Miss America: ‘There she is’ — but should she be? | Column
by The Press and Standard | June 23, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: June 20, 2018 at 9:35 am
My bikini days are behind me, and so are Miss America’s.
Unless your crib is a cave, you already know that the Miss America pageant is, for one thing, no longer a pageant. It’s a competition, like the Hunger Games. Just kidding!
Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson, who now chairs the Miss America board of directors, last week announced that contestants won’t have to worry about being swimsuit-worthy or evening-gown ready. Because all that’s going away.
Carlson said contestants “will no longer be judged on their outward physical appearance. That means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition. We’ve always had talent and scholarship, and we need to message that part of the program better.”
Aside from her atrocious use of “message,” I actually agree — to a point. And that point is, no woman has ever been forced at gunpoint to participate in Miss America. Young women — smart, ambitious and eager — willingly vie for almost $500,000 in scholarships (and priceless networking opportunities.)
I understand the impetus for change: The contest has long been criticized as degrading to women. Gloria Steinem was banging that drum 40 years ago. Also, the #metoo movement has altered the landscape of what women are, and are not, expected to be. (Expected: Being savvy and outspoken. Not expected: Existing solely for the approval of men.)
Currently the top three leadership positions of the Miss America Organization are held by women, following the resignation/firings of former officials (men) who exchanged emails disparaging contestants’ looks, intelligence and *** lives. Good riddance.
So, I get this. All of it. If you see a woman in a bikini as an object and not a human being, that’s a problem and you should work on that. But I always thought the whole point of Miss America was to showcase vibrant women who are three-dimensional: Fit, healthy, intelligent and woke — that is, with a social conscience.
Pageant contestants are unique individuals. They’re white, black, biracial, Hispanic, Asian. Some are petite, some are tall, some thin, some curvy. And some have been role models because, in addition to their other accomplishments, they lost significant amounts of weight to compete. Bree Boyce, Miss South Carolina 2011, lost 112 pounds. In a state where 32 percent of residents are obese, how is that not a good message? (Also, Miss Virginia Nancy Redd lost 50 pounds and won the 2003 Miss America swimsuit category.)
In fact, couldn’t the swimsuit segment actually be seen as empowering? Shana Mitchell, a mother of three who’s currently Ms. Florida United States, said she supports the Miss America changes, but she also said this: “You work so hard, not just on your body, but on your confidence and your mental state to be comfortable in a bathing suit. Once you put on heels and walk across the stage in a bathing suit, you really feel like you can do anything.” Sounds positive to me.
As mentioned, the evening gown segment will also be dropped. Now the pageant will consist of “outfit of choice,” talent and interviews with the judges. Which is fine — but maybe they should stop calling it Miss America and call it “Miss Well-Rounded,” or “Miss National Pride.” I’m serious.
I just wonder how long it will be before they admit male contestants. Because isn’t barring men the opposite of inclusive? Shouldn’t men have the opportunity to network and earn scholarships?
Maybe it’s time for the Miss America pageant to quietly fold its tent and slip into history, with Bert Parks — who hosted it for 24 years — crooning, “There she is…”
(Julie R. Smith, who never saw a Miss America contestant as short as she is, can be reached at email@example.com.)