Growing up, there were two things I'd look forward to every September. (School was not one of them) There was my birthday on Sept 8th and the Miss America Pageant that usually fell in that same week. Yes, the Miss America pageant. I never missed it! Our TV used to be on the sun porch of our Philadelphia row house and I can vividly remember those early fall evenings. My sister and I would take our baths early and hunker down to watch the pageant. We rarely missed a year. Then there was Miss USA and Miss Universe and we’d faithfully watch those too. So when I was asked to be a judge in an upcoming state pageant for the Miss USA organization, I was excited. But after saying yes, and posting it on Facebook, I found that there were many people who thought saying yes was a big mistake and tried discouraging me.
That made me wonder: Was people’s blanket denigration of pageants warranted? And being an intelligent, liberated woman, what was it about pageants that I loved so much?
I grew up to be an actress, writer and now I have a successful business helping people create a powerful authentic presence and elevate the way they communicate in all forms of face to face interactions. Maybe watching pageants was a training ground for me. I'm still a fan of contests and competition shows. I'm an avid watcher of The Voice, Project Runway, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, American Ninja Warrior and the like. I think I watch those current shows for the same reason I used to watch beauty pageants.
Yeah, I’ll admit, there’s that part of me that likes to watch and make fun but it is also fascinating to see how incredibly different people with similar attributes can be. I have always been fascinated by what makes the difference between a winner and a runner up; a runner up and an also ran. I've always been excited to compare my taste level, my opinions and my gut reaction against those of the judges or the contestant’s performance. When I disagree with the final choices or when someone I'm routing for has an off performance, I love to try and figure out what the judges may have seen that I didn't see or analyze what the contestant might have done that got in the way of their success. Watching and analyzing gives me a window into human nature. Helps me test out theories I know about non-verbal communication and mindset.
Please don't get me wrong, I'm aware of the cheesy, fake, exploitative parts of reality shows and beauty pageants. And I’m not completely clueless about the negative ramifications of a show that is predicated on judging women’s physical beauty.
There were many reasons people felt I should have said no to this opportunity.
My feminist acquaintances felt that in being part of the event I would, in effect, be sanctioning and supporting women's objectification. However, as a young girl I didn’t know anything about objectification. I saw, and to some extent, still see the pageants as a competition between women who have certain “assets" - their beauty and personality - and who want to share those assets with the world and see how they stack up against other people with similar assets.
In hindsight did pageants contribute to my always feeling like my thighs were too fat? Maybe, but that also could be attributed to Seventeen Magazine and EVERY other teen/woman’s magazine and TV show on the planet. Did it make me feel like there was ONE standard of beauty? Probably? But see the above bit about magazines then add the effects of every other show on TV at the time. And in the once a year pageant world, there was Miss Universe where you got to see beauty in different colors. (something most magazines and TV shows did NOT show in those days)
And even though there was always the controversial swim suit portion, watching certain scenes on Peyton Place made me a lot more uncomfortable then watching the squeaky clean male hosts during the swim suit portion of a pageant.
Someone on Facebook wrote: "You would never see men parading around in swimsuits." But think about it, the minute the weather gets hot, men (whether they have “assets” or not) take off their shirts and strut around the city for all to see. Then there's the Ironman competitions, wrestling matches, boxing matches and all other organized sports. Bunches of men sharing their "assets" - defined physiques and physical strength - to see how they stack up against other men with similar assets. I'm curious about how and why this is different than a beauty pageant.
Another thing that I'm curious about is that a lot of the feminist who are against pageants are supportive of the "Slut Walk" agenda which believes that to protest and help avoid the prevalent phenomenon of “victim blaming” in rape cases”, women should claim the right to be able to walk around as scantily clad as they want.
So if it's okay for women to choose to march in the streets dressed in provocative clothing to try to train men not to look at them as sexual objects (a concept that is hard for me to wrap my head around). Why isn't it okay for women to choose to wear a swimsuit for a 10-minute segment of a beauty pageant for the chance to win college scholarships, celebrity status and money.
I hear all of you out there saying but why should we HAVE to prance around in a swim suit to get a scholarship? My answer is YOU don't have to but others may CHOOSE to.
A friend found this first scene in an old Frazier episode:
Roz: (about Frazier judging a teen pageant) You think THAT's dignified?
Frazier: There are Scholarships involved!!
It's like asking a kid who is talented at baseball, why he says yes to the minor leagues, living on the road for very little money and very little security just for the chance to play in the Majors and make serious cash. They don't have to, they choose to. (Full disclosure: my son is a minor league baseball player) Are there other easier ways for a talented athlete to make money? Definitely. Are there other easier ways for beautiful young girls to get scholarships? Most assuredly. But for some young athletes, as for some young girls, those opportunities are not that prevalent or available. Sometimes their baseball talent or their beauty is their most valuable asset. If given a valuable gift, how annoying would it be for people to keep telling you what you could or should be doing with it?
One of the other objections people had about my choice was that they felt it was at odds with my “brand” or my mission to help and empower women. I thought deeply about that one. And here’s what I realized. My mission and my brand is about helping people discover their best selves; to find out the values they live by and to bring out and share the value they bring to the world whatever that is (as long as it doesn’t hurt other human beings.) I do not believe my brand or mission is to empower people only to do what others deem to be empowering for them.
To reiterate, I'm not advocating for pageants. I'm not saying WOO HOO! let's have more beauty pageants or beauty pageants are the best things since sliced bread. I know they're flawed. I know they seem to celebrate and exploit a very narrow portion of a woman's value but my feeling is as long as they continue to exist, if there is a way that I can share my expertise, my values, my strong and ardent belief that these women are so much more then their physical beauty; If I can, in some way, show them the deeper value they have to share and possibly, by example, make a small difference in their lives, I see no reason to say no. I appreciate my friends and colleagues who understand this and encouraged me to explore this opportunity.
So I'd love to hear your opinions. I’m sure there are many. I will be writing another post after my experience and perhaps my views will be completely different. Stay Tuned!!