Saturday, September 25, 2004

Miss America

Every year when this rolls around, I think “Wow, this thing really does still exist.” I mean, let’s face it, this peculiar pageant has ceased having any meaning. Or rather, the qualities used to judge women in the Miss America Pageant have ceased to bear any relationship to qualities we would actually use to judge a human being in a meaningful way.

I know that’s not an original observation, and I know that some people enjoy the Miss America Pageant deliberately as parody, but I am just so stunned that anyone can still take it seriously.

I mean, what effect is this pageant having on impressionable young girls who look to Miss America as a real ideal? What qualities does Miss America teach are important to have? Poise, attractiveness in evening wear and swimsuit, a winning smile, a “talent” (either singing an aria or doing that dance routine with the flying streamers) and having a “cause” (something truly vanilla like literacy, conservation or abstinence).

That’s it. That’s what we prize most in a young woman. And of course, automatic disqualifications include having had children, an abortion, a divorce, (how about a boyfriend? Are boyfriends okay?)

And of course, Miss America is just the most visible side of the ugly and scary beauty pageant culture. I’m not just talking about psycho moms and Jon Benet here, I’m talking about indoctrinating young girls into this perverse mindset where attractiveness is a zero-sum game with winners and losers and that presenting an attractive outer shell is the only goal worth achieving.

Somewhere, in some MIT lab, a 22 year old female biologist is pioneering some new research that may actually save some lives. She’s been tutoring disadvantaged kids in her neighborhood for ten years, she writes poetry for a local journal, she’s honest, kind, and has an army of friends to attest to her character. There’s your Miss America, people. She doesn’t tape her breasts and put Vaseline on her teeth. She may not look particularly stunning in a ball gown, she can’t sing Ave Maria, and she won’t deliver a prepared monologue in a Louisiana twang about how sex should be saved for marriage.

The Miss America Pageant needs to either close up shop, or do a complete overhaul where they replace the current system with one that can identify people you’d actually admire. People should qualify by being nominated anonymously by their friends. Currently, qualifying for Miss America probably means you’ve survived and vanquished all your beauty foes at the local and state level. You’re already a cut-throat, pageant-savvy veteran with years of competition experience. When Regis asks these girls what their talent is, shouldn’t the correct answer be “Well, my entire life revolves around the pageant circuit. I guess my talent is winning beauty contests.”

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