OPINION: Miss America and body image

Tamlynn Torchon

Graphic by Sam Chaney

If one searches through missamerica.org, their statement is that the organization is “one of the nation’s leading achievement programs for young women.” Miss America is a tradition of celebrating and awarding beauty and excellence – at least, that’s the general marketing point. What is the contest about, in reality?

Miss America, much like any other beauty pageants, has been heavily criticized, especially by those who support women’s rights. There’s a perception of that contest being a reinforcement of patriarchy, sexism, Eurocentricity (in this case, a preference for physical features attributed to White Europeans) and unrealistic body-image standards. It also seems to promote consumerism to attain a specific feminine ideal, and it ultimately objectifies women by over-emphasizing their bodies and parading them around as dolls

On Tuesday, June 6, the current Chairwoman of the Miss America Organization Board of Trustees Gretchen Carlson decided to dismantle those physical beauty standards by focusing instead on the intellect of future contestants.

“We are no longer a pageant; we are a competition. We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” she announced on Good Morning America. She not only eliminated the Swimsuit competition but also the Gown program in order to emphasize this new mindset.

Frankly, this move was long overdue. We live in a time where open-mindedness and change are needed. Of course, there’s also a defense of the contest, stating that it hails and celebrates femininity and grace. Those two character traits do not- and should not- equate to specific physical traits such as being skinny, being fair, having straight hair, showing a swim-suited body and so on. Those demands are reinforcing the perception of shallowness and sexualization of women’s bodies. It is time for realistic body imagery to be displayed while praising true leadership and knowledge.

This decision made by Chairwoman Gretchen is not an attack on femininity in itself, instead, it is an opportunity for the Miss America Competition to redefine itself and set an example for other beauty pageants around the world. If you love being and expressing this social construct by abiding by the costly demands of maintaining it, please continue to do so. However, no other women should be forced to follow those degrees of traditional femininity. Miss America is simply following an important rule that we all love and repeat: don’t judge a book by its cover, rather, as MLK puts it, “by the content of their character.”

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