Last week an email arrived that got me thinking about beauty pageants.
The former girlfriend of someone we know won a Miss Someplace contest and will now move on to compete in the Miss America pageant. This young woman is generically attractive, like most of her competitors in this year’s contest. Her resume indicates she is intelligent — she’s taking leave from her grad school studies to focus on vying for the Miss America title — a competition that will have included 12,000 local and state contestants over the course of the year.
The not-for-profit Miss America organization boasts that it awarded $45 million in cash and scholarships in 2009. So is that really the big draw? The “reason why?”
Do the contestants look like they are lusting for a chance at higher education?
According to the official Miss America website, “Participating in the Miss America system not only helps you pay for college and prepare for a career, it also provides an opportunity to gain additional life experience, working on issues of importance to society, enhancing your personal and professional skills and developing your performance-related and other talents.”
What motivates these twentysomething women to give the judges a look up their legs as the strut on runways in increasingly tiny swimsuits?
Are these the next women leaders of our society? Do these young women “embody” the qualities of our next gaggle of leaders? Maybe so, if we can bear to consider the trajectory of Sarah Palin. Is there any “there” there? It feels like it’s all about the calculated packaging, the appearance, the programmed performance. Playing to the audience.
Are these girls aiming for stardom? Maybe they buy into the Pageant’s tempting offer of the “opportunity to gain additional life experience:” — ribbon-cutting at shopping centers; signing glossies for patients at Veterans Administration hospitals; smiling and singing at senior citizens’ centers. From there, it’s only a few stiletto steps away from running for local political office.
Why, then, do pageants endure? Voyeurs of every dimension can go online and gawk at women’s bodies. Want to watch “home grown talent?” American Idol is there for you. Babes in swimsuits? Go to the beach. Or to your iPhone.
Please tell me why pageants still exist. I just don’t get it.