Tomorrow night marks the live show of the Miss America Beauty Pageant, a contest that has been going on since 1921, only one year after women gained the right to vote. Although the qualifications of the pageant have changed – the original rulebook stated that “participants must be of good health and of the white race” – the overall message the pageant is sending to women around the country is still the same.
Miss America boasted in a recent interview with Good Morning America that they provide more scholarships to women in this country than any other donors, and that they ask their contestants tough questions to prove their smarts and their desire to make the world a better place.
While this is all great, the problem with the Miss America pageants is that beauty comes first, smarts second. Scholarships may be given out to girls around the country, but only if they are a certain size, have a pretty face, and are willing to parade in a swimsuit for judges to critique their body first.
When watching the pageant, the first contests include the girls walking around in ball gowns, swimsuits, and other clothing that reveals their bodies as much as possible. I specifically remember while watching the show last year the commentator saying that the women picked out the most simple swimsuits possible so that the judges could better focus on the “real objective”, which was to rate their bodies on a scale of 1-10. It’s only after the majority of women are eliminated for their looks that the remaining few are then questioned and allowed to use their voices.
What kind of message is that sending to the rest of us girls about what it means to be Miss America? It’s telling us that the ideal American woman should be a size 2 with a butt and boobs that aren’t too big or too small, and that she should have long and flowing hair and a gorgeous face. If she’s smart, it’s just a bonus.
Conventional beauty is a prerequisite to being the ideal woman in our society, and shows such as Miss America only fuel that notion.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I want our Miss America, the woman who represents what our country stands for, to be smart, driven, compassionate, witty, and empathetic all before being “pretty”.
What qualities do you think should define Miss America? How do we change the way our society views the ideal American woman? These are questions I don’t know the answer to, but I’m hoping with further discussion we can start to figure out an answer together.
Watch the interview of what it’s like behind the scenes for Miss America contestants: