Miss America is Just the Beginning

Get ready to pretend gasp: The Miss America Organization has banned the swimsuit competition from its pageants.

(You’ve heard this by now. This is your cue to act surprised/impressed/encouraged about the general direction of our society.)

In my opinion, this is, in the most basic of interpretations, a great move. 99% of me is all, Woo hoo! We are finally proving that we’re more than just sets of boobs and legs! And maybe this kind of move by a big organization is just the kind of boost our image-obsessed world needs right now, realizing that–if a group this well-known can wake up to the idea of seeing women as more whole beings–then the rest of the world can surely catch up, right?

And then, after I think all of that, this. This move in the right direction, it’s still kind of small, and here’s why. The Miss America Organization and its parade of Vaseline-teethed statuettes isn’t really the problem and never has been. In fact, many an intelligent woman has crossed that pageant stage, using it to propel them to great things–careers in journalism, charity work and the arts.

Nope, it’s not their fault. It’s… well, it’s all of us.

This world that loves the pretty? That worships it and places it above all else? We made it.

This world that grants empires to women for catfighting, that puts teenagers on runways and tells us to follow the trends they set, that has made a national pastime of watching women compete on a national stage for an engagement and diamond ring… This all seems, to me, to be doing more damage to the collective mental wellbeing of the female race than asking women who signed up for a beauty pageant to wear a bathing suit.

I don’t know… Am I wrong? Am I sounding cynical?

Like I said, on its surface and taken at its basest level, yes, I say this is a fantastic move! But I just don’t want it to overshadow the fact that there is still so much more out there that is a threat to our girls’ happiness, to their stability, to their sense of self worth.

And that… that’s the problem. It’s not Miss North Dakota and her killer abs on a pageant stage. It’s the world that is watching her. (Or now, rather, won’t be.)

My confession is this: I delight in the superficial stuff. I am a self-proclaimed beauty product junkie. What exactly is it that am I spending all my money on, then? The promise of pretty, that’s what. The very promise that props up a $445 billion dollar beauty industry. And I won’t lie if that doesn’t give me pause sometimes. Am I part of the problem?

Women of course have a complicated history with getting pretty. Pampering and peacocking is not a modern phenomenon. Many women love the ritual of it; there is something soothing about setting aside time and pampering oneself. A bath, washing your hair, taking time to apply a full face of makeup… These are all considered to be little luxuries.

And certainly society is there to prod us along in our vanity. From a young age, we are conditioned to accept and appreciate compliments on our physical appearance. To enjoy them, to view as markers of our value to the greater world. Our vanity props up entire industries. From the diet industry, to “wellness,” fashion and more, so much is centered around our insane pursuit of the ideal–an ideal that we know damn well does not exist in real life, but we chase anyhow. Like high-heeled hamsters on wheels. For every bathing suit competition we stop in its awful tracks, we still must ask ourselves, what it is we are doing every day to show the women and girls in our own lives that they are more than they appear–that they are more than their looks?

So while I applaud every single move in the direction of allowing women to be seen as the whole and complicated packages that we all are, I still have to ask, with this kind of history and present of commodifying our bodies, aren’t we all walking around–bathing suits or not–kind of naked anyway?

Cover image via.

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