Miss Aloha Nui

Way back when I first moved to the Big Island, I was walking past a storefront when a flier for the Miss Aloha Nui pageant caught my eye. It was a call for entries in a beauty pageant, with a photo of an enormous and lovely beauty queen, waving, her arms tapering to small graceful fingers.

The flier listed the qualifications for entrants:
- Must be female
- Must weigh at least 200 pounds
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- Must be a current resident of Hawaii

A few days after the contest, the winner rides in the Aloha Week parade on the main street of Waimea, with the hula halaus dancing on flatbed trucks and highstepping all-haole marching bands. The first year we watched the parade, the winner laughed and cooed "Aloha! Aloha!" to all of us sitting on the curb-- her subjects. She was fantastic-- she filled the whole car and blew kisses and her friends and admirers ran up to her and gave her kisses as she went.

The next year the winner was a quietly dignified queen, staring proudly straight ahead, her bright yellow satin gown spilling over the convertible in acres.

I've thought about these elegant and dignified supersized beauties often.

Now that I've lived here for a little while, I see big bodies differently than I did on the mainland. Maybe it's my perspective that has changed-- maybe I've grown up and out of those cricket-skinny fashion-magazine beauty ideals. Or maybe the culture here is so dismissive of those bony models that I've been converted to a healthier, chubbier way of seeing the world. What could Local culture possibly have in common with the angsty, self-conscious worls of fashion? Why adopt those ideals? Skinny people belong at the resorts, not picnicking at a breezy beach pavilion.

Huge teenage girls spill out of microscopic neon bikinis at the beach, their bodies tattooed with sunshine and tribal designs. Hot young mommas with shiny eye shadow and gleaming hoops in their ears and up their arms squeeze into tube tops and micro shorts, showing off mounds of smooth wide flesh.

I had a tourist mom come up to me at the beach and say with surprise, "look at all these moms in bikinis!" She covered her trim body from chin to thigh in a neo-victorian LandsEnd bathing suit, and said that if she dared to show her stomach at the beach back home, she'd be stared out of the water. And here are moms of all races with their stretch marks blue and shining, bellybutton rings glinting in the sun, babies grabbing at boobs and clinging to bikini ties.

I admit I won't squeeze myself into a tube top-- and I wear a t-shirt to the beach. But it's a relief to have that pressure lifted, to enjoy big healthy bodies-- my own and others'.


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