Miss America is no longer a beauty pageant. The nation’s most famous pageant is scrapping the swimsuit and evening gown contests in order to focus more on interview and talent.
Which, fine. It was always weird to decide who gets college scholarships based on how good they look in a bikini. If it wants to be a scholarship organization, let it be a scholarship organization. No other scholarship makes its winners wear heels and tiaras during a nationwide broadcast. (Now that I think about it, though, the Scripps National Spelling Bee ought to start.)
If Miss America is going to eliminate swimsuit and evening gown, they might as well replace those portions of the competition with things that matter for today’s American woman. It sounds like the pageant is aiming to find the Best Young Woman In America, and that’s pretty impossible to judge when the girls are limited to talents they can perform on stage.
Someone might be a fantastic cook, but that doesn’t translate into pageant format. Too bad, lady, you’re going to have to learn to tap dance. Someone might be a brilliant doctor or nurse, but they’re not going to say “Bring me the sickest person in the audience and I’ll fix you!” Put down the stethoscope, pick up a flaming baton. No one would dispute that the nation needs doctors more, but the pageant wants baton twirlers.
The whole point of the show is to create an entertaining spectacle. That’s not a bad thing (and thank goodness, or else we’d have to cancel every pop concert and bulldoze Disney World). Great people can go far in pageant-world as long as they also translate well on stage. And that means being really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
Social media is full of people outraged at Miss America potentially not being stick-thin and gorgeous. The Best Young Woman In America, they assume, must be pretty. I’d say the Best Young Woman In America must take care of her health – but you can’t tell that by looking at someone. Fitness is a little bit easier to test; all the contestants could race in a timed 5K or do as many push-ups as they can – but that’s not interesting to watch on television, nor does it inherently make someone a better person.
And who is the Best Young Woman In America, anyway? She could probably do her makeup flawlessly in the backseat of an Uber, but of course she’d never need to because she’s never been late for anything ever. I bet she writes thoughtful thank-you notes in perfect, tiny cursive. She’s smart and kind, and never has a hair tie on her wrist but always has an extra in her purse, and lets you know you can always borrow if you want. None of this can be decided by an on stage competition. So the pageant should stop trying and instead just be what it is – a weird, wonderful spectacle of excessive femininity and hair spray.
Something important is getting lost in all the crosstalk about how, exactly, to find a young woman who represents our country most glowingly: What do the contestants want? Well, anyone who enters Miss America – until today – was signing up to be judged on her looks. I say, let them. And if you’re not okay with it, have you ever posted a selfie on social media? Then you’ve signed up, too, albeit in a much smaller way. And even if you’ve never followed a makeup tutorial – you’ve never asked the man in your life “so, how do I look?” – you’ve never tried to eat extra healthily before a big event – unfortunately, you’re not immune to the judgement, either.
If there’s someone who looks like a Miss America contestant without much effort, ughhhh. I’m so jealous. Most of those girls look the way they do because of really fortunate genetics PLUS hard work. Diet, exercise, makeup, and pageant hair all take effort. It might not be the best use of someone’s time, but it’s not my choice or yours.
This world judges us on our looks whether we want it to or not. Miss America contestants have figured out how to use that judgement to their advantage. It’s a weird program, but it’s not evil. And a scholarship pageant without the pageant part is just an interview.