Thursday, June 7, 2018

The New Miss America , "Where looks don't matter anymore."

The Miss America Organization recently announced its decision to eliminate its swimsuit competition, saying that their focus will be on providing scholarships to young women. The organization has gone as far as to say that competitors will be evaluated on “who they are,” not how they look. 

The objectification of women for financial gain is at odds and incompatible with the #MeToo
movement currently prominent in the nation’s consciousness. There’s no doubt that the new female leadership at the Miss America Organization is sensitive to this and savvy enough to realize that poor viewership in recent years is years is partially attributable to an antiquated approach construed as sexist by many.

But am I the only one confused as to what this all means, given that Miss America was — and probably still is — a beauty competition?
It appears that the new Miss America is a beauty competition claiming not to care about how women look. However, if you look at the organization’s web page, the participants from last year’s competition are all young, beautiful (albeit heavily made-up) women. This isn’t to say that they aren’t accomplished women as well. The 2017 cohort is comprised of many college attendees and graduates, most of whom are involved in extensive volunteer work in their communities. I have no doubt that these are ambitious women — likely smart enough to realize that their looks can help lead them to where they want to go in life.  

Perhaps, Miss America 2.0 may actually mirror society’s current views of women.  Progress means pretending not to care how women look, even while knowing that beauty is valued – often above all else. I can remember watching the pageant on TV as a pre-teen. I envied the pretty, older girls and the poise I hoped to one day grow into even while I found their talents ridiculous and talking points embarrassing. I can’t help but wonder now: If we eliminate the beauty pageant component, what are we left with?

Miss America’s CEO, Regina Hopper, claims that their new mission statement is, “To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.”

But if looks don’t matter anymore to Miss America, then maybe the right format for giving away scholarship money isn’t a beauty pageant? It seems time to ditch the pageant approach and reward women for their intellect, character, experience, and even their potential. If the Miss America Organization wants to be truly progressive, they should remake themselves as leaders in offering opportunities to women of all backgrounds who need support – financial, educational, social – to stand alongside men at the upper echelons of society.

Charlotte Markey, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and director of the health sciences program at Rutgers University

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