When I was a kid, the techniques used by beauty pageant contestants to look perfect for the judges fascinated me: Vaseline on their teeth, “chicken cutlets” in their tops and butt glue on their bottoms. Even at a young age, this quest for perfection amused me.
But when the Miss America Organization recently announced it was ditching the swimsuit and evening gown portion of the competition, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. (Investors were probably sad when the stock prices of butt glue tumbled to an all-time low.)
I grew up in Philadelphia--a mere 60 miles from Atlantic City--so the pageant loomed large in my childhood.
As a little girl, the swimsuit and evening gowns were my favorite part of the show. In the late 1960’s while feminists were burning their bras to protest the pageant, my mother and I were snuggled up on the couch watching Bert Parks sing, “There she is, Miss America, There she is, your ideal.”
Phyllis George was my first Miss America girl crush. As Miss Texas, George won the crown in 1971. I was five at the time. Back then, winners looked like real princesses-- with a cape, a scepter and a crown bigger than most chandeliers.
The following year, I received a Miss America Barbie for Christmas so I could play Miss America all year long. In an early #metoo moment, Ken played with Miss America Barbie when my mother wasn’t looking.
When I became a cynical teen, I would mock the contestants for their lack of talent or their inability to answer the judges' questions but, secretly, I was watching for the gowns. And I would tear up when the new Miss America took her victory lap.
I stopped watching around the time Kaye Lani Rae Rafko won in 1988 (she still has my all-time favorite Miss America name.) Rafko’s successor, Gretchen Carlson, is the current chairwoman of the Miss America Organization and responsible for the changes in the contest.
Carlson told Good Morning America, ““Who doesn’t want to be empowered, learn leadership skills and pay for college and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul? That’s what we’re judging them on now.”
These women have the rest of their lives to show the world who they are as a person from the inside of their soul. When you’re 21, you want to show the world how great you look in a bikini.
In the last 100 years, the Miss America pageant has made many positive corrections. What was once a “whites only” event now boasts minorities as contestants and winners. In 1995, Heather Whitestone became the first deaf Miss America. But even with this inclusiveness, the contestants all had two things in common: a slammin’ body and a beautiful face.
Yes, they were smart and talented and wanted world peace but they were also prettier than a glob of butter melting on a stack of wheat cakes.
What many feminists--and some Miss America organizers--fail to understand is that many women want to parade around in a swimsuit and heels. (How else do you explain the body building and bikini contests taking place all across America every week?)
As women, why should we judge the women who want to be judged by their appearance? If they don’t feel like a piece of meat, who are we to tell them they should?
If the Miss America pageant was having a difficult time finding women to compete, I could understand these revisions. But, I pretty sure more than one or two people signed up for the Miss Wyoming or Miss Vermont contests-- and these are the states with the lowest population.
In a truly feminist society, women would be free to do what they want, when they want, without the rest of us broads trying to tear them down.
I know Carlson means well but I believe she has effectively killed the Miss America pageant. The ratings for this year's pageatnt will be as lower than the series finale of "Small Wonder."
Perhaps today’s little girls don’t feel the same giddy joy as I did while watching Miss America. Perhaps today’s little girls are put off by such blatant displays of beauty.
But, I honestly hope today’s little girls don’t reject everything associated with being feminine-- even if the notion seems somewhat old-fashioned.
I’m a strong, empowered woman who still likes to look pretty. If a man tries to “metoo” me, I’ll punch him in the face. (Yes, I’ve done that in the past.) Watching the Miss America pageant during my formative years did not turn me into a Stepford Wife…or even a beauty contestant. But it did give me yet another bonding moment with my late mother.
I will always fondly remember the Miss America pageants of my youth. And I may purchase a tub of butt glue just so the hard-working Americans at the butt glue factory don’t lose their jobs.