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The Relevance of ‘Beauty Pageants’

Thai Town Beauty Pageant at Songkran in Thai Town, Hollywood, CA. April 5, 2009 by Veronica Jauriqui.

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, are 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.

My Communication Inspiration

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW in 2019 by Nrkbeta.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx borough of New York City to a Puerto Rican family and later moved to Yorktown Heights. After her father died, she moved back to the Bronx to take a job as a waitress and bartender to help her mother fight foreclosure of their home. Ocasio-Cortez decided to run for office and now sits in the United States House of Representatives as one of the most well-known Congress members in the country. She is the youngest woman in history to serve in the United States Congress. 

To see a young Puerto Rican woman serving in one of the highest positions in the United States government is paramount. Systemically, the odds were stacked against her and frankly, they still are. 

As a young Chinese woman studying journalism, mass communications, and political science, Ocasio-Cortez inspires me for obvious reasons. She is the representation for young women everywhere and especially for those who have never seen someone who looks like themselves be successful and respected. 

Ocasio-Cortez would not be the influential woman she is today without her effective communication skills but of course, I have to acknowledge all the clichés first. 

She is the epitome of hard work and determination. When she started her grassroots campaign in 2018 she was waiting tables and bartending at a taqueria in New York City. “For 80 percent of this campaign, I operated out of a paper grocery bag hidden behind that bar,” she told Bon Appétit magazine. Not only was she the first person since 2004 to challenge Joe Crowley, who had been the Democratic Caucus Chair for nearly two decades, but she also did it all without any donations from corporations. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s speeches have gone viral on social media platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok. Women everywhere have dubbed her voice over themselves lip syncing her words. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. 

A unique characteristic of Ocasio-Cortez’s speeches that is often lacking with many other communicators in her field is her research and education. She rarely relies on emotional appeal and emphasizes facts to back up her arguments. Her knowledge on complex subjects makes her an extremely effective communicator, especially in the political field. 

During her time as a young female politician she has been disrespected countless times, predominantly by men. However, she has never lost her composure and stays classy and tasteful in her responses, even when she was angry. She makes sure she defends herself with educated facts and lets her knowledge speak for herself. Rather than making her voice louder, she makes her arguments better.

It is easy to say that I admire Ocasio-Cortez and all that she stands for, not only as a human being but as a woman with a successful, self-made career. I aspire to be as motivated to serve and inform the public as she is. Her words, backed by education, research and passion, paves the way for women of color everywhere.

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