30 January 2012

Dear Pageant Girl,

Earlier this month, 23-year-old Wisconsin beauty, Laura Kaeppler, was crowned Miss America 2012

Kaeppler is the second woman from Wisconsin in the entire 60 year anniversary of the pageant to win the title. 

Aside from her shimmering crown, Laura received a USD$50,000 scholarship and will represent the Miss America Organisation for the next twelve months, using her role “to mentor young children of incarcerated adults”. 

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Laura Kaeppler is crowned Miss America 2012.
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Very noble, very admirable.

According to the Miss America website, the pageant is “one of the nation’s leading achievement programs and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women.”

It continues to say that the program “exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women and to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community.”

Miss America contestants must represent a cause and with her sponsors and corporate partners must work together to raise awareness and funds to benefit their chosen “platform”.

I have no doubt that the Miss America Organisation represents a noble and admirable cause – doing what it can to empower women and to give them opportunities to further their career.

But let me tell you what my problem is.

I don’t like it when something claims to be something it isn’t.

Is it a beauty pageant or is it a scholarship program?  If the latter then what does strutting in a bikini have to do with her furthering her education?

My sister Valerie is an amazing person. Smart, talented and a personality to boot. A performer, she has sang at events and competed and won many singing competitions.

As a teacher she has a great way with children and inspires these young kids on a daily basis. As a granddaughter she offers her services to chauffer our elderly grandmother to various medical appointments and keeps her from getting bored by entertaining her every day.

My sister makes a difference in many people’s lives, every day.  She is shaping the minds of our future and is doing a hell of a job doing so.

She barely clears 5 foot.

While I have no doubt she can outsmart and out-sass (not to mention out-walk; she IS my sister after all) any one of the Miss America contestants on stage, her chances of winning that scholarship is zero compared to a size 8, 5’11 glamazon with glorious hair and blinding pearly whites.

And here I thought education was meant to be the great equalizer.  Whatever happened to not being judged by your appearance but rather on the content of your character and your intellect?

Don’t get me wrong. I love pageants (hence the blog).

No, I don’t just love them, I am OBSESSED by them. I have been following the majors since I was knee high to a grass hopper.

One of my earliest memories was watching Vanessa Williams crowned as the first black Miss America in 1984.  I remember being shocked at her being dethroned shortly thereafter (and seeing her ‘scandalous’ spread many years later – the cause of her being fired). 

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHi5Ao2M0iY

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I remember Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995 – the first deaf woman to be awarded the crown in the history of the pageant (in any pageant). 

I remember getting teary eyed as I watched the coronation – how touching it was to see all the girls to be genuinely excited to have her win – how Miss Virginia had to tell Heather that she won as she obviously couldn’t hear the results.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyLBF6w900Q 

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As much as I love Miss America (I always felt that the winner was more relatable, down to earth, inspiring and human) the watered down glitz and sex appeal of the show kept me firmly in Miss USA country – a pageant unapologetic about selling itself as a beauty pageant – nothing more, nothing less.

Like many of us, we watch these shows for entertainment purposes. Don’t get me wrong, this is as much a competition as a rugby match. These girls prepare their bodies and their minds for months, if not years for this one moment. Attend any pageant and the sense of competition is tangible. These girls compete to win.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Sex sells.  And again, we are responsible for this.

In 1996 a phone poll was conducted by the Miss America Organisation on air, asking the nation, based on calls made by feminist groups at the time, if the pageant should drop or keep the swimsuit competition.

A staggering 87 per cent of callers voted to retain the swimsuit round.
Do beauty pageants objectify women? Personally, I think it does. So do most other media. No point demonizing pageants when you open any magazine or switch on the TV to find the same there. 
Anchorwomen and weather girls are constantly replaced with the younger and prettier next generation.

Whilst I believe that beauty may open doors and get you ahead in certain situations, you better have a good head on your shoulders to make the most of those opportunities and use them to take you even further.

What I always say to our beauty queens is “win the crown, then show the world why you’re not just a pretty face.”

Thinking about the fabulous and intelligent women in my life, I find it offensive when I see an ad like Miss America’s “some people call her a beauty queen – we call her a scholar”. 

Isn’t it enough that these women have their beauty as an advantage that we now have to take away from the every day female who have to deal with the realities of what really is generally a superficial world?

Now I know that I may put some noses out of joint with this, but think about it; in order to win this “scholarship program” an important element is to be beautiful. 

You have to be physically beautiful by commercial standards to even compete. To market it as a “scholarship program” as opposed to a “beauty pageant” is a half truth.

It gives your everyday girl false hope – the everyday girl who hopes to be one day Miss America only to have her dreams crushed when she doesn’t even make it through the state heats because the judges don’t consider her “marketably beautiful”. 

Beauty pageants have a place in our lives.  As long as we put it in context and view it accordingly.

Now, we can argue about this until the cows come home, but do not be deluded by the fact that we consumers are again responsible for this. 

We want to be entertained.

We want to see impossibly beautiful women battle it out on screen in their itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis and their sparkling evening gowns and hair to high heavens.

What we don’t want is to have our intelligence insulted.

So to all you beauty pageant organisers out there that is reading this blog entry I ask one thing of all you: Keep it real.

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