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What To Wear When Digging Worms

Julie Jacobson
2011 Miss America contestants line up for the judges.

When I heard that the Miss America Pageant was ditching its swimsuit competition, I thought … it’s about time. Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox news anchor who’s now the Miss America chairwoman (and who also filed a harassment lawsuit against her former disgraced boss, the late Roger Ailes), promises that from now on contestants will be judged more on their talents and intelligence than on their looks. But I’ll lay you odds that the next Miss America will still be slim, gorgeous, and gowned in something clingy as she promenades in front of the judges.

Sure, the contenders will also have to do something they’ve practiced, like tap dancing, or expressing hopes for world peace. But I suspect that for many little girls, the pageant will still reinforce the fairy tale belief that princesses live happily ever after mostly because they are pretty, not because they're smart.

That mythology is changing, though, even in animated movies. The sisters in Disney’s Frozen are each powerful in their own ways - unlike, for example, The Little Mermaid, who gives up fins for a pair of legs, just so she can marry a bi-pedal human.

And let me just say it’s hard to imagine the plot in reverse - a guy giving up his life on land to live with a fish.

Now, I know it’s easy to overthink gender stereotypes, even as our children manage to transcend them. My daughter once cut her Barbie doll’s hair short and took her rock-climbing on a backyard boulder. Now she climbs mountains herself. She also wears lovely dresses on special occasions. Nothing wrong with looking great, but she seems to have absorbed the lesson that doing great stuff is even better.
So I was thrilled when my five-year-old granddaughter decided to dig for worms so she could go fishing in the pond behind her house. Her self-selected outfit for the day was a pink sundress, sparkly gold shoes, and a pocketbook with sequins.

After an hour at the edge of the garden thrusting her little polished fingernails into the damp earth, she happily stashed the wriggly bait into said purse – and didn’t mind a bit when she got a little mud on the Cinderella-like slippers and the frilly dress.

And as I gazed into her gorgeous big brown eyes I said, “Wow, those are beautiful … worms.”

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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