Giving up on Miss America

miss america myth

I remember sitting in front of the television, calculating how many years I had left to compete for Miss Teen USA.

My glasses at least three-quarters the size of my face, my teeth roughly the same, and my coordination displayed in a flawless ability to walk into walls and trip while standing still, I was a sure thing.

Determined to grow boobs, grace and a national title within a few short years, I was glued to the screen for clues to their success.

Over the weekend I had that moment where you think a thousand thoughts in the breath before you say something, and stopped myself one millisecond short of telling my daughter about the Miss America pageant. Pretty dresses and great hair are her greatest loves so I thought she would enjoy it as I always had.

Then I remembered the naive girl she still is, unknowing of the comparisons that await her future and the tug-of-war with perfection she may endure if she inherits anything from me.

I’m sure there were amazing, talented girls competing for that Miss America trophy but I’m not quite sure why the organization still holds competitions the way they do. Why do the contestants need swimsuits and size 0 frames and teeth whiter than their eyeballs? Why can’t they earn their places with brains and hearts alone, beauty and balance aside?

I think we are inching closer to girls who represent diversity with competitors like Miss Montana, the first contestant to have autism, but really aren’t we just parading a long line of unrealistic expectations in front of the television for two straight hours on a Saturday night?

I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking pretty wins, I don’t even want her to think pretty matters. I know this is completely unrealistic and soon enough she will be interested in her appearance and may not pair a fushia tutu with purple and orange pants, but for right now I want to keep her safe from that nagging future.

I’m determined to fill her mind with books and numbers and reasons to love herself and keep refilling it as her understanding of society develops.

We skipped the Miss America pageant Saturday night for her favorite chapter book. If she wants to watch beauty pageants in the future I won’t stop her from doing so but I will remind her of her smart mind during every commercial break.

Almost thirty years later, I have grown into my glasses and my front teeth and gained a ferocious need to raise a daughter who knows her brain is her most important asset.

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  1. says

    Favorite line: ‘…but I will remind her of her smart mind during every commercial break.”

    Loved this post!! On so many levels.

    And you and your daughters are gorgeous, inside and out.

    And smart too.
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  2. says

    I was never swept in the glamor of Miss America, but I may as well have been. I was still swept up in comparisons and how we should look and all that. It’s not a good road to go down.

    That’s cool about Miss Montana ) I didn’t know that.
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  3. says

    My parents never allowed us to watch Miss America growing up, for exactly the reasons you outlined. The contest is not realistic to the goals my parents wanted to instill in us as priorities. So although I was never a little girl wishing to be on Miss America, I am now a woman who holds the same beliefs as you, and will always choose a book over a pageant.
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  4. says

    I completely relate to this post…. from the awkward girl watching Miss America and dreaming of being her to now the mother who wants her daughter to be so much more.
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  5. says

    I to, used to love to watch Miss America. I was a chubby little think with zero coordination. My chances weren’t looking good. I even got asked to leave a 7th grade choir. I used to beg for dancing lessons after I would watch one of those.
    I agree. Why do we all have to be a size 0 and who wears stilettos with their bathing suit?
    On the Autism front, I struggle with the fact of life that their interest becomes a crazed obsession. I related to that having a million thoughts in a second when you are already playing out how something will play out.

  6. says

    Here, here! I was that same girl sitting in front of the TV, and at one time could not wait to put my daughter in pageants. Then the time to do it rolled around and I balked. I didn’t want that for her. Eventually she found out about them on her own and BEGGED. I let her do it for a few years, but last year I finally put my foot down and said no more. There is so much more to life, and I want her to know her value beyond what a judging panel thinks. Even if they are judging her on more than her looks. She deserves to not be judged at all.
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  7. says

    I found myself wondering, when I heard that the pageant was coming up, why such things even exist anymore. I used to l-o-v-e watching (and trust me when I say I never confused myself with a future contestant), and I never really gave it much thought outside of “Oh, they’re pretty and glamorous”. The same reason I love old-timey movies where hoop skirts and corsets are involved. It’s pretty.

    Now, though, it seems like such a dated concept. Even if it is “all about the scholarships”. You know, the way Playboy is all about the articles. 😉
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  8. Katie says

    Wonderful mama. Kudos!! :)

    Not that pagaents are bad. But there is plenty of time in life for female insecurities to develop.

    I’ll respect pagaents once being nearly naked and a size 0 doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite.

  9. says

    I have a hard time picturing the awkward teen you describe! Isn’t wonderful that we grow up! It really is so important to teach our kids to understand that their insides are so much more important than their outsides. Great post!

  10. Leah says

    As a Miss America local pageant director, I both agree and disagree. The Miss America pageant is about more than who’s the prettiest – these young women are smart, competing for scholarships to pay for school (the new Miss America received a $50,000 cash scholarship, not to mention the scholarships she won at the local and state levels), and volunteer for the Children’s Miracle Network as well as a cause of their choice. Any contestant who is “pretty” but isn’t committed to scholarship and service isn’t going to win. Miss USA, on the other hand, is most definitely a pageant where the prettiest girl wins. Miss Americas go on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers…And Miss USAs go on to be models. Don’t wrap all pageants with the same “Toddlers and Tiaras” bow.

    • Katie says

      I appreciate the value on brains too – and scholarships, etc. But, with all respect, my question would be: Why even have a section based on beauty then? Why have bikinis? What purpose does that serve but to say that beauty (which is ALWAYS a thin woman) is that important? I’m genuinely interested in the logic and appreciate your thoughts! If it’s about being ‘well-rounded’, then shouldn’t it be about fitness, not necessarily being able to rock a bikini? Why don’t we see more diversity in body shapes/sizes?

      • Leah says

        Good questions! Why have a section based on beauty? Officially, “beauty” isn’t a criteria for judging. Elegance, grace, poise, confidence…those are the words in the judging material. If the director does their job, THAT is what the judges will be looking for.

        As far as swimsuit… Judges aren’t supposed to look for the thinnest contestants, but one who looks fit/toned/healthy in her swimsuit. I’ve known a lot of skinny girls that are out of shape. Every girl I competed, or worked with as a local director, with went to the gym 3-5x a week for a year to get the body she proudly showed off in swimsuit – and those are the ladies that earned the highest scores in preliminary competitions.

        Why have bikinis? Miss America started as a swimsuit competition, and it’s a part of the heritage. Contestants do have the option to wear a one piece or tankini style. Personally, if I’ve been going to the gym to get 6 pack abs, I’m going to wear a bikini! Further, swimsuit is only 15% of the final score. Talent is 35%, and private interview is 25%. 60% of the score isn’t about looks!

        The thinking is that swimsuit is won “from the neck up” – is she confident, poised, etc? I’ve also heard that if a contestant can show confidence and poise in a swimsuit with goodness knows how many people watching, she’ll be able to handle any other uncomfortable situation that will come her way as Miss Local/Miss State/Miss America.

        I saw some body-type diversity if you look at the photos from the preliminary nights of competition – Miss Maine is the first that comes to mind, and Miss Montana (who did wear her swimsuit on the telecast, and is the first contestant ever with autism) was not a size 0. You only see the top 15 or 16 contestants during the national telecast, which is only a small percentage of all the contestants on the national level, much less state and local contestants. There IS diversity, but it might not be what you see on national TV.

        I know I’m biased, as a former competitor and a local director – but I love the opportunity to talk candidly about what the Miss America program is about. I’m happy to answer your questions :)

        • Katie says

          Thank you! I appreciate it being set in a view of ‘confidence and poise’ instead. I guess, for me, the swimsuit aspect just feels . . antiquated. I can show off my confidence while wearing a suit (or any outfit that covers me) that says I am confident, smart, attractive, and poised. Sure, there is nothing wrong with showing off your body, and I’m sure most contestants work very hard to be in great shape. I just think it puts the focus external – whether that’s just for those of us viewing, or for some judges as well.

          I’m glad to hear there is more ‘reality’ to the contestants – real issues, real honesty. I guess that someday, I would like to see the smart, beautiful size 8, 10, plus women on stage and well represented. Bikini or not! I know that the majority of contestants I see don’t look like me, and that, as a woman, makes me feel like I would not belong on that stage – regardless of my other attributes. Although obviously this is definitely a bigger societal issue, and not just a pagaent-caused problem.

  11. says

    It surprises me, too, that the pageant circuit is still going strong. When I remember watching all those young women with perfect hair and teeth parading across my tv screen in their swimsuits, waving like royalty, promising to end world hunger with their beauty and piano playing skills – it seems both innocent and comical now to me.
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  12. says

    Beautifully written! I remember growing up and watching Miss Teen USA (and of course having our own mock pagents during the following sleepover). I continue to struggle to feel at home in my own skin but now I have a pair of innocent eyes watching me and I do not want my daughter to fight the same struggles. I want her to know that she is beautiful and wonderfully made just as she is and that there is so much more to life than trying to fit into the mold that the media tries to create for women. Thank you for sharing this!
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  13. says

    I love it Jessica! So great that you are teaching her there’s more to self worth than how you look on the outside! I was never beauty queen material either and I stopped watching the pageants long ago because of many of the same things you just stated. Certainly I want my daughter to grow up believing she is a beautiful girl, but that should never be her most important quality! I love the quote from “The Help” when the nanny tells the precious baby girl “You is smart, you is kind, you is beautiful.”
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  14. says

    I LOVED these things growing up and still like to watch them. But do I think they skewed how I looked at what characteristics were important for a woman to have? Yes. Yes, I do. They didn’t do it alone though. They’re just one cog in a wheel that tells us we must be pretty above all else. I STILL struggle with it and think I always will. Aging is hard.

  15. says

    My little girl is currently obsessed with all things princess. We didn’t introduce her…somehow they found her. Anyway, we are letting her love it, but making sure she experiences the world outside the palace too.
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