And your new Miss America is…

Miss Virginia, Caressa Cameron from Fredericksburg.

Frankly, there was no reason for me to watch the Miss America Pageant, but I have almost every year since I moved here. I like the glamor of it, the excitement of the girls, seeing which state has the prettiest Miss and honestly, Clinton Kelly’s witticisms are enough. Every year it makes me ask a myriad of questions about how the pageant operates and what it means as a cultural object.

This evening I watched it with Paul fact checking the backgrounds of the contestants on the Miss America website and in text dialogue with my friend Katharine. We went back and forth commenting on whose hair, which dresses we preferred, and which girls we thought were likely picks to win. (As a Facebook post can evidence, my picks were Miss Virginia, Miss District of Columbia (Jen Corey), and to reduce geographical bias, Miss Tennessee (Stefanie Wittler)

Miss America, 2010, Caressa Cameron

What interests me about this how it figures the way an “ideal” for a young American woman is imagined. Repeatedly, the host, Mario Lopez refers to the women as “accomplished”.  What does it mean for a young woman in America in 2010 to be accomplished? Certainly, Miss America contestants seem to sing and dance, they get good grades and they have “opinions” about world and national issues. They also appear to be the picture of good health, with sparkling white teeth, trim little waists, rosy cheeks and shiny, flowing locks. Certainly, early ideas about accomplishments and womanhood did not revolve around looking awesome in a bikini or interpretive jazz dance but rather being a fully rounded individual.

I suppose it seems suspect that these women are given so many moments to demonstrate their often extraordinarily beautiful bodies and dresses, a mere seconds to demonstrate whether they are intelligent, well-spoken, charming or eloquent.

Also, Father Winter has deposited his glorious flakes upon fair Virginia once more,  I am snowed in the weekend I needed to drive to Richmond. Thank you, you icy bastard.

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4 thoughts on “And your new Miss America is…

  1. All good points. But one of my most disheartening memories was watching a Miss America pageant where they chronicled the pre-pageant training of all the contestants, which showed all of the women undergoing various workout regimes and other preps that molded them into their “accomplishments.” If a pageant claims that it is rewarding women for what they already are, then it just seems a tad hypocritical to have them undergo processes that make sure they fit what the pageant wants to reward them for.

    • Interestingly, we saw some pre-pageantry, I came in a little late and it was primarily to check out Clinton’s beard. However, it did have them revealing some of their “secrets”. The ones which stuck out for me was the use of “butt glue” (some manner of garment glue then put on their bikini bottoms to prevent ride up.) and silicone “chicken fillets” to pop in their bras to “work magic” in any outfit.
      As you mentioned, it is was shocking to me to think of the “secrets” being so tied up in ridiculous peculiarities of their appearances, rather than anything else. I wondered what I would consider my secrets to be, I type my papers single spaced and double space at the end for a false sense of achievement to make me feel better about the content – alas, I suppose that’s the difference, it wouldn’t make very good TV to hear about how they read up on global affairs, or practiced answering random questions rather than fake tanning, working out, and shimmying in their bedrooms.

  2. I grew up watching the pageant when it was more of an iconic ‘thing’. I walked around the house wearing a towel cloak and tiara, singing the song “There she is..” assuming it was my birthright to be a contestant (particularly growing up in Texas where win, place, or show was almost guaranteed).

    It was all utterly wholesome, I barely remember the bathing suits, the questions were important- We were told again and again how the contestants spent the week being interviewed by the judges, putting themselves out there as intelligent young ladies who would go on to become surgeons, teachers, leaders in their fields with the help of the scholarship money they could win. Talent was a definate advantage but not the final queen-maker (though I still recall some of the better ones).

    I got to meet Miss Texas when I rode in a convertible in a parade when I was 16 (as a Young Republican). She was everything I expected, movie star beautiful and completely charming.

    I was devasted. It was painfully obvious that at just under five feet and with a slight deformity I would never be considered for a local pageant, never walk that walk I thought I was entitiled to.

    I’m not sure how I feel about that now- it almost brings me to tears.

    The one thing i can say is how different the pageant seems now, how plastic the girls are, how vaguely talented. I have since met a number of state winners, taught with a Miss Virginia. They have all proved to be vapid, if not insipid, and usually way too religious (read: fundamentalist) for my taste.

    I didn’t watch it last night, haven”t in years, except to click back and forth. The pageant doesn’t represent me as a woman or an American any more. Maybe it never did.

  3. It was something I considered while watching it, how all the contestants – despite gracefully selected ethnic diversity are the same. They are all about the same height, the same weight, their dresses – though “different” never break the mold. I found myself hoping that Miss DC would win simply because she was far taller than the other contestants. Something that really makes me wonder about the archetypes of Miss Americas is always when I’m watching it I find myself contemplating how many remarkable women I know, who are highly intelligent, cultured, sophisticated, ambitious and beautiful and yet for whatever superficial reason could not be recognized by pageants.
    I think that Miss America does not represent the majority of American women, especially now with, as you say, the “plastic” of it. What is also appears to be the case is that it doesn’t represent a womanhood that the majority of women can or want to achieve. There is something false and contrived about it, that is pretty though empty. I remember as child being enamored with the idea of beauty and talent competitions and as I grew up developing a disdain for such a shallow and judging system, which excludes and ignores so much remarkable talent. It would be interesting to know if Miss Americas or any of the national contestants reach a point in their lives where they feel that too.

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