The Eye of the Beholder
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some say. Well, that may be true. But, it does not answer to the truth that there are some who benefit from their looks far more than others. That is why we have models and enviable celebrities and popular students at school who use their appearances to their advantage. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, are there some eyes whose opinions carry heavier weight? Or, is it simply that more eyes perceive these lucky individuals as the most beautiful?
Well, enough with all this philosophical pondering. I’ll get on with what I’m really here to tell you, which is the story of a young, ambitious white Cybunny named Lilith.
Remember when we talked about the eyes of the beholder? For a Cybunny like Lilith, the beholder whose eyes in which one would most want to be considered beautiful are the eyes of the three prestigious Cybunny Beauty Contest judges. The Beauty Contest, having evolved from the earlier Best Fur Competition, is one of the most highly anticipated events of the annual Cybunny Carnival at the end of the month of Eating. In earlier years, Cybunnies simply scrawled their names on a clipboard the day of the contest and walked across the stage with a smile and a wave. After about ten minutes of deliberation by the volunteer judge panel, the winner received a simple sash and a bouquet of crisp carrots to chew on. As the contest became increasingly popular with Cybunnies all around Neopia, it grew to include a question and answer portion as well as a talent display. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Cybunnies who signed up to participate, the coordinator decided to hold a preliminary round prior to the day of the carnival to choose the ten most impressive contenders to enter the contest. Of course, admissions became extremely competitive and the once simple, good-natured competition turned into a fierce battle for the coveted Carrot Crown. It was a great honor to be selected as a member of the judges’ panel and an even greater honor to be chosen as a top ten contender.
Lilith had been vying for a spot in the contest for years. Each spring, she dutifully filled out her application, sent in headshots, and woke up at the crack of dawn to primp and preen herself for the preliminary round. And each year, she could not manage to crack the elite top ten. I’ll be up on that stage next year, she always reassured herself after receiving yet another letter that contained that dreaded phrase, we regret to inform you…. Lilith firmly believed that her destiny was to wear the Carrot Crown and winner’s sash, beaming on stage in front of a throng of cheering admirers who would scream their praises of her beauty and glory. Ever since she’d been a little Cybunny, friends, family members, and strangers had been complimenting her good looks. It only seemed natural that she receive recognition of her beauty on a grander scale. It’s what I deserve, Lilith always thought to herself.
As you can see, Lilith cares quite a bit about the eyes of other beholders.
When the month of Eating rolled around once again, Lilith was so prepared for the preliminary round that it bordered on frightening. She had been fine-tuning her application for months, writing and re-writing her entrance essay until she was absolutely convinced it was flawless. She had hired a professional photographer, makeup artist, and fur stylist to capture the perfect headshot photo. She’d been taking tap-dancing classes for a full year – after receiving her last letter of rejection, Lilith had immediately enrolled in lessons, convinced that her talent of baton twirling was not impressive enough and therefore barring her from her rightful place in the top ten. Of course, all of this, not to mention the hundreds of Neopoints she spent on makeup and fur products at the Grooming Parlour, took a substantial chunk out of her bank account. But Lilith didn’t care. This was her dream. Some pets save up for paint brushes, fancy Neohomes, or expensive vacations – Lilith saved up to invest in her chances of winning the Cybunny Beauty Contest. You may not agree that this is a wise way to use your Neopoints – but there was nothing else she’d rather spend them on. She may be shallow, but at least she has a passion and a purpose, which is more than can be said for most.
Well, all of Lilith’s painstaking preparations evidently paid off handsomely. The day of the preliminaries, she awoke feeling centered and calm, as if she knew intuitively that today would be the day she would finally succeed in cracking the top ten. She went through her beauty routine with the poise and serenity of a queen. After eating her customary breakfast consisting of Organic Carrot Juice and Organic Celery (she had recently made a switch to eating all organic foods after reading in Glamour Day Magazine that food with preservatives could be dulling her fur’s natural shine), Lilith set off – an hour early, of course – from her quaint but cozy meadow cottage Neohome into the heart of Neopia Central where the preliminaries would take place.
That day, Lilith seemed to sparkle brighter than she ever had. I’m not sure what it was that year that was different from her past attempts – perhaps she had finally accumulated enough experience to know what the judges were looking for – but after performing a sample of her tap routine and answering a test question (What would you suggest we do to help all of the poor hungry Kadoaties in the Kadoatery?), Lilith felt more confident than she ever had. She had demonstrated grace and beauty in every way, she thought, and positively skipped back down the path to her cottage from sheer joy.
Every day after the preliminaries, Lilith eagerly checked her Neomailbox for confirmation of her certain acceptance into the top ten. She knew in her heart she had made it, you know, but still desperately needed the affirmation that she had. We’ve all felt that way at some time, I’m sure.
Well, when a letter finally did arrive after what had felt like months of anxious waiting, Lilith could feel her heart flutter in her chest just like the wings of her precious purple Buzzer, Huckleberry. Her head felt light as she realized that this envelope looked far different than the standard white rectangles she had received from the official Cybunny Beauty Contest coordinator in the past. No, this envelope was made of a thick cream colored paper and sealed with a fancy wax stamp, one with a carrot right in the middle of interlocking vines. Lilith could barely breathe she was so ecstatic.
She absolutely had to open it right then and there. So that is what she did, carefully removing the wax seal and then tearing the fancy cream envelope away to reveal an equally fancy letter handwritten in flawless cursive script. After reading the first sentence (Dear Lilith, we are pleased to inform you that you have been chosen out of hundreds of applicants to participate in this year’s annual Cybunny Beauty Contest), Lilith sprung into the air with glee. She reread the words over and over, treasuring each syllable like it was precious gold. At long last, she was nearing her destiny. Or, at least what she thought was her destiny. We can only ever know our own destinies when we come upon them; they’re kind of a hard thing to predict with certainty.
Lilith spent all that night excitedly gushing to Huckleberry about the upcoming contest and how she’d surely win by a landslide. Sweet Huckleberry listened for about as long as he could, buzzing happily to congratulate his owner, but eventually dozed off about three hours into Lilith’s never-ending chatter. One can only listen for so long to detailed descriptions of the types of hairstyles that look with best with a frilly yellow tap dancing dress.
If the day that Lilith received her letter was filled with excitement and joy, the next several days leading up to the contest were packed full of worrying and hyperactive business. You might think that there isn’t much more one could do to prepare for this sort of thing – but Lilith would prove you wrong. She threw herself into overdrive, obsessing over every tiny detail of her tap performance, public speaking skills, outfits, accessories, beauty products, hair styles, makeup application, posture, smile, voice – I’m feeling exhausted just thinking of it all. You see, her attitude was that she had made it this far, and if she let any part of her overall presentation slip enough to lose the Carrot Crown she so keenly desired, it would mean that all of her hard work thus far had been for naught. It was a terrifying thought, enough to keep Lilith frantically busy each and every day as if she had been drinking nothing but gallons of extra strong coffee. Even her sleep schedule was strictly managed – Lilith required exactly eight hours and forty-five minutes of slumber each night. She enforced this rule almost militaristically.
The morning of the contest was clear and bright, a textbook-perfect spring day right down to the chirping of Beekadoodles in the trees. The night before, Lilith had packed a massive rolling suitcase with her myriad of beauty supplies and some Organic Almonds to keep her energy up throughout the day. When she awoke, she soaked in a nice long calming bath and ate some organic fruit to calm her nerves. Lilith’s nerves, by the way, had done nothing but get significantly worse and worse the closer she got to the contest.
“Bye-bye, Huckleberry,” Lilith crooned, cradling the little Buzzer close to her face. “When I come back this evening I’ll be wearing the Carrot Crown!”
Huckleberry buzzed his approval.
And off Lilith went, rolling her comically large suitcase behind her. The Cybunny Carnival was just beginning when she arrived – Cybunnies and other pets of all sizes and colors wandered around admiring the game booths, merchandise tables, and of course the vendors selling scrumptious carrot cakes and other delicious treats. Too preoccupied with the impending contest to pay much attention to any of the attractions the carnival had to offer, Lilith bustled straight through the crowds towards the stage set up in the far left corner of the meadow. White satin tents lined the back of the stage, each one bearing the name of one of the distinguished top ten contenders. Lilith walked down the row, reading the names of her adversaries with apprehension before finally coming to her own tent, the very last in the row. She tried not to think of it as a sign that she would come in last.
Lilith felt a bit better after setting up all of her supplies in the small but luxurious tent. She lined her lipsticks and eye shadow palettes up across the vanity, hung her perfectly ironed outfits along the back wall and positioned her shoes perfectly underneath them. It wasn’t until she stepped out for a breath of fresh air that Lilith began to feel her nervousness truly set in.
There, just a few tents down from her own, was the beautiful Bruna, a chocolate Cybunny and last year’s beloved winner. She was a crowd favorite for her sweet smile and even sweeter voice – she had won for her breathtaking rendition of a Jazzmosis song in the talent portion. Chatting amicably with Bruna (though she probably was secretly plotting against her) was none other than Lorelei, a lovely woodland Cybunny who had been a strong contender in the past three contests. Though she’d never won the Carrot Crown, many thought that this was her year to finally emerge on top.
Just seeing such illustrious competitors was enough to make Lilith want to run back inside the safety of her tent. Instead, she pivoted on her heel and began walking in the other direction, hoping that the many distractions of the carnival would ease her worries. After all, she had been preparing for this day for so long. All she could do now was trust that her preparation had been sufficient and that her self-prophesized destiny would become reality today.
Lilith meandered around through various activities, not quite paying attention to any of them. After browsing half-heartedly through a booth that sold nothing but shoelaces woven from different types of grass (sort of a silly business venture, if you ask me), Lilith turned the corner to see a small wooden table underneath a midnight blue awning. The blue silky fabric was adorned with silver stars and ornate lettering that read: Philomena’s Magical Potions. Spread across the table were various bottles of standard healing and intelligence potions. Though the booth was small and a bit unordinary compared to some of the larger and more lavish vendors nearby, something about the starry Cybunny wrapped in a mish-mash of silver and navy blue cloaks, ribbons and shawls drew Lilith towards it.
“Hello. I am Philomena,” the strange Cybunny intoned in a low, wise-sounding voice. Lilith felt as if Philomena knew everything about her though they’d never met.
“Hello,” Lilith responded. “What do you have for sale?”
“All manner of potions, brews, and elixirs. Perhaps this Jumbleberry Potion catches your fancy?” Philomena lifted a wacky-looking swirling bottle containing a glowing lavender liquid towards Lilith. “No, you would have no use for this. Maybe this Elixir of Intellect?” The starry Cybunny selected a jade green bottle near the edge of the table and offered it to Lilith, who uncorked the bottle and wrinkled her nose in disgust after one whiff of the thick green glop inside.
“Hmm, not that either. I can sense you need something else. Might I offer you one of my own concoctions?” Philomena swept open one of her cloaks to reveal many small vials tucked in the pockets lining the inside. “I brew these myself. They can do things that most other potions cannot,” she proclaimed mysteriously.
“What does that one do?” Lilith questioned, gesturing towards a vial of pink and gold liquid that looked just like a bottle of shimmery nail polish.
“Ah, this is quite a strong charm potion. After drinking it, you will captivate and charm others as if they were under a magic spell. It only lasts for two hours, though. Is this what you are looking for?”
Lilith bit her lip, considering her options. On one paw, it would certainly be a violation of the Beauty Contest rules to drink a potion that would give her an advantage over her competitors. On the other paw, just picturing the gorgeous Bruna and Lorelei and the surely equally as glamorous other contestants made Lilith’s stomach quiver like a plate fully of jelly. Could it hurt to gain a little extra confidence and cement her chances of winning the crown she knew she deserved? You, reading this, may scoff at the idea of cheating in a beauty contest – but Lilith was having a terribly difficult time deciding what to do in the moment. She was clouded by her worries and her great desire to be crowned the winner, to ride victoriously on the golden carrot throne in the Cybunny Smiley Parade that always closed out the carnival. So, without thinking too much more about it and acting on impulse, Lilith exclaimed “I’ll take it.”
After Lilith shelled out the necessary Neopoints for the potion, Philomena wrapped the vial in midnight blue cloth and tied it off with silver cord. “Use this wisely,” she advised, delicately placing the vial in Lilith’s outstretched palm. Lilith quickly tucked the potion away into her pocket lest anyone see her. What a sneaky Cybunny.
Lilith arrived back at her tent just in time to meet the coordinator, a perky orange Cybunny by the name of Marigold.
“Lilith! Just checking in to make sure you’re feeling at home and ready to go on stage in an hour for the traditional beauty portion of the contest!”
“Oh, I, uh, yes!” Lilith stammered, covertly clutching the vial she carried hidden in her pocket.
“Excellent! Just do your best, all of the judges and I are looking forward to a good clean competition!” Marigold grinned sweetly and hopped away, leaving Lilith feeling a bit guilty. But that guilt was eased as soon as Angelique, the ice Cybunny who occupied the tent next door, made frosty, condescending eye contact with her before sweeping haughtily inside her tent.
The next hour passed in a blur of curling irons, spritzes of perfume, and fresh coats of nail varnish. Lilith had just finished tying the final bow that adorned her pale pink evening gown when Marigold popped her head between the flaps of the tent to inform her that the competition was beginning and the top ten were to line up behind the stage. Lilith assured Marigold that she’d be there shortly and turned back to her vanity, slowly opening the top drawer to reveal the vial she’d stashed behind her emergency Organic Almonds.
Should I do it? She thought, panicking. This was her chance to do it – if she didn’t drink the potion now, she’d have to rely entirely on her spastic nerves to carry her through the competition. Having a magical charm on her side would give her a safety net. But it definitely wouldn’t be the moral thing to do.
“Lilith! Hurry!” Marigold called from outside the tent, making Lilith jump in her dressing room chair. As if prodded by the call, Lilith suddenly uncorked the tiny vial and dumped the contents into her mouth. Strangely, the concoction tasted like a Vanilla Milkshake.
Lilith rose from her chair, took a breath, mustered all her confidence, and swept out of the tent towards the waiting line of Cybunnies behind the stage. She could hear the announcer on stage, welcoming the crowd to another wonderful year of the Cybunny Beauty Contest.
“Are you all ready to meet your contestants?” the suave silver Cybunny crooned into the microphone to the cheering audience. “First up, from right here in sunny Neopia Central, please welcome the lovely Lilith!”
It was as if she didn’t even have time to think. Lilith’s feet moved her robotically up the staircase and through the thick red velvet curtain. Staring back at her was a massive crowd of Neopets, eager to watch this year’s beautiful contestants. Smile, a frantic voice inside her head whispered. And so she did, grinning widely just like she had practiced, remembering to bat her eyelashes as she began her sashay around the stage. To her great relief, the crowd oohed and ahhed as she made her laps, showing off her splendid pink gown and meticulously styled fur. It seemed like only a second had gone by when the announcer was ushering her off stage and welcoming the next contestant. Lilith couldn’t stop grinning as she hopped down the stairs – even when the other contestants waiting in line glared at her, she couldn’t control her radiant beam. Perhaps the charm potion doesn’t work on jealous competitors.
The rest of the contest flew by like a strange, brightly-lit dream. Lilith’s questions during the question and answer portion seemed reassuringly easy – and it didn’t hurt that her responses garnered the most applause by far, thanks to the handy little potion she’d drunk. She made no mistakes during her tap routine, smiling beamingly as the crowd cheered her on. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of; it was glorious. Lilith could practically feel herself becoming a celebrity.
While the judges took their break to deliberate, Lilith laid back in her tent with a satisfied air about her. She had done it – she had performed her best and won the hearts of everyone watching her. There was no way she could lose the crown. It was as if she’d forgotten she’d taken the charm potion, choosing instead to believe that she’d done it all on her own. Her ego was inflating as fast as the Cybunny-shaped balloons being sold at every corner of the carnival.
Lilith, now dressed in a simple white gown, joined the other contestants back on stage after a half hour of deliberation. She took her place under the spotlight, angling herself just so to appear like a graceful ballet dancer while she waited to hear the results. Her earlier anxiety had faded to the point where she could feel strongly in her heart that the crown would be placed on her head any second now.
“The third place winner of this year’s Cybunny Beauty Contest is the wonderful Georgette!” the announcer proclaimed, offering the Strawberry Cybunny a small bouquet of roses and a carrot-shaped pin. Georgette appeared to be holding back tears as she accepted her prizes to a smattering of applause.
“Our second place winner is none other than the lovely Lorelei!” He draped a carrot medal over the woodland Cybunny’s neck and propped slightly larger bouquet in her arms. Lorelei, instead of looking sorrowful, furrowed her brow in a thinly veiled attempt to hide her anger.
“And, finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for. This year’s Cybunny Beauty Contest grand prize winner, the proud owner of this fabulous Carrot Crown hand welded from pure gold in Moltara, is…Lilith!”
Lilith’s heart almost jumped out of her body as she stepped forward proudly to receive the sash, crown and bouquet. Every member of the audience leapt to their feet and enthusiastically applauded her crowning, chanting her name. The golden crown, inlaid with a large gemstone carrot, fit perfectly on her head. Yes, this felt right. This was where she was meant to be.
“She CHEATED!” a shrill, sudden voice rang out from behind Lilith. She whipped around to see Angelique, the imposing ice Cybunny, stepping towards her with a fiery look in her eyes. “I can tell! I’ve studied magic with Kauvara – she’s cast some kind of spell to give herself an advantage!” A gasp rippled through the crowd, followed by shocked murmurs.
“I didn’t!” Lilith replied indignantly.
“You must have!” Lorelei piped up, angrily tossing her bouquet to the ground. “It was my year to win, everyone said so! You’re just a nobody!”
Bruna stepped up from the line and produced a small vial which she presented grandly to the audience. “I found THIS in her tent! If you inspect it, you’ll notice the trace remains of a magical charm potion! She cheated!”
Angelique stepped over to examine the vial. “Bruna’s right. This is a charm potion!”
The audience gasped in horror, appalled by this scandalous upset. The announcer, flustered, tried to restore the calm. “If this is indeed true, then the crown should rightfully go to the runner up contestant, Lorelei.” With an apologetic look, he removed the sash and crown from the shocked Lilith and bestowed it upon the indignant woodland Cybunny. Lilith could not find words as she watched the crown that had perched on her head just moments ago rest on Lorelei’s head. So instead of speaking up, she turned and scampered off the stage back into her tent, quickly gathered her belongings, and sprinted as fast as she could back home fearing that her furious competitors would chase after her.
Lilith stayed cooped up in her Neohome with Huckleberry for a full week before she found the courage to venture back out into the world. Some places she went she was met with judgmental gazes, gossipy whispers to friends – but the scandal was eventually forgotten by most. Lilith never entered in the contest again.
I bet you thought that this story would have a happy ending, didn’t you? Well, it doesn’t. Lilith cheated, and that won’t ever get you far in life. Maybe Lilith will teach you not to place too much importance on other beholders’ eyes.