By Branwyn Wilkinson
Assistant Opinion Editor
I’m not sure how many women of Canisius actually care about the Miss America Pageant. None of the women I usually talk to seem to. Then again, I don’t tend to run with a crowd of stereotypical girls.
There was more reason to care this year than most, though. That’s because Miss New York was a Canisius graduate. 24-year-old Clarence resident Gabrielle Walter’s name may be familiar to faculty, if not students. While she didn’t take the crown (which went to Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund), Walter is clearly one of Canisius’ notable graduates. I guess you could say she’s our claim to fame for this semester.
However, as I said, the Miss America Pageant, which was held this past Sunday, only crossed my mind because I had heard that a Canisius grad was competing. It got me thinking, though, about beauty pageants and all the female stereotypes they embody.
I did some research, and the Miss America Pageant isn’t as superficial as I thought. I knew there was a talent component, but I found out that as part of the overall competition the contestant’s talent is put to use to serve the community in some way. Also, the pageant attracts women pursuing law school (both Walter and Mund are on the law school path) and there are significant scholarships that go along with competing and winning.
But it’s still a beauty pageant. There’s still a swimsuit portion and an evening gown portion. The contestants still get judged on their appearance.
Maybe this is just me, but the first things that pop into my head when I think “beauty pageant” or “Miss America” are some of the stereotypes about women that I’m least okay with: the ones that are potentially harmful. Namely, I don’t like that beauty pageants reinforce the idea that women are something to be displayed.
What girl doesn’t have stories of being treated like some prize to be shown off and bragged about? I know I do. And whenever that happens I feel less than human.
Putting women on display is far from a new practice. It’s a commonly accepted gender role that women are the ones who need to spend time on their appearance. So a competition that boils down to judging a woman on her looks is like reducing her whole personality down to her gender alone.
The Miss America Pageant does give the contestants a chance to show off other parts of their personality. There’s the talent section, and a number of different interviews that require them to be well-versed in politics and current events. The Miss America Pageant has made the competition into something that celebrates young women as whole human beings. But they haven’t overcome the stereotype about beauty pageants and what they stand for as a whole.
Arguably that’s not really the Miss America Pageant’s job, though. That’s our job. It’s our job to teach girls that they are more than just their looks. It’s our job to teach boys that there’s more to any woman they meet than their appearance. A woman can spend time on her appearance and still have plenty of lofty goals. The Miss America contestants this year showed us that.
The Miss America Pageant isn’t bad and it doesn’t degrade women. Quite the opposite. It empowers and provides opportunities for the young women that compete. Beauty pageants and competitions like the Miss America Pageant aren’t the problem. The problem is the unhealthy stereotypes about women that our society still hasn’t managed to move past. The stereotypes that make it possible to view an empowering showcase of skills and beauty like the Miss America Pageant in a negative light.
Women should be able to celebrate “girly” things like makeup and swimsuits and ballgowns without feeling like they’re undermining themselves as a complete person.
We’ve come a long way, ladies. In today’s world, we can compete in a national beauty pageant one year and go to an Ivy League law school the next. But we still have work to do.
Remember that it’s completely okay to enjoy doing your makeup and dressing up. But also remember that you’re more than just what you look like. Make an effort to stop judging other women by their appearance (because we all do sometimes) and stop judging yourself based on what you look like. Validate yourself for other reasons and other people will catch on.
Show the world that beauty doesn’t come from makeup and that beautiful women aren’t meant to be put on display. Maybe then when our daughters think of the Miss America Pageant, the first thing to pop into their head will be the strong, talented women the contestants really are and not the stereotype of superficial models getting judged on their appearance.