Kit Steinkellner
September 16, 2014 3:38 pm

It’s been a few days, I know, but I’m still trying to process what went down during the Miss America pageant this weekend. There were musical cups, a sea of white ball gowns and heavy discussions of foreign policy, all rolled into one bizarre, and bizarrely dated, ceremony. I watch the competition almost every year—even though I don’t really understand or agree with the values—but it seemed like this year something changed, like the competition was trying to address or at least balance its inherent sexism by asking the contestants to tackle modern social and political issues (in between ventriloquist acts).

What the what? While the women for the most part did a decent job speaking on everything from domestic violence to ISIS in the Q&A portion of the contest, it seemed out of place juxtaposed with the rest of the competition. What is Miss America trying to be? It’s certainly not a platform for women’s rights, and it’s not exactly a breaking news outlet. So why combine politics with body-ogling pageantry?

It’s as if the producers were either setting the contestants up to fail—for the purpose of a future viral video—or trying to prove the pageant is more socially relevant than it actually is. The contest has felt outdated for a while, but now it’s just outdated and uncomfortable.

You’re seriously asking a Miss America contestant how she believes America should handle the ISIS threat? The U.S GOVERNMENT doesn’t know how to deal with ISIS, the UNITED NATIONS doesn’t know what to do, how can we expect MISS AMERICA to solve this problem with TWENTY SECONDS to respond?

If producers really want to make the contest feel more relevant, they could get rid of the swimsuit competition, or include women of all body types in the contest, or focus more on these women’s real-life uphill battles, instead of devoting a micro-second to their backstories, before moving on to the ball-gown round.

Probably my favorite part of the evening was checking in on the super-interesting backstories of some of the contestants. Miss Kentucky battles with multiple sclerosis, Miss Idaho lives with diabetes and rocked her insulin pump in addition to rocking her bikini in the swimsuit portion of the competition, Miss Michigan deals with hearing impairment issues. The thing is, these stories got maybe fifteen seconds of airtime, and as a result, felt like part of the competition’s attempt to curb the inevitable sexist conversation, rather than celebrate these women’s amazing achievements. That’s what is COMPELLING here, not how someone looks in a skimpy bikini.

I know, I know it’s only a beauty pageant. But the trouble is, Miss America is a beauty pageant that at this point is kind-of-kind-of-not trying to pretend it ISN’T a beauty pageant. The girls have to kill it in swimsuit and evening wear but they ALSO have to be able to be a potential contestant on America’s Got Talent and they ALSO have to be able to answer foreign policy questions better than anyone in the U.S. Government in less time than it takes to microwave popcorn and they ALSO have to have some kind of adversity they’ve overcome or a super-topical platform and it just seems like a LOT to ask of any human being. I guess, the question is what is Miss America trying to achieve with this pageant, besides ratings, of course?

Out of the 53 contestants on stage, 52 are told they’re not good enough, when being good enough, according to Miss America standards, feels like a near-impossible task. Miss America as a competition has been accused of sexism for decades because of the objectification of its contestants, but for me, the newest and most insidious form of sexism in this competition is asking women to be LITERALLY EVERYTHING and then labeling these women losers when they fail to achieve the impossible.

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