The Miss America Pageant ..oh my


Donna Axum, Miss America 1964 and an Arkansas beauty even now, must be weeping uncontrollably.

If you watched the Miss America pageant you know it’s the end of an era. Pageants are serious business here in the south, and no matter how many of us raised our perfectly manicured collective fists in the air for women’s rights over the past few decades, we still hang on. We’re not afraid to call them beauty pageants instead of “scholarship contests” because that’s exactly what they are. Ugly girls don’t become Miss America. Never will.

I’m not one of those crazy pageant moms, and I have strong feelings about those who doll their four-year-olds up like pole-dancers to win trophies. Let’s be clear about that. I also know that all those pageants a gal must win in order to slick Vaseline on her teeth at the Miss American showdown can be, well, less than a perfect feminist learning experience.

I recall with fondness attending the Faulkner County Fair Parade a few years ago, watching all the local first-tier pageant winners load up in their daddies’ mid-life crisis convertibles. All those sequins. Except for one gal sitting in the back of a torn-down Mustang. The Conway High FFA Queen was cut from another bolt. In a sea of pastel spangles, Miss FFA wore black – fingernails, hair, and all. She had a nose ring and bruise-red lipstick and a smirk. When it began to rain and widespread hairspray-panic began, Miss FFA just lifted her face to the sky and let her dark eyeliner run. I couldn’t help but admire her.

I’m certain, though, that if I’d paid closer attention I’d have noticed her mother scampering out of the rain with something over her head. It’s generational.

Look – I read The Women’s Roomand The Feminine Mystiqueand all versions of both that came after, as did every other girl who lived in Conway Hall at the University of Central Arkansas back in 1970-mumble. Southern women of a certain age have a feminist history, but it doesn’t include failing to shave under our arms or leaving the house without applying lipstick. The New and Improved Miss America pageant, understandably, leaves us gasping for that very reason.

The sudden casual air seemed to take a few of those contestants completely by surprise. And the “makeover”? I’m trying to imagine looking Miss Texas in the eye and telling her she needs to tone down that hair. Or worse, cut it. Those contest folks just told The Southern Woman that she’s not northern enough to win a beauty contest, and some will take that personally. Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas could actually secede from the union.

I guess I’m too old. I still want to watch a Miss America pageant complete with ballgowns, taped butts, and someone twirling fiery batons while singing Amazing Grace. Sorry, Donna. I guess those days are over.

9 thoughts on “The Miss America Pageant ..oh my

  1. I attended a Miss America party thrown by a friend of mine (and former Miss Alabama contestant) this weekend. We were reeeaaaallly disappointed. They took the glamour out of it completely and turned it into a reality game show. ‘Come join us for carbohydrates???’ Puh-lease. It was awful.

  2. Wow Monda,a spot on commentary. This should really go beyond this forum. I was the MC for a couple of local Miss America pageants the first two years of my career in Missouri. I was young and naive then, much more desperate for attention than I am now…but I was aghast, even then, of what people were willing to be demeaned for. Then I made a few of those exchanges myself. I understand the participants, I’m still trying to understand the perpetrators. Bless you for writing this.Mike

  3. Oh, not only did I watch the pageant, I watched a couple of the reality show episodes that preceded it. I think that was a brilliant marketing strategy, if it wasn’t exactly brilliant television. It snagged me in, you see. I never watch that pageant, but I tuned in to watch it strive for relevance. Did it achieve such a thing? I don’t think so, even the the girls squealed and reacted, and bashed the various “It Girl” celebrities who inspired this revamping. The swimsuit portion was terrible. Those high-cut leg suits, and the contestants split in half as far as whether they would work it or walk the standard walk… very strange.I rooted for Miss Indiana and Miss Washington, but my oldest girl pegged the winner–“she’s more pageanty.” And, it turned out, she was.

  4. I agree, Miss Chris – the carbohydrate break for those let go early was simply undignified. And Mike – you have no idea how I fought inlaws and outlaws to keep Em out of those kiddie-pageants. Those gals who who were long-steeped in years of pageant training must have been devastated when given a choice of how to walk and behave. And you’re right, Karindira, the pageanty girl won anyway.I held out hope for our Miss Arkansas, though. She was a student of mine in high school and just as pageanty as the next gal.Gawd. I’m glad I have a grandSON. All I have to worry about is which pro team he’ll sign with.

  5. I don’t keep up with pageants, but I do like to watch Miss America occasionally. As I was battling bird flu this year, I missed it’s airing, but I’m curious about the changes in pageant protocol. I’ll have to google around and see what I can come up with.But, knee jerk response to the way you describe them: I can watch anyone shove carbs down their greedy gullets while not sporting an elaborately ratted up do and more sequins than are morally justified in my daily life. I watch the pageant so I can escape the mundaneness of normal-looking people. Boo on deflating pageant girls’ hair and this boy’s escapist fantasies.

  6. I am ashamed to admit this but Miss Grace was the first Miss North Pole in Krum, TX when she was seven years old. I hot rolled her hair and teased it cause I can tease me some hair. When she won, we had to call every last member of my mother’s family who squealed as though she’d been accepted at Harvard and dreams of a new generation pageant queens began. Then, when hot rolling her hair for her ride on the queen’s Christmas float, she whined because I burned her ear and I growled, “This is the price we pay for beauty!” At that moment I realized I was channeling Patsy Ramsey and vowed there would be no more pageants and there haven’t been. I still like to tease hair, though.

  7. Of course tease hair, gal – you’re from Texas! Don’t fret. You and Miss Grace have proms to look forward to and that generally allows our big-hair-and-spangly-dresses DNA a chance to safely exert itself. Why, we even have Winter Formals and semi-spangly Homecoming dances for more excuses to tease hair around here. I’ll bet it’s the same where you are.Lord I miss those days. Can’t look at a rhinestone earring without getting a little weepy.

  8. Beauty pageants are anachronisms. Time to pull the plug on the Miss America cattle show and put it out of its misery. No one has cared about it for years.I notice no young man has ever had to parade around half dressed to obtain a college scholarship.Terry C, NJ

  9. I figure when the ad revenue thins out the Miss America Pageant will be over, at least as a televised event. Changing it into a reality show already proves it’s got one foot in the grave.While you’re dead-right about the young men and scholarships, I have to mention that last Christmas I came face to face with a nearly unclothed, gaping-zippered young man standing outside of Abercrombie and Fitch. He worked there. It was his job to stand at the door with his shirt off and pants unzipped to lure in Christmas shoppers. I wanted to cover him up with a blanket and call his mother.And all he got was minimum wage.

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