The Problem With Televised Beauty Pageants? They Hurt Women.

This past Sunday, tons of pissed off Miss USA viewers took to Twitter to vent when fan favorite Mekayla Diehl (AKA Miss Indiana) was cut after the swimsuit competition and failed to make it to the top 10. Miss Indiana’s fans were pumped about the fact that Diehl “looks like a normal person” and has what they consider “a normal body.” Fans were disappointed by the fact that the size 4 (which is still below the average woman’s dress size) beauty queen was cut before she could make it to the final round, and even more disappointed that they had a tough time relating and seeing themselves in the remaining finalists.

The problem isn’t that the contestant who won (Mia Sanchez AKA Miss Nevada) had a more conventional beauty queen figure than Miss Indiana. The problem (as fans on Twitter rightly pointed out) is that the standards of what makes a beauty queen beautiful are claustrophobically constrained. If we continue to publicly celebrate one very small and specific type of beauty over and over and over again, then we’re tacitly endorsing this specific number on the scale, this specific bra cup size, this specific shape of nose. We’re as good as saying these measurements are the only measurements that are synonymous with beauty. Which is of course completely untrue. We as a culture invent what is beautiful. We absolutely have the ability to expand the definition. It’s disappointing that we don’t seize on this opportunity.

I also find it problematic that lost in all this is the fact that Miss Indiana is really impressive human being. A child abuse survivor, she now advocates for Bashor Children’s Home, a nonprofit child welfare agency that provides services to troubled children and their families. I find Diehl’s survivor status and her ongoing efforts for advocacy much more interesting than what she looks like in an evening gown.  I, of course, love the idea of a Miss USA who expands the definition of what it means to be beautiful, but I also really love the idea of a televised competition that celebrates and honors these women not for what they look like in a bikini or a prom dress, but rather for what they have done with their lives.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that Miss USA has an interview portion, but it only makes up one-third of the score (swimsuit and evening wear dominate the rest of the points). The Miss America competition has a more complicated scoring system where portions like talent, private interview, and answering an onstage question make up about half of a contestant’s score. Still, we put a premium on conventional beauty queen looks with these pageants. I would love to see a national televised pageant that celebrated women not for their looks but for their achievements. Where being a leader, a visionary, a woman dedicated to making the world a better place, where these qualities were the main qualities being celebrated. That’s a televised pageant I want to DVR.

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