The reigning monarch flipped straight to the dessert section of the menu. "I know this is going to sound silly, but I've had a craving for something with strawberries in it all day," said Valerie Greenhorn, winner of last year's Oxnard Strawberry Festival's strawberry blond contest.
Ordering a strawberry shake, wearing a strawberry pin on her dress and pushing her strawberry blond hair away from her face, Greenhorn had the appearance of a true strawberry queen, but she is not one to put on airs. "Beauty contestants are stereotyped as being prissy and conceited," she said. "But most of the ones I know are nice, normal people." In fact, Greenhorn works part time in the Ortega eatery at UC Santa Barbara and performs a variety of plebeian tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
A sophomore at UCSB, Greenhorn, 19, has competed in several pageants and she remembers the strawberry blond contest as the most fun. "It's not the full-force competition you find in pageants," she said. "It's not so much about appearance or perfection. There's no swimsuit segment or an evening dress competition. It's more about just who you are, your personality."
Wearing a dress that came down well below her knees and buttoned at her neck and wrists, Greenhorn said she's very modest. "I know that sounds strange coming from a girl who parades on stage in front of judges while wearing nothing but a bathing suit," she said. "It's hard to explain why that doesn't bother me. But, for instance, I wear a bikini on the beach. And that's OK because it belongs there. And wearing a swimsuit for a pageant is OK because it belongs there too."
The bathing suit competition is included in most pageants because, Greenhorn said, the contestants are judged on their overall image. "Personality and poise are the most important," she said. "But a girl has to care enough about herself to stay in shape. And appearing in a bathing suit is really the best way for the judges to see if a contestant has muscle definition or if she's a couch potato."
Greenhorn acknowledged that some people think beauty contests exploit women because, as they see it, women are compared and judged on their beauty and figures, therefore implying that these are their most important attributes. "First of all, beauty is not the most important thing in the contests," Greenhorn said. "But yes, that is a part of it. The judges are looking for an all-round representative, someone who is poised, talented and nice-looking. So if a girl is extremely talented or academic or whatever, a pageant may not be the best thing for her. But for girls who might or might not be outstanding at any one thing, but are balanced, then this might be the place where they can really show themselves."
Greenhorn considers herself an advocate of feminist concepts because she believes women shouldn't face job discrimination and that they should get equal pay for equal work. But she also believes there are certain differences between men and women.
"And pageants give women a chance to show off the feminine side. We can show our prim and proper, our young lady side, which we don't have a chance to do every day."
Greenhorn, who plays the piano, flute and tenor saxophone, plans to graduate as a music major and then get married and raise a family. "I want to have three children," she said. "That always seemed like a good number. And I want at least one little girl so I can dress her up in little dresses and little socks and little bows. But if once she got older she decided she'd rather dress like a tomboy, I'd let her. I'd be heartbroken, but I'd let her."
The daughter of a military employee, Greenhorn was born in Okinawa, Japan, and spent most of her early years in Guam. It was there that she first started attending church.
"My basic values were instilled in me at that time." she said. "My parents aren't Christian, but I accepted Christ when I was only 8. Actually, I was too young then to know what it was all about. But now Christ is the center of my life.
"I don't believe in sex before marriage. I don't believe in drugs or excessive alcohol. And I don't swear. I also refuse to go to a party where there will be drugs. But I will go to a party where there's alcohol. If I avoided everyone who did things that I don't do, then I wouldn't have any friends."
In addition, Greenhorn said that as a Christian she feels she must set an example. "I feel I have an image to uphold so I can't let loose," she said. "But that's OK. I enjoy working toward a goal and having the stability and self-control to be the kind of person I want to be."
Her beliefs usually aren't a factor in pageants, she said. But it may have been an advantage for the strawberry blond contest. "After all, I'm representing Oxnard's strawberry industry. They're looking for someone with a pure and wholesome image," she said.
Applications to compete in the strawberry blond contest are due Friday. Forms are available through the city of Oxnard Special Events Office (805) 984-4715, the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hairacy II Salon in the Channel Islands Harbor and The Open Door Restaurant in Santa Barbara. No walk-in entries will be permitted.
There will be a pre-event judging May 5, and the competition will take place at 11 a.m. May 19 at the Channel Islands Harbor. Applicants may enter free of charge and need not be Oxnard residents. The contest is open to men and women with natural, colored or synthetic strawberry blond hair.
The "Most Outstanding Strawberry Blond" (18 and over) will win a weekend in Palm Springs. The teen winner (13-17) will be awarded concert tickets to the Santa Barbara County Bowl. And the junior winner (5-12) will receive tickets to Universal Studios.