The reigning Miss America has been accused of hazing pledges in her former sorority, which has shed unwanted light on a system that some consider sexist and outdated. A former “pageant girl” on what’s good, and bad, about that world.
I don’t know a lot about the current situation with Kira Kazantsev, but I think people would like to think pageant girls are just a bunch of mean girls so they can share viral videos of them saying stupid stuff and social scandals. People love to laugh at pageant girls; it’s kind of like hating on the prom queen or enjoying watching the mighty fall.
I held two regional California titles, which allowed me to compete in the Miss California portion of the Miss America system twice (lost both times).
The program does contradict itself in a way. They seem to want a virginal, talented, genius who looks good in a swimsuit and heels. Virginal, but sexy (white is a VERY popular evening-gown competition color). Talented, but not an artist (talent needs to be under two minutes and done in a flashy style on stage — not great for actors, painters, etc.). Smart, but not a nerd. Conservative politics… well, that seems to be non-negotiable. You have to be in great shape and have a RIDICULOUS body. Sure, there are some girls in the system who have gotten pretty far if they’re above a size 4 or 6, but they don’t win. At least I’ve never seen it happen.
The pageant people know the swimsuit competition is outdated. Many pageant girls and officials insist that this helps keep on the “tradition” of what the pageant started as (which was just a swimsuit competition). They think it’s a tribute to the roots. That, or they say it’s about physical fitness and health. I personally think you can tell if someone is healthy enough with their clothes on. Also, it’s a TV show. One of the main reasons why people tune into the Miss America program is because they just want to see beautiful women on stage. I think this might be a bigger reflection of what society wants to see as opposed to a flaw in the program. I doubt they’d get a lot of viewers if the girls were awarded for just their interviews and talent skills. I, for one, would love to see it gone completely. It adds a lot of fuel to the fire and seems contradictory to what they’re trying to accomplish. As much as people love to make fun of pageant girls for being idiots, or possessing useless talents, there are some extremely intelligent and talented women that do compete. Having them parade around in a bathing suits really doesn’t help. The USA pageant girls can carry on since their competition is mainly a modeling contest, but it doesn’t seem very Miss America-like.
I feel like the Miss America system is trapped between the old and the new. It’s trying to be a program for intelligent women, and in many ways it is. As someone who has been through the interview process many times, I know that it is difficult. But asking 17- to 24-year-old girls to fix the world’s questions in a 20-second on-stage interview is ridiculous. They want you to give intelligent answers, but also be charming and able to answer everything with a smile. The variety of questions they ask is all over the board. I was once asked, “If I gave you a red crayon, what would you do with it?” and earlier in the private interview (just the judges and contestant) was asked how we should handle the illegal immigration problem in California. Also, it’s pretty hard to be liberal in the pageant system. I definitely am now, and was then. It felt like I had to dial down my political opinions significantly if I didn’t want to piss people off. They are trying to appeal to a modern woman, but the pageant’s beginnings are anything but feminist.
All of that said, I met some of the most incredibly talented and educated women competing in the program. It’s really split though. Some of the contestants are extremely motivated, tough, talented, and smart. Then there are the girls who just want to wear pretty dresses and a crown on their heads.
I personally used the program to pay for college. I was a talented, somewhat attractive girl and there were very few scholarships available to me. I made about $10,000 in scholarship money from winning my titles. It was easy to obtain and I could use it toward the college of my choice. And I did. I graduated from CSU Fullerton and that pageant money really helped. However, I may be an exception to the rule. I would say most girls spend more than they can earn in the system. Those dresses, swimsuits, interview suits, and talent materials are EXPENSIVE and girls and parents will shell out the money if they think it will help them win. Not to mention all of the money that friends and family members have to pay for tickets and travel to see them compete.
I guess in the end, I would like to see the program updated. There are some truly incredible people in the system, despite what YouTube and Facebook feeds demonstrate. I would love to see a program that truly rewards the young women who are active volunteers in their community, knowledgeable about current events, and talented artists. And a lot of those kinds of women are in there. It just seems to be a shame that they also have to walk around in a swimsuit and heels in front of an audience and get sparkly crowns put on their big pageant hair.