But basically I haven't really learned anything from beauty pageants. I was just being provocative and luring you to my blog so that I could talk about myself. Because that is what I do on this blog on Tuesdays. Sometimes I rant about stuff too. I mean, it's my blog after all.
But I did just watch the Miss Universe Pageant last week.
Once again Miss Colombia won. It's usually between Miss Colombia and Miss Venezuela. And I am not going to apologize for watching it, despite the fact that I consider myself a feminist. In the 70's I read "Sexual Politics," and it changed my life, and I called men out at the drop of a hat if they said anything the slightest bit sexist. I made sure my son took home economics in school so he would know how to cook and iron and not impose himself on a woman (though I later found out he was going to take it anyway because it was a good way to meet girls). I went to women's support groups and started one myself. I believe in a woman's right to decide what happens to her body and fair pay, something that we women have yet to achieve.
But I never blamed beauty pageants for why women didn't have equality.
I come from a generation where the Miss America Pageant was an EVENT. As a little girl I would beg my mother to stay up so I could watch, saying I would take a nap to make up for it (I never did, take the nap I mean). My mother and I would watch together and then I would fantasize about being a beauty pageant contestant or a model.
Here I am at the age of seven in my one and only modeling gig for the local women's club. I think I have the pose down pretty well.
By the time I went to the senior prom, I really had it down! Though I could have used some of that Vaseline on my teeth for a big wide smile.
When I had my own daughter, she and I would watch too, and we especially enjoyed dishing about the contestants' evening gowns. It was a nice bonding time.
Ever since I can remember, I would have a pad and pencil and try to determine who the winner would be. I enjoyed it as a competition and acting as one of the judges. I still do that, though now I tend to fast forward through the swimsuit section and all of the fluff. I can watch a three hour beauty pageant in under an hour (thank you, TIVO!)
Growing up, my Dad played the trumpet in several bands and orchestras around town and he was usually called upon to play at the Miss Michigan Pageant, which took place in our town. In those days, Miss America would usually make an appearance. I think I got to attend once, but when I didn't my Dad would get me autographs. He was a great Dad like that, but I think he also liked pretty women. In fact, I know he did.
(Nancy Fleming was actually a Miss Michigan before becoming Miss America).
Miss America 1962: Maria Fletcher
But this one is my favorite: "Remember a smile's very important -- it makes every gal a queen!"
Not bad advice. What a nice young woman to add the personal touch. Very nice manners. I wonder whatever happened to Miss Muskegon 1961 and calling women "gals?"
But I also didn't feel like I had to compete with these women. Watching the pageants was fun. I was fascinated with that world, but not driven to participate. Sure, I wanted to be beautiful like those women, but it didn't scar me or do any more damage than reading Seventeen Magazine. Actually, when I think about it, Seventeen Magazine scarred me more, probably responsible for starting me on the road to my clothes addiction.
Beauty pageants have gotten a bad rap.
For some reason they were always the centerpiece of protests within the women's movement. Even as late as the 1980's, they were being targeted. Remember the Miss Santa Cruz contestant who infiltrated the Miss California contest just so she could pull a banner out on stage that said "Pageants hurt all women?" She said she had dieted, taken voice lessons and spent $5000 just so she would have the opportunity to protest in this way (you can read about it here). She also said she thought she was going to win (See? Even she wasn't immune to the competitive element).
Pageants hurt all women?
Look at all of the women who have benefited from beauty pageants:
Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1983 - the first African American Miss America.
(I know, she lost her crown for some risqué photos, but then she went on to have a successful singing and acting career)
Halle Berry was Miss Teen All American in 1985 and Miss Ohio in 1986 where she was first runner-up in the Miss USA Pageant.
Successful journalist and TV anchor Diane Sawyer was Junior Miss 1963 and Paula Zahn was Miss Teenage America 1973.
Gretchen Carlson was Miss America in 1989 and whether or not you like her politics, she was a Stanford graduate and studied at Oxford.
And finally, yes, even my beloved Oprah was a product of the beauty pageant world. In 1971 she won the Miss Fire Prevention contest in Nashville, which might seem like a petty title, but it led to her first job reading the news. She was later crowned Miss Black Tennessee and competed in the Miss Black America pageant. (Why they had separate contests for black women is a whole different blog post).
And there have been many more successful and powerful women who have come from beauty pageants.
It takes talent, drive and a strong sense of self worth to compete in these pageants. These women have attributes far greater than their physical appearance. The Miss America Pageant is the only one that requires a "talent," but even in the pageants that are more about beauty, such as Miss USA and Miss Universe, the contestants are already accomplished women: often lawyers, teachers and other professionals. In Venezuela, the contest is a national obsession and contest winners have gone on to become powerful politicians. But even if a woman is the best baton twirler in the world, she comes to the pageant with a charity or cause she is passionate about.
I don't see these women as airheads who are relying solely on their beauty to make their way in the world, despite some of the incredibly strange answers they sometimes give to the question asked at the end of the pageant. But think about it, especially in the Miss Universe contest where English is not the first language for many of these women. A question about how to solve the world's problems is thrown at them and they are supposed to answer it in 30 seconds or less. I am not sure my answer would be very good either. Though there certainly have been some bad gaffes such as the time one contestant did not know the capital of Nevada -- AND SHE WAS MISS NEVADA! But that's half the fun of these things.
Maybe some of these women will go off and change the world and maybe they won't. That is life in a nutshell. Some of us are world changers; some of us aren't.
But even if these women were using their beauty to get ahead, I don't really have a problem with that. If you are a beautiful woman, why not let that help you get ahead? We all use what we have been given. Most of these women are taking this route to fund their college educations and causes they are passionate about. And if this helps them do that, then more power to them. If anything, it should motivate other women to get out there in the world and try to do something.
Certainly pageants have been a jumping off point for many successful women to fund their education or to promote their causes and careers, but it doesn't matter what their reasons for being there were. Women have a right to find their way however they need to. And at its very least, it's an evening of watching pretty women parade around in pretty dresses (like I said, I whiz through the swimsuit part) and answering some silly questions. It's nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.
So actually, I HAVE learned something from beauty pageants. I have learned that in the fight for equality, these women are not the problem.
The woman in the Santa Cruz pageant said she was "exposing the lies," lies such as "women like to be judged by men and to duct tape their breasts." Yes, women in beauty pageants employ little tricks to make themselves look better, but don't we do that in real life as well? As for being judged by men, beauty pageants are not just judged by men. And we like duct taping our breasts? I think not.
And as for being judged period, welcome to the world. I know there is the argument about this impossible standard of beauty we woman are held to, but again, life itself is a little contest that holds us to impossible standards, sometimes from our bosses, our friends, our children, even our spouses. It's up to us to set our own standards.
I say, if you consider yourself a feminist, be one and take action to make this world a better and more fair place for women and stop blaming other women who participate in these pageants, or like me, who like to watch them. I have been watching beauty pageants all of my life and that has not changed my views on equality for women or adversely affected my body image.
But, hey, does this blog make me look fat?
Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of the movie
The Week in Reviews,
as well as my progress on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."
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