SHE WENT AWAY for a while, but don't worry, the Kidd Valley Burger Babe is back! And unbelievably, after a long road of high hopes, seeming disappointment, shattered nerves, desperate pharmaceutical use, and not- at-all-bitter crosstown rivalry, I am she, and this is my story.
A few months ago, I got word that Kidd Valley was looking for a new, live Burger Babe: Be over 18, send a photo and an essay, and you could be in the pageant to become the new Burger Babe! Win free burgers for life and be the 2001 Babe on a promotional poster! Oh, how I laughed.
Next thing you know, it's the evening before the entry deadline and I'm being photographed in short-shorts, sprawled on the hood of my car with an extra-large Kidd Valley cup. I pen an essay that is, if I do say so myself, a masterpiece of propaganda on one of the provided topics: "How the Kidd Valley Burger Babe can inspire future leaders."
But the week that finalists are to be notified comes and goes. I awaken Saturday an abject failure; the article I'd decided to write should I become a finalist is screwed, and moreover I am clearly an ugly old hag.
Then, in the mailbox: the letter. I rip it open. Congratulations! I have been selected as a finalist! My heart races! I cast bothersome liberated thoughts aside for the moment: I am a Babe Finalist! My image shall adorn auto repair shop walls across the region, maybe! Gloria Steinem left this triumphant moment out of "I Was a Playboy Bunny," but I'm betting she felt it: I am validated, approved, stamped Grade A, the machine wants me.
MY HEART CONTINUES TO RACE, now unpleasantly. I have horrible stage fright. I think pageants are horrible crap. What will I write? I like the Babe, I always have. I like her pin-up, Bettie Page quality; she looks sweet but smart, like she'd fuck you silly or beat the crap out of you, drink us under the table while talking circles around us. But this is just my hopeful fantasy. She's just a cartoon babe on a burger, stubbornly silent, ridiculous, madonna, whore.
So I either drop my drawers to reveal "Sexism is back" painted on my ass or just go along with the dog and pony show. But I want to be declared a Babe and then tell the judges to go to hell. I want to give her a voice.
It is at times like these that one's thoughts naturally turn to how tight one's shorts should be: pretty damn tight. For the next few weeks, I try not to fall off my bike and I conduct a pallor-reduction campaign that consists of sitting out in the late summer sun, sweating over my college texts from feminist literary criticism class. In the interest of not fainting during the pageant, I call my uncle the shrink for some prescription pills; beta blockers are a non-narcotic (damn!) medication that apparently do not make you drunken or woozy but merely omit the shaking and general terror.
Finally, the big day arrives. I take my pill 90 minutes early, as directed. I really, really don't want to do this. This is not fun.
The pageant is held on the large back deck at Ivar's (same ownership) Salmon House on Lake Union, and I am forced right into the bosom of the public in my Burger Babe attire. I smile like a madwoman. Though I entered to represent the Capitol Hill store, I've been reassigned to the University District. I'm pissed. I smile away.
Everything seems to be under a slow, hazy sea. I figure my beta blocker is blocking my betas, but I feel like I'm on LSD.
Inexorably nice, the other contestants stonewall me: no real reason they're doing this, no special feeling about it. Miss Renton is dressed incongruously in schoolgirl attire ࠬa Britney Spears. She's young, blond, and cheerful, representing everything I cannot be, will not be, have never been. "She's going down; you've got it all over her," one of my girlfriends hisses in my ear, jolting me.
We all have to pose atop an enormous plastic burger; it's mounted via a stepladder, a challenge (and possible legal liability) given the three-inch heels we're all wearing.
Next come the essays. The emcee is a pretty woman all in pink who rolls her eyes and smirks during the speeches. She makes cracks about the free burger prizes like "You also get a gift certificate to Jenny Craig." The contestants, by comparison, are paragons of innocence and light, and at least half of them address that the Burger Babe might be considered sexist, but they have co-opted her in some way. Miss Bellevue says that to her, the Babe represents someone who can eat whatever she wants and still look beautiful, "like me!" The logic is a little flawed but the sentiment is lovely. Another entrant claims the Babe as "anyone she wants to be, a mother, a business owner, a community leader—and I'm all those things."
My much-dreaded moment at the microphone seems to happen without me. People are laughing and cheering distantly, on the planet the audience is on. My remarks about Judy Nicastro and renters' rights are met with a roar.
Soon enough we are waiting for the judges' decision. "It's weird to be judged, isn't it?" I say to another potential Babe. She looks at me funny, like "that's why we're here, stupid." I stare at the sky.
We file back on stage, and after the judges pronounce the schoolgirl first runner-up, I think, Christ, I'm going to win. I hear my name booming triumphantly out of the PA. In a climactic moment of super slo-mo unreality, I am presented with an oversized lottery-style check for $25,000 (with an asterisk denoting that the prize isn't really cash, but grants me free burgers for life) and crowned Burger Babe. My tiara immediately falls off. My adoring fans are screaming, my friends are going ape-shit, everyone's applauding thunderously. The only thing I've ever won in my life is a National Merit Scholarship, and now my Miss University sash is being replaced with one reading "2001 BURGER BABE." I jam the tiara back on my head and wave, grinning hugely.
"Thank you!" I cry joyously. "Thank you, judges! Thank you, loyal supporters! Thank you, burger-eaters everywhere! I am honored! And as the new Kidd Valley Burger Babe, it is my wish that next year we crown a male Babe!" Explosive applause and screaming! The Babe has spoken!
I MEET THE ARTIST of the original Babe, my creator, my nemesis. He is nice. So is Kidd Valley's founder, Scott Kingdon. The three of us have our picture taken together, as I quash stabs of guilt. "How do you feel!" they ask. "Like I need a drink!" I say, and they think that's pretty funny.
Back at my place, my friends alternately wax intellectual and are mindlessly proud. It was embarrassing, degrading to watch, they say; you were so awesome, your speech ruled! You were funny! The smart girl won, one of us won! someone crows.
I become proud of myself. I am a cheesy local beauty queen, a living cartoon. I am the Babe, and the Babe is an undercover reporter, a rebel, a pretty, smartmouthed, badassed bookworm, with this to say to you: Teach your kids that girls and boys are the same. Throw off the shackles of the beauty industry, ladies and gentlemen. Love one another. Demand equal pay for equal work. And vote pro-choice.
Mr. Kingdon, if you want to dethrone me for this, as you wish. Know that I am proud to be the Babe. Also know that if you must, you can take away my burgers for life, but you will have to pry my tiara out of my cold, dead hands.
What did she say? How did she do it? Wanna see the speech that got Bethany that tiara? You got it!
How the Kidd Valley Burger Babe can inspire future leaders
by Bethany Clement
She looks out with poise from atop her enormous burger, self-assured, calm, and powerful. She does not seek to ingratiate herself with a mindless grin; shes smart, knowing, she eats a lot of juicy burgers and freshly made milkshakes, and it shows. The more apt question may be, how could the Kidd Valley Burger Babe NOT be an inspiration to future leaders? Our own Seattle City Councilwoman Judy Nicastro no doubt grew up looking up to her on various Kidd Valley signage around town and was surely motivated by her spirit; Judy would obviously do well to take inspiration from the Babe in her pursuit of renters rights, for the Babe, clearly, is a woman who advocates affordable housing and tasty burgers for all. Similarly, as Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues her political goals, she should look to the Babe as a woman in the public eye who meets every curious gaze with a forthright yet sphinxlike half-smile.
With the reinstatement of the Burger Babe as the icon of Kidd Valley, now a new generation of Seattles young women can also look to her as a role model to nourish their ambitionsjust as they are nourished by Kidd Valleys delicious burgers and hand-mixed shakes. The Burger Babe is indeed an inspiration, not only to future leaders but to us all.