guard), and we got to talking about pageant life. It seemed like a lot of pressure to me—so many beautiful women all competing for the same crown, their bodies and clothing being scrutinized by the judges and, no doubt, by each other.
She laughed and agreed. She had felt the pressure. But after years of chasing perfection, she realized there
would always be someone more beautiful. It made no difference how often she exercised or the number of beauty products she used—someone would always upstage her. So she abandoned the goal of attaining perfection, accepting her limitations and, in turn, herself.
It was simple enough. If Tara McClary had to come to terms with the fact that there would always be someone prettier, even with her beauty credentials, then it was certainly true for me, too. And it sounded great—embracing the idea would be like throwing insecurity to the wind. I’m me, and you’re you. If you’re prettier, good for you.
Poof. Pressure’s off.
Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We compare. She’s skinnier, she’s got bigger boobs, she has perfect hair—and there’s no end to the madness. Whether it’s a girl in line at the grocery store or celebrities in magazines, we find fault with ourselves based on a standard set by someone else. And dropping out of the race made sense to me.
Problem is that in spite of Tara’s wisdom and the freedom it brought her, I haven’t been able to stop comparing. Logically speaking, I know I’m running a race I can’t win; someone will always out-pretty me. But even when I’m not comparing myself to someone else, I keep an ever-growing list of things I’d like to change. If only I could tighten up my abs and get rid of a few wrinkles, then I’d be content.
So if logic doesn’t snap me out of my vain haze, how will I be able to accept myself, flaws and all? And since the pressure to be beautiful seems to come from both the inside and the outside, is it even possible to escape it? What’s the trick to being happy just to be me?