ART BY ESTELLE ZHOU
By JENIBELLE HSU
On Sept. 7, 1968, hundreds of women gathered in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pageant’s emphasis on “ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards.” Since this outburst, feminists successfully implemented more just judging systems. However, do beauty pageants continue to convey the wrong message?
Since its creation in 1921, the Miss America pageant gathers state-level pageant winners in a national beauty contest that rewards $50,000 scholarship to the winner and a six-figure salary during her reign. In addition, the newly-crowned Miss America will tour the nation to publicize her platform, or an issue that is close to the winner and nation’s heart.
Although beauty pageants claim to empower women in society and through education, they miss their mark. The participants’ stunning physical appearance sets unrealistic beauty standards for young girls, severely harming their personal development.
Most notably, pageant contestants need the perfect makeup, the perfect outfit, and the perfect model walk. For instance, the Miss America pageant primarily consists of private interviews, on-stage questions, elegance and swimsuits. In fact, only one of four categories critiques contestants’ talents.
Consequently, judges may not necessarily examine competitors’ inner beauty or true personalities, because competitors can simply rehearse their lines and performances behind-the-scenes to acquire top scores. Moreover, Blaine Roberts, a history professor and published author, wrote in The New York Times that at the 2013 Miss California pageant, organizers endlessly stress the importance of choosing the best makeup.
Ultimately, pageant contestants only feature their “best” selves, as opposed to their holistic selves. The flawed judging system skews rational judgement, as many are automatically drawn to the sunny mannequin, but perhaps ignore the heroic common woman.
Furthermore, pageants blatantly televise beauty as a contest. The fundamental problem is that everyone defines beauty differently. While some watchers at home may prefer swimsuit models, others admire ambitious leaders. Likewise, the “qualified” judges may try to follow the official criterias, but are inherently subjective.
Perhaps the most detrimental effect of beauty pageants is on the mindset of young avid fans. By attempting to establish a universal definition of beauty, these contests hinder girls’ individuality and personal growth.
For example, in an age where social media occupies teenagers’ lives, youths yearn to be like the quintessential Miss America. They may go great lengths to obtain a similar image of a woman with beautiful hair, bright eyes and expensive dress. Eventually, teenagers may see Miss America in the mirror, but fail to see themselves.
In the end, the American model may discourage children from following their own passions and creating their identity. When the optimistic fans finally achieve their childhood goals, they may suddenly realize their unhappiness with their career and future. Ironically, and not surprisingly, the once-young women despair at their failure to fulfill their lives after all their blood, sweat and tears to be their dream self.
Yet beauty pageants attract women with a platform to voice their opinions and change people’s lives. Winners make public appearance all over the nation to advocate for feminism, education, child sexual abuse awareness and veteran issues.
However, beauty pageants give women an inappropriate platform to showcase their talents and depth. In particular, why must women present themselves ideally to promote their noteworthy cause? The pageants criterias overall fail to aid the women’s venture into higher-level education and do not reflect the contestants’ abilities to make a lasting impact in the world.
For these accomplished women to fully unleash their potential, the American pageant system must not prioritize superficial beauty over inner soul. Instead of analyzing competitors’ “lifestyle and fitness,” Miss America should examine “challenges and triumphs.” In reality, the most beautiful woman may not be the one who is best dressed, but the one who may not believe she is beautiful.