The Culture of Beauty Pageants and Why They are Relevant

I have competed in pageants for over seven years. When I started, I was a young eleven year old who couldn’t look a stranger in the eye, speak in front of an audience of any size or even order my own food at a restaurant. It was debilitating. Four years later, I earned the title of National American Miss Wisconsin Jr. Teen. Later that year, I went on to place first in the National Talent competition after playing a Chopin piece on the piano. A year later, I earned the Miss Wisconsin Teen title. 

I completed countless hours of community service. I made donations to the Boys and Girls Club with books and school supplies donated by other pageant contestants, raised funds for the Alzheimer’s Association, made lunches and distributed them through the River Food Pantry and volunteered at the Polar Plunge, just to name a few, all because I participated in a so-called “demeaning” competition. Not to mention the confidence, interview and public speaking skills I gained that I was able to use throughout the college application process, landed me an editor position with The Badger Herald and ultimately paved the way for my future career choice. 

John Oliver’s interpretation of the Miss America Pageant only exposed society’s fragile masculinity and long-standing patriarchal perspective. It was infuriating to see a man make a mockery of empowered women. Every single woman competing in the Miss America pageant not only chose to participate but are passionate about using her voice to raise awareness for her personal platform. These platforms help kickstart much-needed discussions on important topics including women in STEM, teen suicide prevention and eating disorders and body positivity.

Oliver’s illustration of the problems of pageantry did challenge me to think about the aspects of pageantry that could be toxic. Acknowledging that many pageant systems tend to judge women’s looks should not be overlooked. Since Oliver’s segment aired, Miss America has eliminated its swimsuit portion of the competition, along with other systems following similar steps to steer away from harmful beauty standards, many of which were enforced by men in the first place. Frankly, this story doesn’t age well when pageants are constantly adjusting to stay relevant and keep up with societal and cultural expectations. 

One of his central questions was the relevance of pageantry in today’s society, a question pageant competitors commonly get in interviews. This hooked my attention, however, a man condemning a woman’s endeavor ultimately regresses any social progress made to equipt women of choice and freedom. Like gardening or painting or baseball, those who enjoy participating, do, while others don’t. 

Additionally, another one of Oliver’s main argument was that the Miss America organization did not give the amount of scholarship money they claimed to contestants. This is suspicious but it is important to recognize that pageants, like any other sport or organization, is a business. While this is not the most wholesome realization, Miss America is still the leading scholarship organization for women and that should never be a point of ridicule.

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