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I think her tractor’s sexy: Re-evaluating the modern beauty pageant


Oklahoma cattle breeder Melanie Pennebaker proves that true beauty is measured by work and determination. She celebrates learning to drive the tractor.


Rancher Melanie Pennebaker takes a break after a long work day.


Good girls wear black hats! Rancher Melanie Pennebaker works to sort cattle for branding.


Women like rancher Melanie Pennebaker and her daughter are redefining beauty. Hard working, driven to succeed, real women aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Because being real is beautiful.

by Austin Moore

Editor’s note:  Special thanks to Oklahoma cattle rancher Melanie Pennebaker for sharing her personal photographs of ranch life at Pennebaker Cattle Company. She works hard, homeschools, cans vegetables, and just about everything else a working mom can do. We think her images celebrate true beauty.

There is a princess living in my house. A 2-year-old, hell-raising, danger-seeking, pink-clad princess who has me woven around her fingers in such a way that people mistake me a set of scruffy brass knuckles. What she wants, she will get … as soon as I can figure out how it was my idea from the beginning!

But what will I do – what can I do – if she someday asks to sign up for a beauty pageant?

It may be my Southern Great Plains showing, but I simply do not understand the appeal of beauty pageants. Logically, I know there are men who watch a line of hungry women parading across their televisions in sparkling dresses clearly designed by those politically opposed to deep inhalations of breath, and find themselves getting *ahem* rumbly somewhere south of their tummies.


The women of my youth, those who forged my inclinations on femininity, were found in pastures and fields, in fellowship halls of Methodist churches, and fouling hard on the basketball court.

I am not one of these men.  The women of my youth, those who forged my inclinations on femininity, were found in pastures and fields, in fellowship halls of Methodist churches, and fouling hard on the basketball court.  I’ve always found myself drawn more to the sweatshirt and pony-tail crowd than that of ribbons and bows.

That said, I do have a great deal of respect for pageant girls. Years ago, my work brought me into contact with several Miss Americas. Genuinely impressive women, all. More directly and recently, I have had several friends and coworkers heavily involved in the pageant life. Let there be no doubt, these women work for the goal. To compete at a high level requires physical, mental and emotional fortitude on par with any high-achieving athlete.

What baffles and befuddles me is why these pageants work so incredibly hard to stifle, what I see as, the true beauty of these women. To those of us in the pot-luck church luncheon crowd, the candle-lit diner attire and practiced smiles of the stage only craft a mental image of a room backstage where boyfriends sit uncomfortably holding shiny purses while wishing they had better data reception on their phones to check the scores.

Still, a contest allowing women to showcase the best of themselves, and in doing so to celebrate, in all its iterations, the glory of womanhood … yeah, I’m into that. I just can’t sign on the current formula: Evening gowns that make me feel as if I have a very expensive check coming for an extremely small salad; Swimsuits that symbolize female anxiety and fear here in the real world; Interview questions so inane Donald Trump would be unable to offend while fielding them; And talents, while real and sometimes impressive, that you are highly unlikely to find displayed in the daily life of the participants.

With that in mind I humbly suggest, it is indeed time for an update.

Evening gowns? Gone. Instead, participants will be judged on the last 30 minutes of an eight-hour cashier shift at Walmart on the first day of a month … during cold and flu season. Nothing demonstrates grace and poise quite so well as maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of germ-huddled masses battling for cold meds.

Swimsuits, likewise, are gone. Beach-ready beauty is easy. Spend a day working cattle alongside her, and you’ll know if a woman is truly beautiful. Dirt and sweat and bodily-bovine-fluids reveal inner beauty in a way little else possibly could. In the more vegan states, I suppose a day care and a room of 2-year old children would do. Providing that day involved cupcakes, grape juice and at least three cases of head lice.

Rather than seeking platitudes from interview questions, we should be looking for humor. Perhaps a contest of themed limericks or haikus. Maybe we present each contestant with three identical pictures (think Kermit the Frog drinking tea), ask them to create a meme based in current events for each, then post these anonymously and judge based on social media shares. What is more beautiful, after all, than a Facebook friend that genuinely makes you laugh?

As for talent, can we all agree that opera, interpretive dance and twirling, while truly skillful arts, are a bit dated at this point? I hear tale that one of the teen pageants has now replaced “talent” with a workout routine. That is a step in the right direction: health. But why not focus on mental health? I say, throw down with a rap battle. Spitting rhymes demonstrates vocabulary, mental nimbleness and sheer, unbridled badassery… . It’s a word. Kinda. (Bonus talent points for editing your husband’s blog posts.)

One last thing, personally, I’d just as soon crown no winner, but rather celebrate all those who demonstrate their sheer awesomeness. But my wife reminds me of an important point: Women want to win. So sure, let’s pick a winner, and adorn her in the biggest, shiniest tiara we can buy. But maybe the winner gets the crown AND treats her fellow competitors to pizza. After all, aren’t carbs what beauty is all about? Really.

That is a pageant my daughter can gladly enter.

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