Time: Present Day
Susan Marlowe is a poised and beautiful middle-aged woman. Time has changed her jet-black hair to silver and tiny lines now accent the corners of her big blue eyes. She has run across a box containing mementos of her reign as Miss America while cleaning out a closet in her parents' old house. Inside are her sash, tiara and evening gown, along with an album containing photos of her as Miss America.
Behind this box is a white leather hat case. She had almost forgotten about it. After a moment, she takes it out and sets it on the dressing table she had used as a teen. She slowly unzips the case. As she opens it, the contents begin stirring up a flood of painful images and emotions from the recesses of her mind.
Time: Mid 1960's
Before answering the knock at her door, Susan takes one last look in the lighted dressing-room-style mirror provided especially for her by the hotel. Her hair and makeup are flawless thanks to Maria, the combination hairdresser and makeup artist that travels with her everywhere. The Puerto Rican native has done an exceptional job in creating a "pageant hair" version of the popular flip and it has become Susan's signature hairstyle.
It starts with a well teased and stiffly sprayed bouffant "dome" on top that sweeps down on the sides and back to curl up just above her shoulders in a full, thick flip. The shiny black locks are swept around her face in a combination of elegance and youthful flair that has become the most requested style in beauty salons across the nation.
She opens the door to find two men dressed in dark suits, hats and sunglasses. Assuming them to be from a security agency, she invites them inside.
"You guys are early."
"Change of schedule, ma'am. Road construction at the reception site may delay your arrival."
"Well, fortunately I'm ready. Someone really should check with me before making changes to my schedule."
One of the bodyguards helps her on with a fur wrap as the other opens the door leading from the luxury suite directly to an express elevator. Susan has become used to the security provided for her during public appearances. She really doesn't think it necessary, though. The guards take places on each side and slightly in front of her as the elevator reaches the first floor. The doors open and they whisk her through the lobby and into a waiting limousine. The long black Cadillac zooms off as soon as the door slams behind them.
Susan settles in between the two guards before noticing that Trudy, her personal assistant, isn't in the car.
"Where's Trudy?" she asks no one in particular.
After a pause, one of the bodyguards says, "She was delayed and said she will meet you at the reception."
Susan has been traveling the country as Miss America for six months now and sometimes has difficulty remembering what city they are in or which group is honoring her. Trudy is always there to fill in the gaps. Oh well, she would be back at Susan's side soon enough.
The car turns down a darkened side street and pulls up in front of an old warehouse. The driver honks twice and a garage door slides open.
"What's going on?" Susan asks as the driver guns the car inside and the door closes behind it.
"We're taking you in the back way to avoid a traffic snarl out front," replies the guard.
The large building is dark and doesn't seem like a back way into anywhere. Susan is helped from the car and led quickly towards a dimly lighted doorway. She hurriedly straightens the white sash that reads "Miss America", checks her tiara and puts on a smile just in case a photographer is waiting inside.
A surprise greets Susan on the other side of the door. Rather than a back corridor, she finds herself in a small room. Turning, she finds the doorway blocked by the two bodyguards.
"You've taken me to the wrong place!"
The men remain in front of the door.
"No, Miss Marlowe, you're in the right place; although, it is not the place you had expected."
Susan whirls around to see where the female voice is coming from. Her eyes are beginning to adjust and she is able to make out several shadowy figures seated around the room. A reading lamp is switched on; partially illuminating a woman seated behind a desk.
"Come in, Miss Marlowe. May we call you Susan?" says the woman at the desk. Her voice is deep and smooth, with a well-bred New England accent.
"Who are you and why have you brought me here?" replies Susan, a slight tremble of fear in her voice.
"All in due time, my dear. Please, do come in. We are very anxious to talk with you."
The spokeswoman at the desk continues. "My, don't you look lovely. What's it like to be considered a perfect specimen of grace, charm and, of course, beauty? Do you enjoy being every woman's ideal and every man's fantasy?"
Susan is frightened by the questions and doesn't reply. Instead, she stares wide-eyed around the room, trying to see her hosts.
"You're afraid, aren't you? There's no need to fear us. We intend you no harm. That is, if you cooperate."
The spokeswoman rises and comes around to stand in front of Susan.
"Please allow me to explain why you are here. We are part of a group of concerned women who feel that the archaic practice of conducting beauty pageants serves only to harm the female gender. Young women such as you set an impossible standard for our teenage girls, causing tremendous harm to their self-esteem. In addition, men look at their wives and girlfriends as being somehow inferior to you, just because they don't look picture perfect 100 percent of the time. Tonight we are asking you and several other leading women in the pageant, fashion and entertainment industries to publicly call an end to this illusion of perfect beauty and help set a new standard of feminine worth in our world. Will you do that for your sisters, Susan?"
Susan is indignant.
"No! After all I did to get where I am today, there's no way I'm going to make a ridiculous claim like that! I loved competing in the pageant and I love being Miss America. I won't disappoint my supporters or the millions of girls and women that look up to me."
There is a murmuring around the room. After a pause, the spokeswoman says, "I'm so sorry you feel that way Susan. You leave us no choice but to make a dramatic example of you."
One of the security men grasps Susan's arm. Suddenly, the center of the room is bathed in light, revealing a burgundy leather and chrome barber chair. Susan is led to the chair and prompted to sit. The two men move quickly to restrain Susan, fastening thick leather straps around her arms, legs and chest to hold her in the chair.
"Let me go! You can't just grab someone off the street and get away with it!"
Maria the hairdresser appears from the shadows and takes over, setting a table next to the barber chair and arranging several items on it. She shakes a cloth cape out with a pop and it settles over Susan, covering her entire body and the chair. Maria wraps a tissue around Susan's neck and snugly fastens the cape over it.
A photo is snapped, the flash almost blinding Susan. After this, the bobby pins holding her tiara secure are taken out and it is gently removed from her gorgeous tresses.
"Maria, what are you doing?" stammers Susan, both from anger and fear.
Maria holds a mirror in front of her. "Take a last look at you pretty hair Meez Susan."
She then selects an oversized pair of scissors and a wide-toothed comb from the instruments arrayed on the table. Facing Susan, Maria clicks the scissors menacingly as she studies her victim.
"Who do you people think you are! You may not cut my hair. I won't allow it!"
The spokeswoman has moved back to her desk.
"Now, Susan. I'm afraid the situation is out of your control. All of your hair will be cut off. We know it's your trademark and a trendsetter across the nation. But there are very few women who can afford a personal stylist to keep their hair immaculate 365 days a year. What better way to make our point about the shallowness of external beauty than to shear Miss America of her crowning glory?"
Susan screams "No! Please don't cut off my hair! I'll be ugly!"
The spokeswoman continues. "You are fortunate. In time your hair will grow back. However, the emotional scars resulting from the inferiority that women feel when compared to you will never heal."
"Oh No! Please, No! Don't cut my hair! I'll do whatever you say!" Susan begs as Maria puts down the scissors and comb, picks up a set of hair clippers and switches them on.
With the clippers in one hand, Maria tilts Susan's head to the right and slides her other hand under the flip, raising it to expose the hairline around the girl's left ear.
Susan jumps at the sound of the clippers and starts to sob as the cold whining blades touch her left cheek just below the temple. The whine changes to a harsh rasping as the shiny silver teeth move up into her luxurious locks. Susan doesn't notice, though. She can't hear anything over the sound of her pulse pounding in her ears.
Susan's head is tilted this way and that as the clippers roar over and over; first, around her left ear, then the back of her head and finally move to the other side, reducing more and more of her hair to fuzz with each second.
"No! No! Not my beautiful hair!" she moans repeatedly throughout the harvesting of her raven crowning glory.
After the sides and back are clipped, Susan's head is pressed forward until her chin is touching the cape. Maria has done her work in such a way that the girl's stiff hairstyle has remained intact. This causes it to hang out over her forehead, suspended in space by the uncut portion on top. It is a comical sight; Susan looking much like a bald man whose toupee has been flipped forward by the wind.
The clippers are pushed forward several times over the top of her head. Soon, the rest of her hair is cut and the entire teased and sprayed mass rolls off her scalp. Susan screams in agony at the sight of her beautiful head of hair lying in her lap.
Her hair is taken away and Maria begins lathering the dark stubble with shaving cream. Susan's bawling has lapsed to shuddering sobs.
"Be still Meez Susan or you get cut! When I finished shavin' you, you head be shiny smooth!"
Tears fall silently to the cape as she suffers through the first shave. The razor tugs and pulls, making a terrible scraping sound as Maria works the blade in short, quick strokes. Her scalp is lathered again and the last of her hair is swept away, this time by long smooth strokes of the straight razor. Each one begins at her forehead and ends at her nape, leaving the skin shiny and smooth, just as Maria promised.
As an afterthought, Maria applies lather to Susan's perfectly arched eyebrows and removes each one with a single flourishing stroke of the razor.
After being sheared and shaved, Susan is returned to her hotel suite. Her bald head feels very cold and her scalp stings from being shaved twice. She cannot bear to see her reflection in the mirror, a problem she never had before. Hours of crying have caused mascara to spread all around her eyes and down her cheeks. Her head looks so tiny without all that black hair surrounding it and it has a funny sort of pointed shape on top. The bare skin glows like a light bulb it is so white. Having never felt so ugly, she lies on the bed and cries herself to sleep.
Susan wakes the next morning, hoping it is all a bad dream. However, one touch of her hand on the still smooth skin reveals the truth. She looks in the mirror. No tears come as she views her bizarre reflection - she has cried all she can for now. She moves to the bathroom and into the shower. Soon, hot water is beating down on her shorn crown. The water slowly washes away her smeared mascara and makeup, as well as small traces of shaving cream that remained around her ears.
A few days later, after being fitted with a wig, Susan began making public appearances again, but she just wasn't the same. The Miss America organization moved quickly to distance itself from Susan, even though several months of her term as Miss America remained. All of her appearances were cancelled and she returned home to try and make sense of it all. Rumors circulated that several of Hollywood's leading ladies and some famous fashion models had been recipients of the same "makeover" as Susan.
Time: Present Day
The hat case had arrived at her parents' house shortly after she came home to recover from her Miss America ordeal. Susan never opened it and had forgotten about it until now. Inside is a white head-shaped form, the kind used by a wig stylist. Instead of a wig, it is supporting Susan's shorn hair; still held in place by the extra hold hair spray applied over 35 years ago. Susan lifts the hair out and sets it aside, then retrieves a note from the bottom of the case. Opening it, she reads:
Susan Dear: We thought it only proper to return this to you. We know the sacrifice we forced upon you is painful now. Try to look to the future and see all those who will be set free from unrealistic expectations by our pioneering example.
Thank you, The Ladies
Susan breaks down in tears. As she sobs with her face buried in her hands, the wig stand is knocked over and the hair rolls off into her lap once again. The horror of that night and the humiliation of the months that followed come back as if they occurred only yesterday.
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