‘Beauties’ raise bucks at ‘Cancer Is A Drag’ event



If only for a few hours, cancer was vanquished by laughter the evening of April 2.

But vanquished it was at the American Legion hall in Varina, as a bevy of 13 male beauties competed to raise funds for the American Cancer Society -- and honor the memory of the late Shelby Layne Bowery.

Flaunting names like “Scarlett,” “Jezzabelle,” “Showgirl Pearl,” and “Waynonna Juggs,” contestants sashayed down the aisle, bumping and grinding to various musical themes -- and stopping at nothing to coax another dollar in tips out of onlookers.

The womanless beauty pageant, devised by Tracy Bowman in an effort to honor Bowery’s memory, raised $7,162.

“Shelby was my daughter’s best friend,” said Bowman. “They had cheered together since they were five years old.” When she first learned of Bowery’s cancer diagnosis – just three days after Shelby’s 11th birthday – Bowman organized a Relay for Life team. In just one month in 2010, Team Shelby Rocks raised $2,000.

Shelby Bowery
“This is kind of our therapy,” Bowman said of the relay and pageant. “It’s how we cope.”

This year, Bowman set a goal of topping last year’s sum by at least another thousand. Because Bowery was a part of the Richmond Twisters for eight years, she turned to Twisters families and the greater Varina community for pageant participants.

Initially, she had doubts that men would be willing to embarrass themselves by dressing in drag.

“I thought, ‘We might get five if we’re lucky,’ “ Bowman said. “But we ended up having to turn people away.”

Lipstick and Leather Skirts
All 200 tickets to the pageant sold out as well, and contestants had a full house waiting as they put final touches on their wardrobes in the hour prior to the pageant.

In one corner, beauties sat patiently while spouses or friends applied makeup and buffed their nails, painted in shades of peach and maroon to match their gowns.

“Can Mike borrow your lipstick?” shouted one wife to a friend, failing to suppress a snicker.

“Wow, you look like your mother!” another wife told her husband with a chuckle.

Across the room, contestants posed for photos and practiced their waves and flourishes, blowing kisses and swaying their hips to a chorus of hoots and catcalls.

“Hey! You’re in the presence of a lady!” one contestant reminded a heckler indignantly.

In another corner, contestants adjusted leather skirts, feather boas, and various layers of padding as they struggled to master the art of walking in high heels.

“Whatcha got in there?” an observer asked, eying a contestant’s ample bosom as the contenders lined up for their grand entrance.

“Socks,” answered the beauty with a smirk. “Want to smell ‘em?”

Touching Lives
The laughter and banter reached a crescendo as each of the contestants took a turn gliding -- or more accurately, teetering -- down the runway to reveal their outfits to the waiting crowd.

Spectators stood to cheer and snap photos, and fans crowded around their favorite beauties to tucks wads of dollar bills behind straps and into waistbands. Others clamored for the chance to buy “glamour-grams” and write messages that would be read onstage to their contestant of choice.

During the talent portion of the program, a few fans collected piles of bills to scatter on the stage, collapsing in shrieks of laughter as their efforts were acknowledged with winks, leers and a kiss tossed their way.

Talents displayed included baton twirling, card tricks, Hula-Hooping, and building a Slinky course. One beauty performed a handstand for her talent, revealing underwear with a message urging the crowd to vote for her. Another beauty tended bar for her talent, garnering a quick $60 for the cause by selling shots to the crowd.

When all was said and done, "Truly Delish" (a.k.a. Travis Flippen) topped the field by garnering $942 in votes.

But judging from the comments after the show, everyone -- contestants, volunteers, and audience members -- felt they came away winners.

“Making this much money for such a great cause was great,” said Bowman following the event, adding that plans are already underway for a teen pageant. “The guys were great and the support I received from the girls was over the top.  

“But the icing on the cake was people coming up to me afterward and telling me that they were going through some tough times -- and they feel so much better after laughing so much.  

“Shelby is still touching lives a year after her death.”

Leslie Bowman, the pageant emcee and Shelby’s mother, agreed that her daughter’s presence loomed large throughout the event.

“I don’t like to say that Shelby lost her battle with cancer,” Leslie Bowman told the crowd.

“Her body may have lost the battle . . . but her spunky, sassy spirit is alive and with us today.”

To donate or to get involved with the Relay for Life team (event date June 4 at New Kent High School), visit http://tinyurl.com/3dh6con and search for the team name “Shelby Rocks.”
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