Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The Best Time I Was a 200 Pound Beauty* Queen

The year: 1996. I was 23, just on the upper cusp of that critical year that determined whether you could be Miss Pittsburgh or Ms. Pittsburgh.

I was writing for a local newsweekly, and, as a very non-beauty-pageanty type, thought it would be good fun to take part in and document the festivities. So I circled Ms. on the application, paid my $50, and began preparations.

You may wonder, why would a large-ish girl with a lumpy belly and crooked teeth sign up for a goddamn beauty pageant? I guess I was just curious. I mean, I'm not perfect by any means, but I'm still pretty darn cute. How would that play in Normal City? Would I get any love?

My goal was to stand up there proudly — tall, lumpy, weird as I am — and put my vision of beauty up against theirs. WHAT IS UP.

Also, I wanted a tiara. A real one, with some heft to it. Since I'm a pretty good singer, I figured the talent competition was my best chance. So my filmmaker friend and I put together the best damn video of someone in a nightgown rolling around a garbage dump and singing "Angel of the Morning" you ever saw. (More on this later.)

The following weeks were a whirlwind of vintage shopping and the methodical undoing of old, misguided hair color decisions. Finally, the big day.

Our posse arrived at the appointed time and place, a suburban Holiday Inn. When I got inside, I saw that the dressing room was almost entirely full of young women in intense undergarments, each undergoing her own epic struggle with hot curlers, mascara wands, and the like. I found a spot, embiggened my hair and eyeliner, and checked out the agenda. Bathing suit first.

I had a super sweet vintage one, white and green floral textured cotton with a metal zipper down the back and pockets. Which was maybe the most awesome garment I have ever owned. But still, my belly and I were about to get on stage in this thing. Panic. I turned to the professional’s cure — three G&Ts, quick as can be — and got in line. Number 11F, the very last one.

Insipid soft rock music on the sound system and introductory comments made, we each took a turn walking and showing our butts all the way across the stage. Even in my panicked state, I noticed that my fellow competitors seemed sweet and everyone did a good job.

And then it was my turn. I breathed deeply, the way you do going up the first hill of a very tall roller coaster, when you think "Well fuck it, I can't get out now." Click click click click... whoosh.

As I stepped onstage, "Buffalo Soldier" started playing on the stereo. Seriously! I'm not sure what it meant — was the DJ was a fellow chubstress giving me a shout out? Or maybe they just could tell I was a rebel from my sparkly jellies?

Either way I did my little walk, turn, look at my lovely/broad arse thing, smiling vacantly and not quite sure what was going on. It was weird being on stage with nothing to particularly do. At least it was over quick.

Next was the interview competition, in which I blew it up in a bright yellow maxi dress with peacocks and roses all over it and red suede Reeboks. When asked who my hero was, I promptly answered "Eddie Vedder." (1996, remember? Huevos of steel.)

Then came the last show your butt strut of the night — evening gowns! Mine was a long sparkly polyester affair with green and pink flowers and sheer puffy nylon sleeves. Rad.

By this time I'd had a few more dranks, so I hammed it up a bit. Giggles erupted in the crowd, I think (mostly?) approvingly. I bounced my curls just a little and got the hell off stage.

At that point, the final three were chosen. You are not shocked and neither was I to learn that sheer cuteness and sass had not landed me a spot in that rarified circle. Oh well, I laughed. I had a trophy for participating and a nice buzz going. Love of life!

The overall pageant winner would be announced at the end of the night. Before that, though, the talent competition. Time to recognize.

The lights went down, someone pulled out a big square TV on an old-school AV cart, and we all sat down to watch the performance videos. There weren't many — maybe eight? Or fewer? I can't remember. What I do remember, and what I will remember until that fateful day when my consciousness is absorbed into the Big Internet In The Sky, is what happened when my video came on.

The first notes of “Angel of the Morning" began as we opened on a crazy post-apocalyptic-looking dump. I'm wearing a long peach hippie nightgown dress, earnestly singing with a pot of mums in my arms. Then, for the chorus, a shot of me in a dark basement under a single bare bulb, earnestly singing in my camo jacket. Yep, the Eddie Vedder shot!

As the video unfolded, I sensed a bit of unrest in the room. She can sing, I could feel them thinking. But is she for real, or is she fucking with us? What the crap is happening?

At the crescendo of the crowd's discomfort and the end of the second verse came the money shot. I'm on the ground, lying upside down on an abandoned car seat, my long black hair splayed across a patch of broken glass, giant old sunglasses on my face. "And if we're victims of the night," I crooned. "I won't be bli-hinded by the LIGHT!"

And then ... the room busted a collective gut. Oh! I heard their brains again. She's for real AND she's fucking with us! Jolly good! We all laughed and delight overflowed in the room as video-me brought the song home. And all over Pittsburgh, broad-arsed girls felt unspeakably happy for a minute, though they didn't know why.

You won't be shocked and neither was I that the evening ended with a heavy-ass tiara on my head, bitches, and a sash that announced my triumph in curvy embroidery: Ms. Pittsburgh Talent Queen 1996!

I also got a massive trophy and a stopped-drinking-too-early headache as they announced the overall Ms. Pittsburgh, a super pretty and sweet lady named Angelique who had kind of taken me under her wing during my bathing suit wig-out. Happy endings all round!

Later, I wrote a fun article in the paper, got a bunch of hate mail from pageant people, and took part in a documentary my friend made about the whole thing.

The night it premiered, we rolled up to the theater in a limo with neon lights inside, drunk as hell. A massive cloud of smoke erupted from the car as we opened the door. I wore a long dress of pale green velvet, opera length gloves of gold, and my very own glittery sash and tiara. Both of which still adorn my home and elicit grins on the regular, 15 years later.

No one has ever felt more like a baller. And that was the best time I was a 200 pound beauty* queen.


Now far beyond even Ms. Pittsburgh age, Megan Dietz uses equal parts geekiness and craftiness to complete her mission of bringing more cuteness into the world through Wear the Shift, a company that creates tech-enabled bespoke clothing.

90 Comments / Post A Comment

Lily Rowan

Kick ASS. And I love you in that suit!

The only way this would be better is if you had the video to embed.


@Lily Rowan Or a video of the "She's for real AND she's fucking with us!" moment, because I would love to see that.

Lily Rowan

@theharpoon Oh sure, that too! I mean, ideally, I could just be there for the whole thing, but.


@Lily Rowan Yeah I'd settle for the video.





This is the best thing I've ever read. Please tell me you'll be posting your talent video shortly.


@shelleycerata: Also, can we see some of the hate mail from the pageant people??? That HAS to be awesome.


Yes, please!
Follow up! FOLLOW UP!


@Kneetoe That i can probably dig up on my own. Stay tuned ...


This made my day.


THANK YOU for doing this and writing this. How completely badass!

Also, I think I made need to order a shift or skirt from Wear the Shift, my wardrobe is dull these days.


This is AWESOME. Please please I need to see this talent video.


Sooo, they pick the finalists and then do the talent part? Am I right that talent plays no part in who wins?


@Kneetoe It didn't in this particular (very small) pageant.


@madge Got it, thanks. And, of course, I love that you did this and thanks for sharing!


Hi it's me megan! Thank you so much for the snaps!

I wish to Edith I had a copy of the video. My friend who made it is a fancy documentarian now and makes movies about the Dalai Lama and shit and won't go into the archives to drag it out. Maybe I should post his email address so you can all harrass him?

Also thank you, editors, for tagging this piece both "awesomeness" and "eddie vedder."

Nicole Cliffe

I have been excitedly waiting for this post ALL DAY.

Judith Slutler

@madge No documentarian can be too fancy to dig throught the archives for that fucking masterpiece. COME ON MEGAN'S FRIEND JEEZ


@Emmanuelle Cunt SERIOUSLY!!!

Megan, maybe you can send your friend a link to this page, so he can how we CLAMOR FOR IT! (And also see the threat of sharing his personal email with all these crazy hairpinners.)


@Nicole Cliffe YOU GUYS i just realized when you click on "awesomeness" you see this article and the one on the ST:TNG fashion blog. i swoon from the association.

i am just so happy in general right now. <3 hairpinners 4evs, thanks for caring my loves!


you are awesome.

Judith Slutler

So. Much. Love.

You are the best.


Excellent story! And LOVE the bathing suit picture. I would hassle your friend the fancy documentarian endlessly to see your talent video.


Thank you for saying "embiggen"- it's a perfectly cromulent word.


@JanetSnakehole A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.


love this post. the description of your talent video has youtube smash written all over it. fancy documentarian friend better get his priorities in order.


I think that bathing suit is the cutest garment ever MADE. You should copy it for your website, stat so that I can order one and roll my hair up on the sides and wear cat eye sunglasses when I don it.


@scully Ditto! Love that suit and wold also love a pic of the evening gown.

Feminist Killjoy

MUST SEE THIS VIDEO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Oh, this post made me so happy to read. Hope nobody here at work asks me why I have such a huge grin on my face, because it's not going anywhere.

Blousey Brown

Best everything ever.


I think every bit of this is awesome.


That bathing suit is amazing. That photo could be out of the 1940s!


one more voice for the VIDEO also best thing ever


this completely made my day. THANK YOU!
*also making a mental note to incorporate "embiggen" into a conversation before the day is over.


Very super awesome.


I mean. This is just beyond. You are clearly the MOST awesome. Wow.

And yes video yes oh my god please post your friend's email address please.


Megan gets the biggest loudest "YOU GO, GIRL!" ever.




As a broad-arsed Pittsburgher I'd like to extend a warm "get it girl!!" to Megan.

Secondly, I think we all know what this means - Hairpin Meet-up in the Burgh! Cantina? Kelly's?


@girl_talk Oh yes oh yes please oh yes!!

oh, disaster

@girl_talk Yes yes! Hairpiners in the Burgh!

oh, disaster

@andreadisaster@twitter Hairpiners? I'm blaming my lack of wine for that.


@girl_talk dirty 'burgh pinup, please! i'll be there with bells on!


@girl_talk I'm a broad-arsed lady moving to Pittsburgh in a week! Wait til I get there?


@girl_talk ooh! ooh! yes! me! here!


@madge et. al.:

YES! I'll rig up something fun on MS paint for the invite. I'm thinking Kelly's during a weeknight?


@girl_talk @pittsburghpinners yay sounds awesome! i was just at kelly's last night keeping it warm for us. :)


@girl_talk @madge @piekin @fleurdelivre @andreadisaster@twitter
i'll be in pittsburgh in a month and i need ladyfriends in the area! can we do this in september?
so happy that there are pinners in pittsburgh


@isaidweresinking Definitely!


@girl_talk De-lurking to fully endorse this plan. I've been here a year and still haven't managed to leave my house except for work. PA liquor laws frighten and confuse me.


@MsMacbeth PS, Megan you are the patron saint of Pgh radness. Thanks for the article.



someone please make this happen.


Video or it didn't happen.


I have come out of months of lurker-dom on hairpin to tell you how much this totally made my day and how cool I think you are. It's hilarious that you did this but also inspiring and amazing. I wish I had thought of doing something this awesome when I was 23.

Also, I would love love love to see that documentary. Your friend really needs to bring it out of the vaults! Really. Or at least the singing video. But really, all of it.

Thanks again!


-Something unexpected surprise--

Hello. My friend


Dedi cated service, the new style, believing you will love it



thank you



the spam... it has found us


Megan, you are the coolest person ever. Srsly.


holy shit, this is hilarious, empowering, and inspiring! my favorite article i've read on the hairpin in a while! mega props to you for having the balls to show those pageant judges that beauty comes in all looks, sizes, and shapes, with or without 800 lbs of makeup and spray tan. also, crooked teeth on girls look sexy as hell. and WHERE IS THE VIDEO?

now if only mtv would consider my pitch for "jersey shore plus one girl with armpit hair and piercings that number in the double digits" we could continue to subvert the beauty industry...


@snakeantlers That's the only thing that could get me to watch the Jersey Shore or anything similar. You can quote me in your pitch.


Video is required! This story is awesome, and I want the dvd extras. Heck, I'd Paypal your friend a buck or two for posting the documentary.


oh this is just fabulous!


If I don't see that video I will die, I made an account to tell you that. You might consider going to the film guy with a petition of ten thousand signatures.


The raddest


I love this.

Ma Fea

Great story, great event--GREAT JOB! Thanks, from all of us bigger, talented beauties!

down the rabbit hole

I'm just so glad that people like you exist right now.


This is my favorite story of the week! I love the Eddie Vedder answer - PERFECT.


Yes! I love this! I echo the clamoring for that VIDEOOOOO.

Carrot Cake

This was amazing. I join the chorus of calls for the video! I don't do anything at work but read the whole internet everyday, so I have plenty of time to harass your friend, it would be a nice change of pace.

Hate mail from the pageant people would also be a delightful read, I hope to see that too!

What an excellent way to start my day!


I loved this so much! Thank you thank you thank you for posting. Can I add my voice to the chorus of "We need to see the video"?

I covet that bathing suit.


:) Love this! THIS is what a real beauty queen is all about.


you had me at "embiggened"



I am lucky enough to know this gal in real life, and even though I hadn't thought it possible, this makes me love her Even More Than I Already Did!

Yinz should check out her awesome website, too. This broad-arsed girl is thrilled to be a covergirl on the Wear The Shift site, and a proud owner of two of their fantastic pieces, with another in the works!

Totally into a Pixburgh pin-up meet-up, too!


Also, "embiggened". My new favorite verb!

fondue with cheddar

Fucking FABULOUS. :D I will add to the deluge of requests for video.

Also, you should have been drinking Qream.

Pound of Salt

Dees nuts? Dietz huevos!

Black Socks

This is wonderful! And while I, too, would love to see this video, I'm more than a little curious about the yellow frock with the peacocks! I might need to take up sewing so I can make something like this.


@Black Socks i still have it! has a drawstring below the boobal region, and is a crazy goldenrod color. roses are giant, peacocks are small. it is truly insane.


LOVE IT. Way to bring back vintage bathing suits BEFORE it was the hip thing to do!

Nora White@facebook

It's true, you are the awesomest, Madge. I'd marry you all over again! This is a cool website, thanks for introducing it to me, must explore. I want to come to the Pittsburgh meet-up!

bear surprise

this makes me so happy! you are wonderful.

Andrea Dunlop

You look completely adorable, definitely doing vintage all kinds of right. Also, I can't believe anyone would ever do one of these things sober.


!!! amazing - need to see this video badly!

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