Car on donnera à celui qui a; mais à celui qui n’a pas on ôtera même ce qu’il a. Jésus (Marc 4: 25)
Il y a autant de racismes qu’il y a de groupes qui ont besoin de se justifier d’exister comme ils existent, ce qui constitue la fonction invariante des racismes. Il me semble très important de porter l’analyse sur les formes du racisme qui sont sans doute les plus subtiles, les plus méconnaissables, donc les plus rarement dénoncées, peut-être parce que les dénonciateurs ordinaires du racisme possèdent certaines des propriétés qui inclinent à cette forme de racisme. Je pense au racisme de l’intelligence. (…) Ce racisme est propre à une classe dominante dont la reproduction dépend, pour une part, de la transmission du capital culturel, capital hérité qui a pour propriété d’être un capital incorporé, donc apparemment naturel, inné. Le racisme de l’intelligence est ce par quoi les dominants visent à produire une « théodicée de leur propre privilège », comme dit Weber, c’est-à-dire une justification de l’ordre social qu’ils dominent. (…) Tout racisme est un essentialisme et le racisme de l’intelligence est la forme de sociodicée caractéristique d’une classe dominante dont le pouvoir repose en partie sur la possession de titres qui, comme les titres scolaires, sont censés être des garanties d’intelligence et qui ont pris la place, dans beaucoup de sociétés, et pour l’accès même aux positions de pouvoir économique, des titres anciens comme les titres de propriété et les titres de noblesse. Pierre Bourdieu
La technique du placement peut être comparée à ces concours organisés par les journaux où les participants ont à choisir les six plus jolis visages parmi une centaine de photographies, le prix étant attribué à celui dont les préférences s’approchent le plus de la sélection moyenne opérée par l’ensemble des concurrents. Chaque concurrent doit donc choisir non les visages qu’il juge lui-même les plus jolis, mais ceux qu’il estime les plus propres à obtenir le suffrage des autres concurrents, lesquels examinent tous le problème sous le même angle. Il ne s’agit pas pour chacun de choisir les visages qui, autant qu’il en peut juger, sont réellement les plus jolis ni même ceux que l’opinion moyenne considérera réellement comme tels. Au troisième degré où nous sommes déjà rendus, on emploie ses facultés à découvrir l’idée que l’opinion moyenne se fera à l’avance de son propre jugement. Et il y a des personnes, croyons-nous, qui vont jusqu’au quatrième ou au cinquième degré ou plus loin encore. John Keynes
Je rêve que mes quatre petits enfants vivront un jour dans un pays où on ne les jugera pas à la couleur de leur peau mais à la nature de leur caractère. Martin Luther King
Vous allez dans certaines petites villes de Pennsylvanie où, comme dans beaucoup de petites villes du Middle West, les emplois ont disparu depuis maintenant 25 ans et n’ont été remplacés par rien d’autre (…) Et il n’est pas surprenant qu’ils deviennent pleins d’amertume, qu’ils s’accrochent aux armes à feu ou à la religion, ou à leur antipathie pour ceux qui ne sont pas comme eux, ou encore à un sentiment d’hostilité envers les immigrants. Barack Obama
Nous qui vivons dans les régions côtières des villes bleues, nous lisons plus de livres et nous allons plus souvent au théâtre que ceux qui vivent au fin fond du pays. Nous sommes à la fois plus sophistiqués et plus cosmopolites – parlez-nous de nos voyages scolaires en Chine et en Provence ou, par exemple, de notre intérêt pour le bouddhisme. Mais par pitié, ne nous demandez pas à quoi ressemble la vie dans l’Amérique rouge. Nous n’en savons rien. Nous ne savons pas qui sont Tim LaHaye et Jerry B. Jenkins. […] Nous ne savons pas ce que peut bien dire James Dobson dans son émission de radio écoutée par des millions d’auditeurs. Nous ne savons rien de Reba et Travis. […] Nous sommes très peu nombreux à savoir ce qu’il se passe à Branson dans le Missouri, même si cette ville reçoit quelque sept millions de touristes par an; pas plus que nous ne pouvons nommer ne serait-ce que cinq pilotes de stock-car. […] Nous ne savons pas tirer au fusil ni même en nettoyer un, ni reconnaître le grade d’un officier rien qu’à son insigne. Quant à savoir à quoi ressemble une graine de soja poussée dans un champ… David Brooks
[Bess Myerson’s] Miss America win (….) marked a groundbreaking moment in how the country viewed Jews, especially Jewish women.(…) Her post-crown fame, though, only further begs the question: Why has there not been another Jewish Miss America since 1945? (…) There isn’t a single or straightforward way to answer this question. For starters, it may be as simple as statistics. As of 2013, Jews make up 1.8 to 2.2 percent of the adult U.S. population. As a pure numbers game, there probably wouldn’t be a Jewish Miss America more than once every 50 years. The seven-decade stretch could be a statistical fluke. (…) The movement towards the kind of racial and cultural diversity Miss America is moving towards may be a better explanation for why there hasn’t been a Jewish woman crowned recently. “Diversity comes into people’s consciousness, as a business concern, in the 2000s, and Jews aren’t ‘diversity’ by then. They are [considered] just white,” said Greenblatt. “To show diversity, you need something more ‘exotic.’” There may be another, blunter explanation for the lack of Jewish Miss Americas, namely women of the tribe may simply not be competing as much. This hypothesis is anecdote-based, as I cannot tell from name alone which Miss America contestants on record were Jewish to test this theory. However, a fairly common facet of American-Jewish culture is being reared with an emphasis on education, studies, and professionalism. Even the hot Jewish women I mentioned above did something a bit more “intellectual” than pageantry: acting. The Jewish woman who has come closest to winning Miss America most recently, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, said she “absolutely agrees” that competing in the pageant doesn’t fit with the traditional Jewish-American emphasis on education and intellectual pursuits. Rabinowitz, who was Miss Massachusetts and competed in Miss America in 2011, says her own family and community were surprised when she decided to compete (a decision, which, like Myerson’s, was fueled by a desire to fund her education). “I’m not so sure that’s changed since Bess Myerson. If you read the reactions, she was billed as ‘Beauty and Brains.’ The idea you could be smart and involved in pageants was novel then, and it’s novel now,” said Rabinowitz. “Just like the stigma Jews have faced, so have pageants with the idea that it’s just about being a pretty face.” Myerson herself appears to have bought into that stigma, offering mixed to negative views on the Miss America pageant. When asked if she would enter Miss America all over again in 1980, she stressed that she entered the competition to save money to pursue her music studies. “Having a great desire to be a concert pianist and not having the money to buy a big black Steinway piano? I sure would,” she said. In 1995, Myerson made a point not to attend the 75th anniversary of the Miss America pageant. She was emphatic when asked if she’d let her own daughter compete: “No! I’ve got the money to buy her a piano.” Like most Jewish mothers, Myerson thought her daughter could do better. The Daily beast
I’ll admit it–the first (and usually only) thing I think of when someone mentions the Miss America competition is the movie Miss Congeniality and a group of starving, not particularly bright, but beautiful women. But after reading this article about Loren Galler Rabinowitz in The Forward I’ve begun to rethink that reaction. Rabinowitz is a former competitive ice skater, Harvard graduate, classically trained pianist, poet (she wrote a book of poems for her senior thesis under the tutelage of Jorie Graham), and Miss Massachusetts 2010. She’s also Jewish. At first I was surprised that someone so smart and talented would want to enter a beauty pageant, but after reading about the positive effect being Miss Massachusetts has had on her life, I realized that maybe I should rethink my stance on beauty pageants. She decided to enter the pageant world after graduating from Harvard in the hopes of earning a scholarship for medical school. She won $8,000 after winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, and is currently competing for the $50,000 that Miss America receives–certainly nothing to scoff at. The Rib
Mon Dieu, donnez-moi la sérénité d’accepter les choses que je ne puis changer, le courage de changer les choses que je peux, dt la sagesse d’en connaître la différence. Prière de la sérénité (tatouage de Miss Kansas)
Dieu merci, le temps de la domination des barbies blondes peroxydées est révolu … Time
Quand on est miss America, on doit être américaine. Tweet
C’est l’élection de Miss Etats-Unis, pas Miss Inde. Tweet
Super, ils ont choisi une musulmane comme Miss America. Obama doit être heureux. Peut-être qu’il a voté. Tweet
Les juges de Miss America ne le diront jamais, mais Miss Kansas a perdu parce qu’elle représente réellement les valeurs américaines. Todd Starnes (Fox news)
Une fille au teint foncé comme Nina ne serait jamais devenue Miss Inde. Au moins, elle est devenue Miss America. Varun Agarwal
À cette miss New York aux allures pas assez « américaines » (encore faudrait-il définir ce qu’est un vrai américain parmi ce peuple originaire d’Afrique, d’Europe, ou encore d’Asie), ils préféraient miss Kansas : une femme blanche, sergent de l’armée américaine, arborant un insigne militaire de toute beauté tatoué sur l’épaule. Céline Husson-Alaya
Nous avons délibérément choisi de tenir cet événement juste avant la finale des Miss Monde afin de montrer qu’une alternative existe pour les musulmanes. Créatrice du concours Miss Muslimah
Margaret Gorman represents the type of womanhood America needs, strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests. The NYT (1921)
There she is, Miss America There she is, your ideal The dreams of a million girls Who are more than pretty May come true in Atlantic City Oh she may turn out to be The queen of femininity There she is, Miss America There she is, your ideal With so many beauties She’ll take the town by storm With her all-American face and form And there she is Walking on air she is Fairest of the fair she is Miss America. Jingle de Miss America
Thank God I have lived long enough that this nation has been able to select the beautiful young woman of color to be Miss America. Shirley Chisholm (Congresswoman)
Beauty contests are ways that if you live in a poor neighborhood, you can imagine getting ahead because it is a way up. It is a way to scholarships, to attention, and it’s one of the few things that you see out there as a popular symbol. When I was living in a kind of factory working neighborhood of Toledo, the K-Part television Miss TV contest, something like that, was advertised. And I decided I would try to enter the contest even though I was underage. I think I was 16 and the limit was, was 18. So I lied about my age. It wasn’t a terrible experience. It was a surrealistic experience. You had to put on your bathing suit and walk and stand on a beer keg. I did three or four different kinds of dances. Spanish and Russian and heaven knows what. I thought I would get money for college. And it seemed glamorous. It seemed to me in high school like a way out of a not too great life in a pretty poor neighborhood. Gloria Steinem
In spite of cringe-worth flaws of the pageant [like the bikini-in-heels (aka « swimsuit ») competition], Nina Davuluri, the new Miss America, probably represents some of the best qualities and aspirations of « modern » America. Here’s why: America was built on a dream of hard work by people from all over the world. She and her family certainly fit that ideal. Her father is a physician and she aspires to be one as well. (…) Thanks to the life her parents built (from scratch), and her own hard work-ethic, she graduated from the University of Michigan debt-free. She’s a great example of working through failure and difficulty, and getting back up again. This shows in her struggle against bulimia. For fifteen years she studied classical Indian dance, refining a nuanced art form. She was gutsy enough to showcase a fusion of classical and Bollywood dance in her talent act (…) Her platform: « Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency » couldn’t be more timely. (…) When headlines all over the world proclaim Nina Davuluri as Miss America, this stops anti-Americans in their tracks. They see that the USA can live up to its values, as the land of the free, home of the brave. It’s where dreams for a better life come true. It’s where diverse people are welcomed. It’s full of beauty and sparkles and anything is possible. Homa Sabet Tavangar
Half of employed Asian Americans (50%) are in management, professional and related occupations, a higher share than the roughly 40% for employed Americans overall. Many of these occupations require advanced degrees. (…) These high levels of educational attainment are a factor in the occupational profile of Asian Americans, especially their concentration in the fields of science and engineering. Among adults, 14% of Asian Americans hold these types of jobs, compared with 5% of the U.S. population overall. The share among Indians is 28%. Another facet of the Asian-American occupational profile is the high share of immigrants from Asian countries who are in the U.S. under the H1-B visa program. These visas were authorized under the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1990 to increase the inflow of highly skilled “guest workers” from abroad. Asian countries are now the source of about three-quarters of such temporary visas. In 2011, India alone accounted for 72,438 of the 129,134 H1-B visas granted, or 56% (…) Among Indian Americans ages 25 and older, seven-in-ten (70%) have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree; this is higher than the Asian-American share (49%) and much higher than the national share (28%). Median annual personal earnings for Indian-American full-time, year-round workers are $65,000, significantly higher than for all Asian Americans ($48,000) as well as for all U.S. adults ($40,000). Among households, the median annual income for Indians is $88,000, much higher than for all Asians ($66,000) and all U.S. households ($49,800). (…) The share of adult Indian Americans who live in poverty is 9%, lower than the shares of all Asian Americans (12%) and of the U.S. population overall (13%). (…) Compared with other U.S. Asian groups, Indian Americans are the most likely to identify with the Democratic Party; 65% are Democrats or lean to the Democrats, 18% are Republican or lean to the Republicans. Pew (2012)
Les Indiens-américains sont en effet une nouvelle « minorité modèle ». Ce terme remonte aux années 1960 quand les Américains d’origine asiatique – les Chinois, Japonais et Coréens – étaient connus pour leurs hautes qualifications et hauts revenus. Les ressortissants d’Asie du nord-est continuent d’exceller aux États-Unis, mais parmi les groupes minoritaires, les Indiens sont clairement le dernier et meilleur « modèle ». En 2007, le revenu médian des ménages dirigés par un Indien-américain était d’environ 83 000 $, comparativement à 61 000 $ pour les ressortissants d’Asie du nord-est et 55 000 $ pour les Blancs. Environ 69 % des Indiens-américains de 25 ans et plus sont au moins détenteurs d’une licence, ce qui éclipse les taux de 51 % et 30 % atteints respectivement par les Asiatiques en général et les Blancs. Les Indiens-américains sont également moins susceptibles d’être pauvres ou en prison par rapport aux Blancs. Alors pourquoi les Indiens-Américains s’en sortent-ils si bien ? Une réponse naturelle est l’autosélection. Quelqu’un qui est prêt à s’arracher à ses racines et à traverser la moitié du monde aura tendance à être plus ambitieux et travailleur que la moyenne. Mais les gens veulent venir aux États-Unis pour de nombreuses raisons dont certaines – comme par exemple le rapprochement familial – ont peu à voir avec l’ardeur au travail. En fin de compte, la politique d’immigration décide quels types de qualités nos immigrants possèdent. En vertu de notre politique d’immigration actuelle, une majorité d’immigrants légaux aux États-Unis obtiennent la carte verte (résidence permanente) car ils ont des liens familiaux avec des citoyens américains, mais un petit nombre (15 % en 2007) sont choisis spécifiquement pour leur valeur sur le marché du travail. La proportion d’immigrants indiens qui ont reçu une carte verte liée à l’emploi est l’une des plus élevées de toutes les nationalités. Par conséquent, c’est principalement l’élite instruite indienne et ses proches qui vient aux États-Unis. Forbes
Alors qu’en cette saison finissante de l’été et de ses habituels concours de beauté …
Où tous voiles dehors la troisième Miss Muslimah nous bassine de ses versets d’un livre prétendument « incréé » à qui l’on doit sur son seul continent d’origine une énième boucherie au Kénya et les destructions à présent quasi-hebdomadaires d’églises chrétiennes …
Comment ne pas voir, avec l’élection récente de la première Miss America d’origine indienne qui triomphe avec un numéro digne de Bollywood mais dont le teint foncé n’aurait probablement jamais permis l’élection en Inde même, la trahison précisément du Rêve américain qu’elle était censée servir ?
Et ne pas comprendre du coup les réactions dites « racistes » qui ont accompagné, derrière cette lutte entre l’urbanité d’une Miss New York, fille de gynécologue et future médecin elle-même, et la ruralité d’une Miss Kansas, blonde diane chasseresse aux rangers et tatouages religieux et militaire, l’apparent couronnement du produit de la plus grande concentration de privilèges ?
Où la géniale mais bassement commerciale trouvaille (probable reprise des fêtes médiévales du premier mai) du fameux Barnum des femmes à barbe et des cirques du même nom pour allonger la saison touristique des plages américaines et servir accessoirement de marche-pied pour Hollywood (Dorothy Lamour, Miss Louisiana 1931), la mode ou la publicité (jusqu’à 100 000 dollars annuels pour Miss 1926, soit plus que le champion de baseball Babe Ruth ou le président des Etats-Unis !) à la première jeune Américaine venue …
Qui sous la pression des ligues de vertu religieuses puis féministes et entre la première et seule (ultime signe d’intégration ?) lauréate juive (et future candidate au Sénat au lendemain du génocide de 1945), la première Noire (1984) ou la première handicapée (2005), avait progressivement abandonné les manteaux de fourrure et bijoux des débuts pour devenir le premier fournisseur de bourses d’étude pour filles au monde (quelque 45 millions annuels pour 12 000 jeunes filles dont un total de 340 000 dollars pour l’élection finale et 50 000 pour la gagnante) …
Entre le désormais sacrosaint impératif de diversité, la multiplication des épreuves toujours plus « intelligentes » (comme par ailleurs, sans compter les dérives de la chirurgie esthétique et des concours pour enfants, d’autres concours tels Miss Monde, Miss Univers, Miss International ou Miss Terre !)
Et cet adoubemment d’une nouvelle « minorité modèle » qui ajoute à présent l’ultime luxe de la beauté aux plus hauts taux de diplômés et revenus des Etats-Unis …
Par remplacer (ne nous avait-on pas déjà fait le coup en 2008 avec l’élection qui avait viré au concours de beauté politiquement correct du premier président américain de couleur ?) un racisme (ethnique) par un autre (social) ?
Has Miss America betrayed the American dream?
October 2, 2013
What is more American than Miss America and its idea that any well-deserving American girl will make it to the top ? But with the recent controversial election of Miss America 2014, has America’s oldest beauty pageant really kept its promise of unlimited personal progress ?
To be sure, over its 92 years of existence, America’s favorite beauty contest has had its share of criticism: immorality, commercialism, dehumanization, over-sexualization, even racism. Yet over the years it has always seemed to adapt with the times, introducing ever more advances such as a talent competition, scholarships, evening gowns or allowing non-white participants. Thus, 1945 saw the election of the first Jewish American girl and 1983 the crowning of the first of many non-white contestants, including this year’s first Indian-American. And even if it did start as a marketing device to make Labor Day tourists prolong their stay at the Atlantic beaches, it did provide an opportunity for ordinary young women such as Hollywood superstar Dorothy Lamour to realize their American dream in the form of advertising or movie contracts. In fact, it even helped its first Jewish winner to enter politics and run for the Senate in 1980. Or provided initial exposure to one of today’s most powerful and influential women in America and in the world, namely talk show host Oprah Winfrey. And over the years it has distributed millions and millions of dollars in scholarship money to the point where it is now the world’s largest provider of scholarships to women.
So how to explain the controversy which this year’s election has just generated ? After all, Miss America’s first Indian-American winner has got all the talent, brains and beauty that one can expect from the woman that is supposed to represent the best of America’s womanhood for a year ? Shall it be assigned to the usual cause of racism that America’s slowly-dwindling white majority has been known for in the past ? Or could it be that Miss America is just the victim of its own success? After raising, one after another, its standards over the years as a response to the criticisms of which it was the object, America’s oldest beauty pageant now finds itself electing the best America can offer. An India-American gynecologist’s daughter with the brightest education record and plans to be a physician herself, Nina Davuluri is the perfect example of a new model minority that is already the best educated and best-off of all the ethnic groups in the country -whites included. Hence perhaps the not-to-unexpected resentment of some in a white majority that in these days of recession is fast losing ground.
But is this not in fact one of the inherent contradictions of the American dream itself – and the source of America’s persistent and even increasing inequalities – in which only the best are supposed to win and where therefore you end up rewarding the least needy in the end ?
Femmes, féminins, féminismes
La plus belle femme des États-Unis est d’origine indienne. Rien de bien étonnant en soi en Amérique, terre d’immigration et de métissage par excellence. Nina Davuluri, grande brune à la peau mate née dans l’État de New York il y a 24 ans, a été élue Miss America 2014 le 15 septembre au soir.
Mais cette élection a visiblement courroucé certains conservateurs. Non pas pour le côté suranné d’un concours de beauté féminine tout à fait discutable au XXIème siècle, mais parce que certains estiment que la belle Nina n’est pas assez américaine. Pire, elle serait arabe (passons sur le fait que toutes les personnes mates de peau ne sont pas nécessairement arabes, et que les Indiens le sont encore moins). Double tare, elle serait musulmane (comme Barack Obama en fait, c’est une conspiration). Provocation ultime : lors de « l’épreuve des talents », elle a interprété un mélange de danse traditionnelle indienne et de mouvements de films de Bollywood. N’en jetez plus.
La nouvelle miss a été lynchée de tweets racistes sur le site de micro-blogging. « Quand on est miss America, on doit être Américaine », « Quand est-ce qu’une femme blanche sera élue Miss America ? Jamais ? », « Ils ont choisi une musulmane pour devenir Miss America. Obama a dû être content. Peut-être qu’il faisait partie du jury ». « Comment une étrangère peut gagner ? C’est une Arabe ! ». Sans compter une réflexion de toute beauté : « #MissAmerica hmmm quoi ? Avons-nous oublié le 11 septembre ? » et le splendide : « C’est plutôt miss Terroriste #MissAmerica ».
Comme on dit, la bave de crapaud n’atteint pas la blanche colombe, qui déclarait après son couronnement : « Je suis si heureuse que cette institution prenne en compte la diversité ». « Nous sommes en train d’écrire l’histoire ici, en tant qu’Asiatiques américaines », alors que la communauté asio-américaine compte 18,2 millions de personnes aux États-Unis (5,7% de la population). Balayant la polémique, la reine de beauté affirmait lors de sa première conférence de presse : « Je dois m’élever au-dessus de ça ». « Je me suis toujours considérée en premier lieu et avant tout comme une Américaine », elle qui racontait avoir dû combattre les préjugés sur sa culture durant cette année d’élection (certains étaient convaincus que ses parents allaient organiser un mariage arrangée pour elle).
À cette miss New York aux allures pas assez « américaines » (encore faudrait-il définir ce qu’est un vrai américain parmi ce peuple originaire d’Afrique, d’Europe, ou encore d’Asie), ils préféraient miss Kansas : une femme blanche, sergent de l’armée américaine, arborant un insigne militaire de toute beauté tatoué sur l’épaule.
Ni musulmane, ni Indienne, et encore moins arabe, (et quand bien même) Nina Davuluri est une étudiante diplômée de l’Université du Michigan qui souhaite devenir médecin, comme son père, gynécologue obstétricien, et souhaite utiliser l’argent de sa victoire, non pas pour financer Al-Qaïda, mais pour payer l’université. Et réaliser son rêve américain.
Ce n’est pas la première fois qu’une miss America est la cible d’attaques racistes. En 2010, Rima Fakih, une jeune femme d’origine libanaise, était la cible des mêmes relents haineux. Car d’origine libanaise, donc arabe, donc musulmane et donc sans doute terroriste, elle était accusée de militer pour le Hezbollah.
L’attribution de la couronne de Miss America à Nina Davuluri, une Américaine originaire de l’Etat de l’Andhra Pradesh, a déchaîné une véritable hystérie raciste en ligne. Des nombreux utilisateurs de Twitter ont vu en elle une terroriste arabe. Une histoire à vite oublier, estime le quotidien.
19 Septembre 2013
Quand Nina Davuluri est devenue la première Américaine d’origine indienne à remporter le titre de Miss America [le 16 septembre], tweets malveillants et autres commentaires racistes se sont multipliés sur les réseaux sociaux.
Aujourd’hui, avec la révolution des télécommunications, n’importe qui peut dire n’importe quoi sur le web. La démocratie Internet est une hydre. Les commentaires [racistes] sur Nina y voisinent avec ceux, peut-être plus nombreux encore, qui prennent sa défense. Bina Hanchinamani Ellefsen, une avocate de Seattle, se dit « mal à l’aise face aux commentaires racistes au sujet d’une Miss America d’origine indienne. Nous ne sommes pas moins américains parce que nos ancêtres étaient indiens et non pas européens. »
Quant à Nimisha Gandhi, gestionnaire dans le monde de la mode, elle « déplore qu’un pays par ailleurs si avancé soit si arriéré dans sa mentalité. Et sur les réseaux, dès qu’il s’agit de dénigrer quelqu’un à cause de sa couleur de peau ou de sa religion, les commentaires pleuvent. Je suis désolé pour cette belle fille intelligente et forte qui a été traitée de tous les noms. D’un autre côté, je suis contente qu’un jury américain ne se soit pas laissé influencer par les différences raciales. »
« On est choqué de lire tant de commentaires racistes sur Twitter, s’indigne la journaliste et blogueuse Divya Sehgal. Et c’est effrayant de s’apercevoir que les Américains d’origine asiatique ne sont toujours pas reconnus comme des Américains. Cela dit, je pense que c’est le fait d’une petite minorité. Si vous faites défiler l’article de Buzzfeed [site qui a mis en ligne les commentaires postés sur Twitter], vous verrez combien d’Américains sont choqués par ces propos racistes. Donc, si le racisme est déplorable, j’ose espérer qu’il n’est qu’une goutte d’eau dans un immense océan non raciste. »
« Nina ne serait jamais devenue Miss Inde »
Tandis que la plupart des Indiens sont attristés par ce qui s’est passé aux Etats-Unis, l’entrepreneur et auteur Varun Agarwal a reçu 600 commentaires favorables sous son message [posté sur Facebook]. « Une fille au teint foncé comme Nina ne serait jamais devenue Miss Inde, écrivait-il. Au moins, elle est devenue Miss America. »
Selon la psychologue Jamuna Tripathi, « nous vivons malheureusement dans un monde qui perpétue les stéréotypes. La société rend complexés les gens à la peau foncée. L’aspect positif, c’est que Nina est restée très digne face à l’adversité. Sa confiance en elle et sa maturité sont vraiment la marque d’une gagnante. »
Tout en rappelant qu’il serait temps de prendre de la hauteur, l’ancienne Miss Inde et Miss Terre 2010, Nicole Faria, affirme : « Chacun a le droit d’avoir ses opinions et, dans les concours de beauté, tout le monde peut avoir un point de vue différent ; la beauté est dans l’œil de celui qui regarde. Ce qui est bien, c’est que le résultat est définitif, et, même si certains peuvent voir les choses autrement, le verdict est tombé. Nina a remporté la couronne. En tant qu’Indienne, ça fait chaud au cœur. Rappelons-nous que la beauté et la bonté ont triomphé, et ne laissons rien ternir de cette victoire si méritée. »
16 septembre 2013
Nina Davuluri, la nouvelle Miss America, a été élue dimanche soir. A peine a-t-elle eu le temps de savourer sa victoire que la jeune femme d’origine indienne a été la cible d’insultes racistes.
Quelques minutes après son sacre, Nina Davuluri déclarait: «Je suis tellement contente que cette organisation laisse une large place à la diversité». La nouvelle Miss America 2014 n’avait pas encore conscience du flot d’insultes dont elle allait être la victime. La jeune femme de 24 ans d’origine indienne qui a remporté dimanche soir à Atlantic City le prestigieux concours de Miss est au coeur d’une polémique. Malgré sa grâce, ses talents de danseuse et ses brillantes études -elle souhaite devenir médecin et compte utiliser l’argent de son couronnement pour payer l’université- Nina ne fait pas l’unanimité. Loin de là.
Au moment où son nom a été annoncé par le présentateur, la sublime brune à la beauté exotique a déclenché un flot d’insultes racistes sur les réseaux sociaux. «Si tu es Miss America, tu dois être Américaine», a lancé un internaute. «Super, ils ont choisi une musulmane comme Miss America. Obama doit être heureux. Peut-être qu’il a voté», a écrit un autre. «Miss New York est une Indienne… Avec tout votre respect, c’est l’Amérique», «Et une Arabe devient Miss Amérique. Classique», «#Miss Amérique. Avons-nous oublié le 11-Septembre?», «Miss America est une terroriste», «C’est Miss America ou Miss Al Qaïda?» ont posté d’autres téléspectateurs…
« La domination des Barbie blondes peroxydées est révolue »
Pour beaucoup d’internautes, ce n’est pas Nina qui aurait dû gagner mais Miss Kansas, une sculpturale blonde tatouée, militaire, parachutiste, boxeuse et championne de tir à l’arc. Theresa Vail n’hésite jamais à poser en treillis ou arme à la main. Une image de l’Amérique conservatrice que les détracteurs de Nina auraient voulu gagnante. «Les juges de Miss America ne le diront jamais, mais Miss Kansas a perdu parce qu’elle représente réellement les valeurs américaines», a réagi sur Twitter l’animateur de la Fox, Todd Starnes.
Pourtant, Nina Davuluri, qui, plus jeune, s’est battue contre des troubles alimentaires, a elle aussi une histoire forte. Farouchement opposée à la chirurgie esthétique -un fait rare dans les élections de miss aux Etats-Unis- son père est un éminent médecin, un métier qu’elle veut exercer, d’après CNN. Le «Time» de son côté se félicite que le «temps de la domination des Barbie blondes peroxydées est révolu». Si beaucoup d’internautes se sont déchainés contre la gagnante, d’autres n’ont pas hésité à prendre sa défense, critiquant «l’ignorance» des auteurs.
Malgré la polémique, Nina Davuluri est bien décidée à profiter de son sacre et ne compte pas se laisser abattre par les insultes. En conférence de presse, elle a déclaré qu’elle «devait passer au-dessus de tout ça». «Je me suis toujours vue avant tout comme une Américaine», a-t-elle ajouté. Pour son premier déplacement en tant que Miss America, cette passionnée de Bollywood devrait se rendre dans le New Jersey, sur les lieux de l’ouragan Sandy.
Chloé Woitier, AFP, AP, Reuters Agences
Ce concours de beauté où la piété et l’engagement comptent autant que la beauté aura lieu en Indonésie quelques jours avant la grande finale de Miss Monde, qui se déroule cette année dans le même pays.
Alors que, sur l’île de Bali, les Miss de tous les continents sont en pleine préparation de l’élection de Miss Monde, un concours de beauté d’un autre genre s’apprête à avoir lieu à près de 1000 kilomètres de là. La capitale de l’Indonésie, Jakarta, accueille en effet ce mercredi la finale de World Muslimah 2013, ou Miss musulmane du Monde.
Si World Muslimah reste avant tout un concours de beauté – la taille et le poids des 20 finalistes sont listés sur le site officiel du concours -, la sélection des jeunes femmes s’est faite sur des critères religieux. Pour participer, il est en effet obligatoire de porter le voile islamique, et de savoir lire parfaitement les versets du Coran. Les photos jointes au dossier de candidature doivent se faire «dans une tenue conforme aux standards musulmans», qui ne «laisse pas voir les courbes du corps», «empêche de deviner la peau et les cheveux», et dont le voile «est suffisamment long pour couvrir les oreilles, le cou et la poitrine». «Vos poses doivent être élégantes, nous recherchons avant tout la modestie», souligne le site officiel.
Dans les coulisses du concours
«Porter le voile n’empêche pas de réussir sa carrière»
Les candidates, âgées de 18 à 27 ans, doivent également expliquer dans leur dossier de candidature pourquoi elles ont choisi de mettre le voile. Mais la dévotion ne fait pas tout. Les jeunes femmes doivent également justifier d’une activité professionnelle, associative, artistique ou sportive qui met en avant leurs talents et leurs qualités morales. «Ce que je recherche, c’est une personnalité forte, quelqu’un qui aide sa communauté et prouve que la beauté n’est pas que corporelle», explique l’une des juges du concours.
Les candidates de World Muslimah, sélectionnées sur Internet, ont également dû préparer une vidéo pour se présenter. La jeune femme actuellement la plus populaire – 889 votes sur le site officiel – est originaire de Bali. Âgée de 21 ans, Febrian Nur Vianti explique dans sa vidéo être passionnée de mode et s’exercer à créer ses chaussures pour lancer à terme sa propre entreprise. On la voit également réciter longuement des versets du Coran, et «espérer que sa candidature prouvera aux jeunes musulmanes que porter le voile n’empêche pas de réussir sa carrière».
Miss Monde, «un concours de prostituées»
Les 20 finalistes, originaires d’Indonésie, d’Iran, de Malaisie, du Nigeria, de Bangladesh et du Brunei, se sont fait offrir un voyage à Jakarta pour préparer la finale et ont effectué un stage spirituel de trois jours. La grande gagnante pourra partir tous frais payés à La Mecque pour réaliser son pélerinage, tandis que ses dauphines participeront à des «voyages éducatifs» en Inde, Turquie, et au Brunei.
La grande finale de World Muslimah aura lieu quelques jours avant celle de Miss Monde, qui est sous le feu des critiques des islamistes d’Indonésie. Ces derniers ont dénoncé un «concours de prostituées» et obtenu que la finale soit déplacée de Jakarta à Bali, île à majorité hindouiste. Les organisateurs de World Muslimah ne sont pas associés à ces critiques. «Nous avons délibérément choisi de tenir cet événement juste avant la finale des Miss Monde afin de montrer qu’une alternative existe pour les musulmanes», affirme la créatrice du concours, qui avait été licenciée de la télévision indonésienne en 2006 pour avoir refusé de retirer son voile à l’antenne. «Nous préférons montrer à nos filles qu’elles ont le choix entre Miss Monde et Miss musulmanes».
Homa Sabet Tavangar
I didn’t watch Miss America, but now I wish I had. Monday morning I woke up to a fascinating news feed about backlash on the winner, Miss New York, an Indian-American, and a first. But just as her mascara-punctuated tears began to flow as the tiara graced her perfect coif, the haters on Twitter reared their narrow-minded heads. Here’s an example of the media coverage, from CNN.com, with the headline:
Miss America Crowns 1st Winner of Indian Descent; racist tweets flow
The Tweets included this racist one from Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary: « The liberal Miss America judges won’t say this – but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values. #missamerica »
Many, many Tweets protested her being « Arab » (really?!), Muslim (she’s Hindu) and not American (she was born in Syracuse, NY and has lived in Oklahoma and Michigan as well).
In spite of cringe-worth flaws of the pageant [like the bikini-in-heels (aka « swimsuit ») competition], Nina Davuluri, the new Miss America, probably represents some of the best qualities and aspirations of « modern » America. Here’s why:
America was built on a dream of hard work by people from all over the world. She and her family certainly fit that ideal. Her father is a physician and she aspires to be one as well.
The Founding Fathers were slave owners and came from Europe. Obviously, to be true to the ideals they enshrined, we don’t need to continue to live and look like them.
Thanks to the life her parents built (from scratch), and her own hard work-ethic, she graduated from the University of Michigan debt-free.
She’s a great example of working through failure and difficulty, and getting back up again. This shows in her struggle against bulimia. For fifteen years she studied classical Indian dance, refining a nuanced art form. She was gutsy enough to showcase a fusion of classical and Bollywood dance in her talent act (this made me want to try it!). Here’s a clip:
Her platform: « Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency » couldn’t be more timely. She chose this in part since she had to dispel so many misconceptions about her culture through the year, such as whether her parents will arrange a marriage for her. With the national spotlight, these prejudices are obviously rampant and growing, but it also offers an opening for a meaningful conversation: What is « cultural competency » and why does it matter? What are the values you hold dear as an American? Does she represent them? Does her brown skin and non-European heritage stand in the way of appreciating her accomplishment?
When headlines all over the world proclaim Nina Davuluri as Miss America, this stops anti-Americans in their tracks. They see that the USA can live up to its values, as the land of the free, home of the brave. It’s where dreams for a better life come true. It’s where diverse people are welcomed. It’s full of beauty and sparkles and anything is possible. Millions of dollars in weapons couldn’t convince youth in Iraq or Afghanistan or Egypt of this fact, but Nina’s smile just might.
There is a Miss America contestant this year whose platform is « Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers. »
Her name is Theresa Marie Vail, Miss Kansas, and she’ll be breaking a few barriers herself.
Theresa is in the military. She enlisted in the Army National Guard, raised her right hand and took the oath to « support and defend » just three weeks after her 17th birthday. She completed basic training the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as a mechanic between high school and college. She was the only woman in her class, and graduated #1. After three years she transferred to a medical detachment and went to dental tech school where she also graduated at the top of her class.
She’s not the first contestant to be in the military. There’s been one: Miss Utah 2007, Jill Stephens, a medic in the Utah National Guard. They have similarities: commitment to service, dedication to country, and almost no experience as a contestant.
Theresa entered her first pageant just nine months ago.
« I never thought about it until a mentor, in my unit, explained how the recognition could help with what I want to do as a role model, » Theresa explained in a recent interview.
As a child she was teased and bullied, and was shy and insecure as a result. But she overcame obstacles, relied on her religious faith, and worked very hard to become the leader she is today.
Theresa is a young woman who excels. Now 22, she’s a Kansas State University senior with a double major in Chemistry and Chinese (with a 3.8 GPA in Chinese) – the first because she wants to be a dentist and the second because it’s a challenge. Theresa loves a challenge. Tell her she can’t do something and then stand back and watch her go.
She’s an expert marksman on the M 16. She’s an expert bow hunter. She skydives. She boxes. She’s working on a private pilot license. She started motorcycle racing but stopped after a crash in which she broke all the fingers her right hand (hard to be a good dentist without flexible fingers.)
With pageant festivities back this year in Atlantic City (where Miss America began in 1921), the « Show Us Your Shoes Parade » will return to the famed boardwalk. The September 14th parade will be televised live for the first time ever (and will be lead-in to the pageant itself on the 15th). This is where contestants flash extravagantly decorated, often state-themed, girly-girly high heels to laughing crowds yelling « Show us your shoes. »
Only Theresa will be in uniform, wearing combat boots instead of four-inch heels.
When it comes to the bathing suit competition, Theresa will be breaking another barrier: she’ll be the first contestant ever with visible tattoos. No itty-bitty rose hidden under a bikini top for this girl. She has the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder. The Serenity Prayer (« God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference ») flows down her right side.
« It’s my personal mission statement, » Theresa said.
Of course, Theresa is also – if one can use this description for someone trained to shoot to kill – drop-dead gorgeous.
When asked about what she is most proud of, she grinned.
« I just got promoted. I made sergeant, » she said. « And I re-enlisted for six years. »
So, if things get wild in Atlantic City in a few weeks, this would be another Miss America first: Here she comes, Miss America … Miss Kansas… Sgt. Theresa Marie Vail.
Voir de même:
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, at a Miss America event in Atlantic City. Vail, an Army National Guard sergeant, is an expert marksman, used to race motorcycles, and likes to skydive and bow-hunt for deer.
Jacqueline L. Urgo
September 13, 2013
ATLANTIC CITY – Hey, Kansas, your beauty queen wears combat boots!
And has big tattoos, too.
As an active member of the military, Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail – ahem, Army National Guard Sgt. Vail – may just have a slightly different take on world peace than the typical Miss America pageant contestant.
She’s also drop-dead gorgeous – literally. The slender blonde is an expert marksman who apparently knows her way around an M-16. She raced motorcycles as a teen until she broke her fingers. She is fluent in Chinese (she has a 3.8 GPA at Kansas State University) and likes to skydive and bow-hunt for deer. She’s working on a hunting series in production for the Outdoor Channel. (She will be the host.)
While her Miss America profile head shot has her looking like a supermodel, decked out in a hot-pink outfit, fluffed hair, and dangle earrings, other promo websites feature photos of her in full camouflage garb sporting a hunting rifle, bow and arrow, even posing with her prey (a deer, a fox).
But Vail is among only a handful of Miss America Pageant contestants to have military credentials. She is a dental technician with a National Guard medical unit based out of Kansas. Five pageant women since 1992 have been active-duty military, and Miss Utah 2007, Jill Stevens, was the first to work in a combat zone.
Also, Vail, 22, competing this week in the 2014 Miss America Pageant, is the first contestant ever to sport visible tattoos. Sure, other contestants have had tattoos – tiny, hidden ones, according to pageant officials.
But Vail’s big bold tat, of the Serenity Prayer, flanks her entire right midriff. She also sports the insignia of the Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder. The university senior aspires to be an Army dentist.
« No one expects a soldier to be a beauty queen. . . . Right now, everyone thinks of Miss America as this girl on a pedestal, and I want her to come down from that. She is just a normal girl, » Vail said in a recent interview with a newspaper in Kansas.
So there it was, the big tattoo, when she competed Tuesday night in the swimsuit portion of the three-night preliminary competition. She didn’t win, wearing a bright-red bikini and the tattoo, done in scrolly vintage lettering.
But she apparently scored one for the atypical beauty queen crowd.
With no beauty contest experience, Vail entered her first pageant just nine months ago and became Miss Leavenworth County before winning Miss Kansas in June. Her pageant platform is « Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers. »
It’s a subject Vail – who says she was bullied and teased through school – holds dear, hoping to inspire other young women to be whatever they choose.
Even for Saturday’s much-anticipated « Show Us Your Shoes » Parade – an all-out glittery spectacle where the contestants get to show off their flashy side – Vail is opting to wear her camouflage Army uniform and combat boots instead of the de rigueur five-inch heels and evening gowns being worn by most of the other women.
The next night, the Miss America Pageant will be televised live beginning at 9 on ABC.
« I think Miss Kansas’ participation in the pageant, » said Sharon Pearce, president of the Miss America Organization, « shows us the diverse women that are involved in the competition. »
Name: Theresa Vail.
Hometown: Manhattan, Kan.
Education: Leavenworth High, Kansas State University.
Platform issue: Empowering women, overcoming stereotypes, and breaking barriers.
Scholastic ambition: To obtain a doctor of dental surgery degree.
Scholastic honors: Georganne Howler Chemistry Scholarship recipient; distinguished honor graduate of Army School of Ordnance; distinguished honor graduate of Army School of Health Science.
Career ambition: To become a prosthodontist for the Army.
September 19, 2013
I fully admit it—I’m steeped in judgment about beauty pageants as an industry, and I still wrestle with assumptions about the women and girls who participate in them. Almost all I can stomach on the topic is Miss Congeniality, in which Sandra Bullock plays a gung-ho FBI agent who goes undercover as Miss New Jersey at a national pageant and is forced to endure all of the industry’s sexist humiliations to pass as “gorgeous”—mandatory starvation, bikini waxing, high heels and all. Her resistance to the industry and her tough-guy attitude make the subject matter not only palatable but also even therapeutic.
Before you judge, let me share the negative impact the so-called “beauty industry” has had on me and almost every girl and woman I know—hours upon hours, spent week after week, for years on end, obsession with self-hatred, guilt or shame for how we look, what we do or do not eat, and how we must dress, speak and act in order to earn our family’s and society’s acceptance, and power and influence in the world. Miss America plays a role in shaping these powerfully defeating narratives in the lives of women and girls across the nation.
However, by the look of it, the face of national pageantry, if not the substance, is changing in apparently new and exciting ways. Plenty of attention has been a paid to the winner, Nina Davuluri, but I’m just as interested in Sergeant Theresa Vail, otherwise known as Miss Kansas, who made media waves as the first contestant ever to bare her tattoos. It’s not the first time a military woman has entered the pageant –Sergeant Jill Stevens, a combat medic, competed in 2008—and it certainly won’t be the last. But the media obsession with the “Serenity Prayer” tattooed around Vail’s midriff is less about women expressing themselves in authentic and edgy ways than it is about varying the same old theme on objectifying women’s bodies.
I don’t blame or resent Sgt. Vail for participating—I actually admire her talent and drive. And I don’t hold her even remotely responsible for either reforming the beauty pageant industry or for representing all military women everywhere. But I disagree with her that being Miss America and being a soldier are “one and the same”—you are not likely to get shot wearing the Miss America crown, and the average service member sacrifices a hell of a lot of comfort and privilege, unlike a crowned beauty queen.
Most of all, I am disappointed and indignant that the most national attention service women got this month (during a time of war, no less) was when the National Guardsman bared her skin in a red bikini and platform heels on prime time television. And that is entirely the fault of a sexist industry and the narrow-minded society that gives rise to it. Because to feature the sacrifices of women, women who have literally fought and died for this country, women who have accomplished great feats of leadership while in uniform might too provocatively subvert the gender status quo as we know it.
I’m reminded of a high profile event I reluctantly attended at New York City’s Fashion Week a couple years ago called, “Fatigues to Fabulous.” It was organized by several groups to, presumably, help women veterans and supported by several high profile fashion designers. The implication (and an actual suggestion) that what women veterans needed most when returning from war was to look “beautiful” still makes my stomach turn. If lipstick, stiletto heels and a $5000 dress could heal posttraumatic stress, they would definitely be onto something.
I discussed Sgt. Vail’s participation in the pageant with my fellow staff members at SWAN, women who have worn the uniform, deployed overseas and commanded troops. There was a palpable sense among us that we know what it’s like to be judged by our looks, to have our bodies scrutinized, to have to command mostly male troops within a climate of harassment and discrimination. At the end of the day, baring tattoos as a form of self-expression doesn’t erase the fact that Vail had to wear a bikini to express herself or that in the eyes of national media, a woman warrior is defined more by her looks when she’s undressed than by what she can do in uniform.
Voir par ailleurs:
On September 17, 1983, a long-legged 20-year-old sashayed across the stage at Convention Hall in Atlantic City. As the orchestra started to play, her powerful voice launched into « Happy Days are Here Again. » Millions of Americans sat transfixed in front of their televisions. It was no surprise when the slender, hazel-eyed brunette was back on stage later in the evening among the pageant finalists. But what happened next made history. As the emcee announced: « And our new Miss America is… Vanessa Williams, » the young woman’s mother leaned forward on her couch at home and in hushed tones, whispered « finally, finally. »
Williams was the first African American woman to be crowned Miss America. Black leaders claimed her victory as a milestone in American racial history. Some compared the achievement to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. A black Miss America meant so much in 1983 because over the decades of its existence the Miss America Pageant had come to mean so much.
Miss America tracks the contest from its inception in 1921 as an exuberant local seaside pageant to its heyday as one of the most popular and anticipated events in the country’s cultural calendar. Among the many stories it uncovers are those of Williams and her predecessor, Bess Meyerson, who was crowned the first Jewish Miss America in 1945, the same year the Allies won World War II. It paints a vivid picture of the changing ambitions of the contestants and it describes how the pageant became the target of the first national protest by the women’s rights movement.
As the film unfolds, it becomes clear Miss America isn’t just the country’s oldest beauty contest. It is a powerful cultural institution that over the course of the century has come to reveal much about a changing nation — the increasing power of the image, the rise in commercialism, the complexity of sexual politics, the important role of big business and the emotional resonance of small towns. It is, we learn, about winners and losers, getting ahead, being included and being left out.
Beyond the symbolism lies a human story — at once moving, inspiring, infuriating, funny and poignant. Using intimate interviews with former contestants, archival footage and photographs, the film reveals why some women took part in the fledgling event and why others briefly shut it down. It describes how the pageant became a battleground for the country’s most conservative and progressive elements and a barometer for the changing position of women in society. It reveals how for women in the 1920s the pageant was an avenue to movie stardom and for women in the 1950s it paved the way to academic success.
Miss America intercuts period film with contemporary footage of the 1999 and 2000 pageants that captures the glamour and excitement of the event, both on stage and in the wings. The documentary reinforces the pageant’s continuing hold on the imagination of the American public.
Contests to determine « who is the fairest of them all » have been around at least since ancient Greece and the Judgment of Paris. According to legend, a poor mortal goatherd, Alexandros (Paris), was called upon to settle a dispute among the goddesses. Who was the most beautiful: Hera (Juno), Aprhodite (Venus), or Athena (Minerva)? All three goddesses offered bribes: according to the writer Apollodorus, « Hera said that if she were preferred to all women, she would give him the kingdom over all men; and Athena promised victory in war, and Aphrodite the hand of Helen. » When Paris selected Aphrodite in exchange for getting Helen of Troy, the most beautiful mortal of the time, he inadvertently started the Trojan War.
While ancient Greeks memorialized in myth the complicated relationship between beauty and competition, there is no historical evidence that they actually held contests for women. A « contest of physique » called the euandria was held yearly at an Athenian festival — but the contest was for men. European festivals dating to the medieval era provide the most direct lineage for beauty pageants. For example, English May Day celebrations always involved the selection of queens.
In the United States, the May Day tradition of selecting women to serve as symbols of bounty and community ideals continued, as young beautiful women participated in public celebrations. When George Washington rode from Mount Vernon to New York City in 1789 to assume the presidency, groups of young women dressed in white lined his route, placing palm branches before his carriage. General Lafayette’s triumphant tour of the United States in 1826 also was greeted by similar delegations of young women.
The first truly modern beauty contest, involving the display of women’s faces and figures before judges, can be traced to one of America’s greatest showmen, Phineas T. Barnum (of circus fame). In the 1850s, the ever-resourceful Barnum owned a « dime museum » in New York City that catered to the growing audience for commercial entertainment. Some of Barnum’s most popular attractions were « national contests » where dogs, chickens, flowers, and even children were displayed and judged for paying audiences. While 61,000 people swarmed to his baby show in 1855, a similar event the year before to select and exhibit « the handsomest ladies » in America proved a disappointment. The prize — a dowry (if the winner was single) or a diamond tiara (if the winner was married) — was not enough to lure respectable girls and women of the Victorian era to publicly display themselves.
Barnum developed a brilliant alternate plan for a beauty contest that would accept entries in the form of photographic likenesses. These photographs would be displayed in his museum and the public would vote for them. The final ten entrants would receive specially commissioned oil portraits of themselves. These portraits would be reproduced in a « fine arts » book to be published in France, entitled the World’s Book of Female Beauty. Barnum sold off his museum before the photographs arrived, but in employing modern technology and in combining lowbrow entertainment with the appeal of highbrow culture, Barnum pioneered a new model of commercial entertainment.
In the decades to come, the picture photo contest was widely imitated and became a respectable way for girls and women to have their beauty judged. Civic leaders across the country, seeking to boost citizen morale, incorporate newcomers, and attract new settlers and businesses to their communities, held newspaper contests to choose women that represented the « spirit » of their locales. One of the most popular of these contests occurred in 1905, when promoters of the St. Louis Exposition contacted city newspapers across the country to select a representative young woman from their city to compete for a beauty title at the Exposition. There was intense competition and, according to one report, forty thousand photo entries.
By the early decades of the twentieth century, attitudes had begun to change about beauty pageants. Prohibitions against the display of women in public began to fade, though not to disappear altogether. One of the earliest known resort beauty pageants had been held in 1880, at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. However, it was not until the twentieth century that beach resorts began to hold regular beauty pageants as entertainments for the growing middle class. In 1921, in an effort to lure tourists to stay past Labor Day, Atlantic City organizers staged the first Miss America Pageant in September. Stressing that the contestants were both youthful and wholesome, the Miss America Pageant brought together issues of democracy and class, art and commerce, gender and sex — and started a tradition that would grow throughout the century to come.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: You can have wars and atom bombs, but so it seems there must always be a Miss America.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Just one talented young girl receives top honors as Miss America. So democracy works here too for the Atlantic City Miss America contest is predicated on the conviction that the typical American girl has talent and brains as well as beauty.
KATHY PEISS, Historian: I think the Miss America Pageant has been about the American dream for some women. It has been about a dream of being beautiful. It’s also been about a dream of being successful. And that combination is I think the kind of complicated stew that is very much American women’s experience of the last eighty years.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: I am tingling with excitement wondering who will be the next Miss America.
BILL GOLDMAN: When my kids were little, one of the big nights of the year was just the four of us sitting there watching the Miss America and saying oh she’s got to win. And you root and you got involved in it. And we all loved it. It was a part of our lives.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: You know in this twentieth century, we have witnessed the birth of a legend, the legend of the American girl.
MARGARET CHO, Comedian: I think it’s a really important story to tell, because it’s about how we feel about ourselves as women, and how we’ve changed as women and who we are as women and what it means to be judged by men.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: There are beauty contests and beauty contests, and then there’s the Miss America competition and this year’s crop seems to be the most beauteous bevy of breathtaking beauties in decades.
TRICIA ROSE, Cultural Critic: The Pageant is this example where you can be sort of nationalistic and patriotic and pro American and get to see some « T and A » all in the same event.
KATE SHINDLE, Miss America 1998: The thing about the pageant is that you have to have a sense of humor about it. I mean you’ve got girls who have invested their entire lives in wanting to become Miss America. On the one hand, it’s this investment of thousands of dollars in this huge goal, and on the other hand a girl is spray gluing her swimsuit to her butt so it doesn’t ride up.
JULIA ALVAREZ, Writer: You know this is like Miss America. I mean it’s not Miss Coffee Beans. It’s not Miss Peach Blossoms. This is the woman that sort of represents the country like the President does. And so it’s seeing what is the way to be the woman of the most powerful country on earth.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: These were the fabulous furious roaring 20s and this is why they roared.
NARRATOR: The Miss America Pageant started out as a promotional gimmick — dreamed up by Atlantic City businessmen in 1921, as a way to keep tourists in town after Labor Day. Over the next eight decades, it would become a national tradition dedicated to defining the ideal American woman.
Year after year, the Miss America Pageant would struggle to pull off a delicate balancing act — objectifying women while providing them with real opportunities; promoting traditional roles while encouraging women’s independence; glorifying feminine modesty while trading on female sexuality. Along the way, it would come to be a barometer of the nation’s shifting ideas about American womanhood.
But in 1921, Atlantic City’s businessmen were simply trying to turn a profit — by capitalizing on the country’s fascination with beauty.
KATHY PEISS: Well, there are many beauty pageants in the 1920’s, and they range from pageants oriented towards African-American women, Miss Bronze America. Even the Ku Klux Klan has a beauty pageant for Miss 100 Percent America. So there’s something about beauty as a symbol that is extremely important and many different groups are getting together and saying, we have the most beautiful woman who represents us. And Miss America is the national symbol of what is going on all over the country.
NARRATOR: The first Miss America Pageant was a spectacular two-day festival, culminating with a beachfront parade called the Bather’s Revue. The only rule for the competition was that all participants « must positively be attired in bathing costumes. » A board of censors had been appointed to review questionable entries.
VICKI GOLD LEVI, Atlantic City Historian: Atlantic City was a place where everybody was kind of given to letting your hair down and having a delicious, romantic time. Bathing suits had changed a great deal and stockings were now being rolled beneath your knees, which was very daring. And women had to have their bathing suits at a certain length. And so there were beach censors who would actually come down and measure the length of your bathing suit.
NARRATOR: On the morning of the Revue, more than 100,000 people swarmed onto the Boardwalk, hoping to catch a glimpse of the scantily-clad young women down on the sand. The spectators’ stand out favorite was a slight, freckled sixteen-year-old from the nation’s capitol. Named Margaret Gorman.
RIC FERENTZ, Pageant Historian: Margaret Gorman was a sensation. She was tiny, petite, five one, with blonde, long ringlets who looked very much like Mary Pickford who was the biggest star of the day. So, the combination made this young, sixteen-year-old girl a star.
NARRATOR: Gorman swept the competition — and later that evening, she was crowned the very first Miss America. « Margaret Gorman represents the type of womanhood America needs, » the New York Times declared, « strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests. »
NARRATOR: The first Miss America Pageant was a staggering success. Before the receipts were even tallied, city officials announced plans to continue the contest through the decade — confident that as long as there were girls in bathing suits, the crowds would come.
LEONARD HORN, Former CEO Miss America Organization: It was one of the first, if not the first instances of the marriage between advertising and the beauty of the female form which was ingenious because from then on many, many advertisers thought they could get more attention by putting a good looking woman into the picture. Some say it got started in 1921 in Atlantic City.
RIC FERENTZ: The very first years, there was a literal breakdown. Five points for the construction of the head, five points for the limbs, three points for the torso, two points for the leg…I mean it…you know and it added up to a hundred percent. Whether they really went by that, it’s hard to say.
NARRATOR: Throughout the 1920’s, scores of young women flocked to Atlantic City each year, most hoping the Pageant would land them a career in show business. While the average working woman labored in a factory or a typing pool, Miss America had offers from Hollywood and vaudeville — and the opportunity to cash in on her looks.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: « 5 feet 4 inches tall, 118 pounds of beauty. Norma Smallwood is crowned Miss America of 1926. »
NARRATOR: During the year of her reign, Miss America 1926 — a small-town girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma — reportedly made over $100,000, more than either Babe Ruth or the President of the United States.
RIC FERENTZ: Norma Smallwood had an acute business sense. In 1927, when she was due to return to crown her successor, she demanded a fee for her appearance in Atlantic City. And although she arrived and took part in the early part of the pageant, during the middle when that money was not forthcoming, Norma picked up and left for another job in North Carolina. And the press was not very kind to that. They thought that she should have been the gracious one that didn’t take the money and stayed around to crown her successor, and Norma thought, I’m sorry, this is a business.
KATHY PEISS: There was a general sense that the Old World had died and a new one was being born. And I think that was especially important for women. There’d been a women’s movement that had been successful in certain ways, women had gotten the right to vote for example, and women are increasingly in the labor force in the 1920’s. A number are getting college educated. And so in some ways the pageant seems to be a contradiction. Here, feminists had wanted women to move into the public sphere to sort of gain the positions that men had gained, and yet the pageant represents women very much as female and as in some ways, sexualized, as beauty objects.
NARRATOR: The Pageant’s attention to the female form had troubled conservative Americans since the very beginning. But in the late-1920’s, critics finally went on the offensive.
All over the country, women’s clubs and religious organizations publicly attacked the Miss America Pageant, and accused organizers of corrupting the nation’s morals. « Before the competition, the contestants were splendid examples of innocence and pure womanhood, » one protestor argued. « Afterward their heads were filled with vicious ideas. »
In 1928, fearing the controversy would ruin Atlantic City’s reputation, the Chamber of Commerce voted twenty-seven to three to cancel the Miss America Pageant.
For now, morality had shut the Pageant down. But America’s infatuation with beauty would endure.
CONTEMPORARY FOOTAGE: Brandi: « It’s very me, it’s very Brandi… »
MARGARET CHO: I think the fascination with beauty pageants is that there can be a winner. That there are certain rules, guidelines that constitute beauty, that it is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder. That we as the collective beholder have agreed on certain qualities that create beauty and uh that there can be a contest to judge it. It’s this fascinating thing.
TRICIA ROSE: What gets defined as beauty? I mean, it’s not unlike high fashion supermodels in that the bodies that work are the bodies that are least like what women look like. So what are we saying? What are we actually saying about what women look like when we say, well you know what, to be most beautiful you have to not look like what women look like?
ISAAC MIZRAHI, Designer: I think that fashion and beauty is everything in the way a woman marks her identity today, unfortunately. But I can’t think of a period of time when it wasn’t about that, and there are all sorts of obvious manifestations of that you know, the length of your skirt, the size of your waist. But there are other even more subtle things. Like when you shave your legs, even if you’re wearing pants that day you feel three times prettier, I think.
JULIA ALVAREZ: You know, there’s a yearning in the human spirit, an aspiring for beauty. And, the successful man still has a beautiful woman on his arm. That’s the prize. It’s been our power structure and it’s…it’s still operative. Beauty is still the currency out there.
GLORIA STEINEM, Writer: The traditional way to get ahead is to compete with other women for the favors of men, you know and this is not different from any other marginalized or less powerful group. You’re supposed to compete with each other for the favors of the powerful. So what could be a greater example of that than a beauty contest?
NARRATOR: Not long after the Miss America Pageant was cancelled, a devastating economic depression brought Atlantic City’s tourist trade to a halt. Desperate, local businessmen opted to ignore the critics and revived their lucrative beauty pageant. In 1933, thirty young women were brought to Atlantic City, aboard a chartered train called the Beauty Special, to compete for Miss America’s crown.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Yeah it’s sort of relaxin’ what with strikes and food shortages and international disputes and so on to have the lassies back with us once again. Oh well, one good turn deserves another.
NARRATOR: « So striking was the change between the ideal figure of the twenties and that of 1933, » one observer said of the contestants, « that one might almost have thought that a new anatomical species had come into being. »
Among the entries was Marion Bergeron, a high school sophomore and the daughter of a Connecticut policeman.
MARION BERGERON SETZER, Miss America 1933: 1933, it was a depression and at 15 years old I hadn’t been out of Westhaven, Connecticut, let alone wind up in Atlantic City.
NARRATOR: A curvaceous blonde with a striking resemblance to screen-siren Jean Harlow, Bergeron had competed in her first local pageant just weeks before.
To her surprise, she had won the title of Miss New Haven, and then Miss Connecticut — and before she knew it, she was being crowned Miss America.
MARION BERGERON SETZER: To the judge’s eyes, I was the typical American girl. Totally unsophisticated, very naïve, had a lot of enthusiasm, had a lot of talent that they didn’t ask for, but I did have that. And I was just, I was just a 1933 typical American girl. My figure then as they described it was a typical Mae West figure which was hourglass, thirty-four bust, a twenty-six waist, eighty-two buns.
NARRATOR: The new Miss America was just the kind of girl vaudeville producers were looking for — and they soon came waving contracts, promising to make her a star.
But all the attention was short-lived. As soon as the newspapers reported that she was only fifteen, the show business contracts were quickly withdrawn — and Bergeron went back to high school.
MARION BERGERON SETZER: On our way home, I had to go back only to be met by the nuns that said I had had entirely too much undue publicity. And they felt that it would be better if I chose another school. Yeah, and that’s practically being kicked out of school. Here I feel like I’m really somebody. You know, I’m just the most glamorous thing that ever happened at 15 years old, but the but the nuns didn’t think so.
KATHY PEISS: Beauty pageants by the early thirties had a reputation for being somewhat disreputable, like …a carnival atmosphere. And especially the association with Atlantic City and the seaside resorts made that venue somewhat of a question mark I think for women in terms of their respectability. To be a public woman had a longstanding connotation of having loose morals, of being either a prostitute or sexually loose. And that doesn’t disappear, certainly through the 1930’s.
NARRATOR: In October 1935, a Pageant scandal rocked Atlantic City. Less than a month after seventeen-year-old Henrietta Leaver was crowned Miss America, a nude statue of her was unveiled in her hometown of Pittsburgh.
Leaver — a high school dropout and dime store salesgirl — swore she had worn a bathing suit when she posed, and that her grandmother had been present at all times. But the press coverage was merciless, and the businessmen behind the Pageant finally decided to make some changes.
For help, they turned to a single, 29-year-old Southern Baptist with years of experience in public relations. As the Pageant’s Executive Secretary, she would spend the next three decades inventing a new image for Miss America. Her name was Lenora Slaughter.
RIC FERENTZ: She was the iron fist in a velvet glove. I think that she was a woman that was well ahead of her time. She was tough when she had to be. But knew how to get by on a Southern drawl.
NARRATOR: Slaughter’s mission now was to eliminate scandal and to attract what she called « a better class of contestants. »
She immediately established a minimum age requirement of eighteen, then added a talent competition to the traditional line-up of bathing suits and evening gowns. Once the contestants were in Atlantic City, Slaughter insisted they be chaperoned at all times, and that they observe a strict curfew of one a.m. They were barred from drinking establishments, forbidden to smoke, and there were to be no private visits with men — not even their fathers.
A Pageant judge once asked Slaughter what to look for in a winner. « Honey, » she answered, « just pick me a lady. »
VICKI GOLD LEVI: She brought a respectability to the pageant. She presented her girls with class, with style. She transformed the pageant by setting the standards high, by making it something that women would want to participate in.
NARRATOR: Sometime later, Slaughter slipped one final entry requirement into the Pageant by-laws. Known as Rule Seven, the new regulation strictly limited Pageant participation to women « in good health and of the white race. »
SARAH BANET WEISER, Communication Scholar: Race has always factored into anyone’s notion of ideal womanhood in the United States. It’s just that the way in which whiteness functions is through invisibility. It’s not seen as a race. It’s just the normal way to be. It’s just regular. And it’s really no different in the Miss America Pageant.
TRICIA ROSE: That’s what’s most interesting about it to me that we are supposed to believe that this is what American womanhood looks like. And it really is an enormously narrow conception from facial features, you know, height, weight. And then of course there are the most obvious more political categories: race, ethnicity and all of these things are very important in the historical understanding of the Pageant.
NARRATOR: By the early 1940’s, Slaughter had constructed an ideal woman to represent the Miss America Pageant. Now, the mass media would make her a star.
Each September, millions of Americans watched the annual newsreel of Miss America’s crowning. She was featured in newspapers and advertisements, and honored with her own day at the World’s Fair. And when the United States entered World War II, and the Federal Government shut down most large public events, Slaughter convinced officials that the Pageant should be allowed to go on. « Miss America is emblematic of the nation’s spirit, » she told them, « and that spirit [continues] through war and peace, good times and bad. » Permission was granted — on the condition that the winner sell war bonds.
KATHY PEISS: The early period of the 1940’s is one where we see women being mobilized for the war effort. They’re being encouraged to take jobs, to work more than full time to support the war effort. At the same time, those women are encouraged to maintain their femininity and their beauty. And there’s a huge effort to sell women lipstick, to see cosmetics as morale boosters. And they are one product that is not rationed during the war. There’s an attempt to ration cosmetics but it’s overturned within six months. Women are given the pitch that one of the reasons we’re fighting the war is for women to be beautiful.
NARRATOR: Lenora Slaughter believed there was more to a woman than her looks — and she wanted Miss America to prove it. So in 1944, she convinced the Pageant’s new board of directors to award Miss America a scholarship to college.
Raising money proved a bigger challenge. Of the 236 companies Slaughter approached for contributions, only five signed on as sponsors. But between them, Slaughter had enough cash for a five thousand-dollar prize — and in 1945, the Miss America Pageant became one of the first organizations in the country to offer college scholarships to women.
VICKI GOLD LEVI: That’s immediately what redefined Miss America because no other pageant, competition, beauty contest was giving scholarship money. And by doing this it really, really set the pageant in a different category. You didn’t have to go in there just to prove you had a pretty figure, you could go in there to prove you had brains.
NARRATOR: Among those vying for the first scholarship in 1945 was a twenty-one year-old New Yorker named Bess Myerson. The American-born daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Myerson had paid her own way through New York’s Hunter College by giving piano lessons in the Bronx neighborhood where she grew up. Now she hoped to go on to graduate school, where she planned to study conducting.
BESS MYERSON, Miss America 1945: Talent was very important because that was the way we were going to make our living. That’s what we were going to support ourselves doing when we grew up. The most important thing was that you do well at school…oh no. The most important thing was that you listened to your parents. That you do well in school. And that you play a musical instrument. We never imagined anything else would be open to us.
NARRATOR: To Lenora Slaughter, Myerson seemed the ideal candidate for the new scholarship prize. She was beautiful, talented, smart. There was only one problem: she would have to change her name.
BESS MYERSON: Lenora Slaughter said my name was not a good name for show business. And I said well, you know I have no intention of going into show business. I said, what do you want me to change it to? Well you know there are a lot of good stage names like Beth…Beth Merrick. I said…the problem is that I’m Jewish, yes? And with that kind of name it’ll be quite obvious to everyone else that I’m Jewish. And you don’t want to have to deal with a Jewish Miss America. And that really was the bottom line. I said I can’t change my name. You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson.
NARRATOR: On September 3rd, Myerson and the other contestants appeared on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk for the Miss America Pageant’s opening ceremony: a victory parade to celebrate the end of the war. In the crowd was Myerson’s older sister Sylvia. Her mother, who spoke no English, had been left at home in the Bronx.
BESS MYERSON: The first night I compete with a group of girls on talent, I won. Headline says, « Jewish Girl in Atlantic City Wins Talent in Miss America Pageant. » Now we’ve just learned all the details of six million Jews being killed, slaughtered, burned, tortured. And naturally it attracts attention, and the juxtaposition of the two things was so improbable. There were people that would come to the hotel where I was staying with my sister, and they would introduce themselves to me and say I’m Jewish, and it’s just wonderful that you’re in this contest. But how about when people came up to you with numbers on their arms, which they did as well, and said, you see this? You have to win. You have to show the world that we are not ugly. That we shouldn’t be disposed of and so on however they worded it. I have to tell you that I felt this tremendous responsibility. I owed it to those women to give them a present, a gift, that to them was the gift.
NARRATOR: On the second night of preliminaries, Myerson scored another win, in the swimsuit competition, and she now seemed a strong favorite for the finals. « The new Miss America will either be Miss New York City, Bess Myerson, » one newspaper predicted, « or somebody else. »
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: They’re about to pick Miss America of 1945. Well, they’ve made their choice and the crown goes to Miss New York City, a 21-year-old, 5’10 » brunette, Bess Myerson, Hunter College graduate.
NARRATOR: By the time Myerson’s name was announced, her sister Sylvia was already in tears. From the audience came shouts of « Mazel tov! » « Don’t let anybody kid you, » Myerson said years later. « It was one hell of a terrific moment. »
VICKI GOLD LEVI: Bess was the answer to every Jewish woman’s dream. Her win was such a multilevel symbol. It was a symbol of a certain statement against anti-Semitism. It was a symbol of a victory against Hitler. It was a symbol for women, and when she won there was great celebration in our house. It was like when Roosevelt won or something.
NARRATOR: Myerson expected to spend her reign making appearances and promoting the Pageant’s new sponsors. But after an obligatory four-week performance tour, where drunks in the audience demanded she play the piano in her bathing suit, there were few requests for her time. None of the sponsors wanted a Jewish girl — even a Jewish Miss America — posing with their products.
BESS MYERSON: Half way through that year, I said to the pageant, I’m not available to you anymore because I want to do something else. I’ve met people from an organization called the Anti-defamation League. And they’ve asked me to go out on a tour speaking at the high schools and colleges, speaking to students where there are problems having to do with anti-Semitism, with hatred, with racism. And I did a speech called « You Can’t Hate and be Beautiful. »
SARAH BANET WEISER: Bess Myerson took on the mantle of Miss America in a different way. It’s the historical moment, it’s her ethnic identity, it’s her own aspirations, and all those put together you know provided a very different kind of Miss America and a very different kind of reign.
NARRATOR: Myerson had made Miss America a scholar and a lady. But the following year, pageant judges made it clear that looks still counted. « It was the year they brought out the rubberized bathing suit, » one of them said later, « and we voted for the girl with the best of everything showing. »
GLORIA STEINEM: The swimsuit competition is probably the most honest part of the competition because it really is about bodies. It is about looking at women as objects. That’s what it’s about. The fact is that the most disqualifying part of the competition is how you look.
MARGARET CHO: When you see their bodies, it’s so interesting because they seem so not real. You don’t see anything off. They are so perfect and not sexual really but you just kind of these perfectly shaped women that their bodies are very smooth. There’s no creases or lines, there’s no stretch marks or nipples or hair. It’s kind of jarring. You think god whose body is like that? And then you think, oh, maybe I’m not the woman. Maybe they’re the women, and I’m not the woman. And then you kind of feel like an imposter too.
ISAAC MIZRAHI: It’s always so sort of…heartbreaking to watch the swimsuit competition because these…these good girls they’re sort of like ooh, I’m such a piece of meat or something you know. Of all the parts of the pageant that I feel victimize women the most, it’s that part of the pageant. These poor girls in those painful looking high heels my heart goes out to them. But you know honestly if you have to wear a swimsuit and you have to parade, good, you should wear the high heels, because there’s nothing better on your leg than a high heel.
KATE SHINDLE: I worked so hard to be ready to compete in swimsuit that I didn’t dread it. You know, I actually found it kind of empowering because I figured that once I could get over enough issues to walk around on the stage in a bathing suit in front of twenty million people, I could pretty much do anything I wanted to.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: « Go ahead and drool, it’s Miss America time… »
NARRATOR: For more than a quarter century, the bathing suit competition had been the Miss America Pageant’s feature attraction. But with the scholarship program now in place, Lenora Slaughter wanted to project a more dignified image.
The challenge was to downplay the bathing suits without offending Catalina Swimwear, one the Pageant’s major sponsors. In 1947, Slaughter struck the term « bathing suit » from the official Pageant vocabulary, and replaced it with the more athletic-sounding « swimsuit. » Then, she banned two-piece suits from the competition, and announced that Miss America would now be crowned in an evening gown.
Still, when most Americans thought of the Pageant, a girl in bathing suit was the first thing that came to mind.
Then along came Yolande Betbeze. A twenty-one-year-old opera singer from Mobile, Alabama, Betbeze had been recently sprung from convent school when she captured her first local crown, Miss Torch 1949. Miss Alabama wasn’t far behind.
YOLANDE BETBEZE, Miss America 1951: I didn’t plan on the Miss America Pageant. I didn’t know anything about it. I was in a convent for fourteen years. The last four years in a cloistered convent, behind high walls, and no escape, and I was very naïve when I arrived in Atlantic City. I mean coming from a small town in Alabama borrowing shoes of high heels and taking the braces off my teeth. I had a ball.
NARRATOR: The minute Betbeze stepped off the train in Atlantic City, Slaughter knew she was looking at the next Miss America. « Yolande was the sexiest, most glamorous thing I had ever laid eyes on, » she later said. Slaughter’s new husband, a business manager for the Pageant, agreed. « She can’t lose, » he predicted, « unless the women judges run away from her. »
YOLANDE BETBEZE: I thought I was a little bit plain to be Miss America, but I knew that I would do well in talent as an operatic coloratura, and indeed I did… I did win the talent. The swimsuit was difficult. Fortunately, it was a suit in good taste, one piece, white, nothing very revealing. But even so, I mean to stand up for the first time in your life in front of fifty thousand people in a bathing suit is…is awkward. ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: The field is squared off at 16 curvaceous finalists. The winner is brown haired brown-eyed Yolande Betbeze, 21, of Mobile, Alabama.
NARRATOR: The morning after she was crowned, the new Miss America was summoned to a breakfast meeting, where she was to be briefed on her duties for the coming year.
YOLANDE BETBEZE: I did not know what to expect with this. So I arrived and they…all these…these suits were sitting about. Older men, board of directors, congratulated me and said now Miss Betbeze, this is what I represent, this is what you’re going to do for us. Then it came to the bathing suit, the most important sponsor. And this man said to me, November we’ll be in Wyoming, and you’ll wear this and that bathing suit. I said wait a minute please. No. No way. To…go into Milwaukee in the middle of the winter and walk around a department store in a bathing suit is not my idea of Miss America, scholarship foundation, the reason I’m here. And he really, really thought I had lost my mind. He couldn’t believe it.
RIC FERENTZ: I love the fact that she made the statement that she had to play their game to become Miss America and once she became Miss America they had to play by her game. I thought it was very bold of her to say to one of its major sponsors which was Catalina that she just wasn’t going to pose in a swimsuit, that she was an opera singer, she was not a pinup.
NARRATOR: Catalina withdrew its sponsorship of Miss America, and soon launched not one, but two pageants of its own — Miss USA and Miss Universe. Both judged contestants entirely on looks and absolutely required them to wear Catalina swimsuits.
VICKI GOLD LEVI: For the Pageant there was always this pull between the pulchritude and the pulpit. There was always this sort of dichotomy about how are you an upstanding, religious, well-educated girl and you could show your thighs and cleavage — which is always kind of a theme of America anyhow, sexuality and godliness. The Elvis Presley phenomenon. Shake your hips while singing « Nearer My God to Thee. »
NARRATOR: In the fall of 1952, the Pageant’s directors invited an up-and-coming Hollywood actress named Marilyn Monroe to serve as the Grand Marshall of the Boardwalk Parade. « She wore the first dress anybody had ever worn, » that year’s Miss America said later, « that was cut down to her navel. » Monroe was not asked back to Atlantic City.
NARRATOR: It had taken nearly three decades to transform Miss America from a local celebrity to a national phenomenon. But making her a household name would take just one night — September 11th, 1954, when Miss America would be crowned live on national television.
The Pageant’s board of directors had asked former Miss America Bess Myerson to provide backstage commentary for the viewers at home, and had even invited Academy award-winning actress Grace Kelly to judge the competition.
Now, as the cameras wheeled into position on Atlantic City’s Convention Hall stage, ABC sent out the broadcast signal — and television audiences coast-to-coast joined the Miss America finals already in progress.
ARCHIVAL: « Live from Atlantic City . . . «
LEE MERIWETHER, Miss America 1955: The only time I really noticed a camera was we were waiting to have the crowning. I saw a television camera, and it was coming toward us, so I thought, ooh it’s…it’s time. And then I saw Lenora Slaughter, the head of the pageant bringing a banner over, and she put it on my lap. She said, Lee, you’re our Miss America.
ARCHIVAL: 19 year old, Lee Ann Meriwether of San Francisco, California. She triumphed over 49 other…
LEE MERIWETHER: My head flipped back and that is all I remember. And I was crying hysterically. Crying, crying, I couldn’t stop, but I do remember my mother being pulled backstage. And my mother said, stop your sniveling. And that did it.
NARRATOR: More than 27 million people, nearly half of the television audience, watched the Miss America Pageant that night — in a broadcast that broke all records for TV viewership. « To think that folks out in Idaho could see this was just amazing, » one Pageant volunteer recalled. « It just knocked everything off the airwaves. »
WILLIAM GOLDMAN, Screenwriter: The Miss America contest was something that seemed very glamorous to all of us in the thirties and forties and fifties. But all we ever saw of it were snippets on newsreels in movie theaters. And then suddenly when television happened, here was this fabulous event and in that period it was incredibly popular. When you look at old black and white television now it looks so prehistoric, but my god, it was free, it was in your house, you could watch it. And it changed everything.
NARRATOR: By the second broadcast, the Pageant had been redesigned for TV, and a celebrity singer and announcer had been hired to serve as the regular master of ceremonies. The forty-year-old star of a popular TV program called Stop the Music; he was known to audiences across the country as the guy with « the smile you can read by. » His name was Bert Parks.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: Thank you very much. Thank you. Good Evening. What a wonderful audience …
LEONARD HORN: Bert Parks came along at just the right time. And his ability to be funny, to be extemporaneous, to be silly, and yet at the same time allow the women to be the stars of the show was a perfect, series of ingredients that the Miss America program needed at that time.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: « Hi. And this of course ladies and gentlemen is Miss Oklahoma. From what city please? » Miss Oklahoma: « I’m from Alva, Oklahoma. » Parks: « Alva? » Miss Oklahoma: « Alva. » Parks « What is the population of Alva? » Miss Oklahoma: « 7000. » Parks: « 7000. What’s Alva most famous for? » Miss Oklahoma: « Wheat and cattle and my daddy’s bakery. » Parks: « Golden Krust bakery, call him up tonight. »
VICKI GOLD LEVI: I don’t know if he would fly today, but he was really into the girls, the women, and that’s what made Bert Parks so different. He wasn’t a celebrity flown in on a Saturday night. He was there all week getting to know them. They trusted him. He loved what he was doing, and he really was one of the defining factors that made households and television households love Miss America. And when he sang « There She Is » that was it. There she was.
NARRATOR: Making its debut right alongside Parks was the official Miss America theme song. Composed in just under an hour by a New York songwriter named Bernie Wayne, the song was an instant hit. It would soon be as recognizable as the national anthem.
KATHY PEISS: It evokes a wedding with Bert Parks kind of giving away the… bride, or…in his youth he was more of the groom. It evokes the debutante ball. There is this real sense of suddenly being the most beautiful woman at the ball. And so there is this sense that this could happen to anyone, or at least that’s the fantasy, that this could happen to any girl.
JULIA ALVAREZ: We didn’t see a whole lot of what it was like to be an American woman. This was our little window into what it was like, what this world was like. It was a way to, I don’t know, climb the ladder of success. And so you know it was like watching a female version of a Horatio Alger story.
LEE MERIWETHER: I had no knowledge of the pageant really at all. I knew there was a Miss America Pageant, but I thought it was a quote unquote bathing beauty contest, and as such I would never have entered. And then my father passed away and just my life sort of stopped right there. And my mother said the money is no longer here, daddy’s gone and if you want to continue on with school, that’s the thing, go to Atlantic City.
GLORIA STEINEM: Beauty contests are ways that if you live in a poor neighborhood, you can imagine getting ahead because it is a way up. It is a way to scholarships, to attention, and it’s one of the few things that you see out there as a popular symbol. When I was living in a kind of factory working neighborhood of Toledo, the K-Part television Miss TV contest, something like that, was advertised. And I decided I would try to enter the contest even though I was underage. I think I was 16 and the limit was, was 18. So I lied about my age. It wasn’t a terrible experience. It was a surrealistic experience. You had to put on your bathing suit and walk and stand on a beer keg. I did three or four different kinds of dances. Spanish and Russian and heaven knows what. I thought I would get money for college. And it seemed glamorous. It seemed to me in high school like a way out of a not too great life in a pretty poor neighborhood.
NARRATOR: By 1958, Atlantic City’s local tourist attraction had become one of the most popular television events in the country. With networks competing over the broadcasting contract, and companies clamoring to provide the high-profile program with sponsorship, the Miss America Pageant could now afford to award over 200,000 dollars worth of scholarships. But winning money for college was only part of the Pageant’s appeal. As every contestant knew, being crowned Miss America on national television could turn a small-town girl into an instant celebrity.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: I’m sure you all realize, ladies and gentleman, what a frightening experience it is for these young ladies, most of whom have never appeared in public before much less here in the convention hall in Atlantic City before some 25,000 people and over a full television network.
NARRATOR: One of the contestants that year was Mary Ann Mobley, a nineteen-year-old drama major with her eye on the Broadway stage. A native of Brandon, Mississippi — population twenty-five hundred — Mobley had competed in her first pageant only two weeks before, at the personal request of Brandon’s mayor, and had walked off with the state title.
MARY ANN MOBLEY, Miss America 1959: Everyone was in shock. I said to my Sunday school teacher, I said, Miss Long I can’t believe I’m on the way to Atlantic City. I mean, I had seen the previous Miss America. She was tall, I mean her legs started at my armpits. And she had these wonderful features and long blonde hair, and I thought that’s what Miss America should look like and I’m nowhere near that.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: and now ladies and gentlemen, we come to the talent competition…
MARY ANN MOBLEY: Now I have to tell you that I had never sung with an orchestra. And there I was in front of two football fields put together. Well, I was panicked. And my horror was I was going to get out there and no sound was going to come out. And one of the stagehands tapped me on the shoulder and he said you go get ’em Mississippi.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: Mississippi, let’s bring her on…
MARY ANN MOBLEY: And they swagged the curtain and I thought I’ve got two options, I can run or I can walk out there. And I said I can’t embarrass my home state and myself by running away, I have to walk out there.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Mary Ann Mobley: Tonight as my talent, may I sing a portion of the lovely, « Un bel di » from Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly.
MARY ANN MOBLEY: And I started « Un bel di, » and it came out and it sounded okay. And then I said stop, but I’m tired of being proper and cultured and of appreciating Beethoven, Puccini and Bach …
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Mary Ann Mobley: I want to sing and dance to something that’s solid and hot. So, there’ll be some changes made.
MARY ANN MOBLEY: (SINGS) There’ll be a change in the weather and…
PAGEANT BROADCAST: (SINGING)…a change in the sea. And from now on, there’ll be a change in me. My…. »
MARY ANN MOBLEY: They started to applaud.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: (SINGING)…nothing about me’s going to be the same.
MARY ANN MOBLEY: And I said they like me, or else they’re just applauding that I’m not going to finish the aria.
RIC FERENTZ, Pageant Historian: I think Mary Ann was very popular because she was different. She was tiny and spunky and had a little bit of guts.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: Here is your question, Miss Mississippi. What is your favorite topic when with a young man for opening the conversation? Mary Ann Mobley: Well, I’ve read different articles that tell you how to get along with the opposite sex, and the first thing that they say is get him to talk about himself. So the first thing I ask is, Do you play football or what sport are you interested in? And then if he doesn’t say anything, then you say, Well, what are your hobbies? And you go down the line from there and if you can’t get him to answer you on any of those then you’re just quiet for the rest of the evening.
RIC FERENTZ: I think that she showed a different side to Miss America. A more girl next door type. I think that more young women could relate to Mary Ann than they perhaps could to the Miss Americas that had preceded her.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: First runner up, Joan Lucille McDonald, Miss Iowa. Miss America … Miss Mississippi.
MARY ANN MOBLEY: Once I won, I came unglued. I mean, I’m not talking about glistening tears. They were running down my chin onto my chest and my dress. CBS ran that for a long time because you really saw someone terribly, terribly affected by what was happening in her life. But I remember thinking, what am I … what am I doing here, no one’s going to believe this. And I’m not pretty enough to be Miss America, but here I am with a crown on my head. It’s real, and how could it happen to the little girl from Brandon, Mississippi. I think even now it evokes memories. I guess what I was really feeling was I was Cinderella.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: « Everybody’s got talent. »
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Over the years the talent competition has become the most significant and the most popular part of this decisive final night. The ability to be poised and personable in the living room is a far cry from the ability to be self possessed on the stage of this great convention hall before a live audience of 25,000 people and a television audience of many millions.
VICKI GOLD LEVI, Atlantic City Historian: I do remember a girl having a talent where she told us how she packed her suitcase. I definitely remember that. And illustrators were big. They had big pieces of paper clipped on and they would quickly do cartoon sketches and things.
WILLIAM GOLDMAN, Screenwriter: I have this great memory of this beautiful blonde girl from Wisconsin whose talent was telling a fishing story with an accent. And she was just beautiful. And it was…you were laughing at the screen even then, you couldn’t believe that that was her talent, telling a story with a Norwegian accent.
ISAAC MIZRAHI, Designer: I don’t really remember any of the talent except that it was always terrible you know and completely not interesting. And that you know what I used to think was a giant flop would get the biggest applause. Like I’d sit there thinking, wow that stank. And then the audience would just go mad, loving every second of it you know.
LEONARD HORN, Former CEO Miss America Organization: A lot of people sat back and laughed at it. I always thought it was kind of cruel to laugh at it because here was a young woman that was competing her little heart out for a coveted prize that was important to her. That’s what the program was all about. It was another reason why it became so popular because it was every woman and every woman was competing. And every woman is not an accomplished singer or an accomplished monologist.
MARGARET CHO, Comedian: If I had a talent I don’t know what I would do. I think that I would probably collate a script. Collate some new pages in a script. That’s…I’m really good at that, that’s probably my talent, or operating a three hole punch, I can do that pretty swiftly and, I’m probably the best at that.
ISAAC MIZRAHI, Designer: What would I do as my talent? I would probably sing a song.
GLORIA STEINEM, Writer: I wouldn’t enter but now I would I suppose read something I’d written.
JULIA ALVAREZ, Writer: As my talent? You know I worried about that. I mean there was a way in which I thought I could never be that, but it wasn’t just because of the beauty, I just didn’t have any displayable talents. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t dance. I had an accent, so I couldn’t do a dramatic part. And I sort of wondered what I would do.
NARRATOR: By 1960, the Miss America Pageant had become a national ritual. Each year, on the second Saturday in September, Americans gathered in their living rooms, switched on their sets, and settled in to see if their favorite contestant would capture the crown. Five times over the next decade, the Miss America Pageant was the highest-rated show of the year.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: With her beauty, brains, poise and talent, the American girl has become the most envied and admired girl in the world.
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon claimed it was the only program his daughters were allowed to stay up late to watch.
And all across the country now, little girls dreamed of becoming Miss America.
VICKI GOLD LEVI: It was this time when I sort of call the debutante era of the pageant, sort of the late ’50s, early ’60s, when everyone looked like they were at a cotillion with the high white gloves and the crinolines and the big hoop skirts and they were for god, motherhood and apple pie. They wanted to be good mothers, good wives. They wanted to be supporters of what their husbands chose to do, they wanted world peace.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Parks « This is a presidential election year. If a qualified woman were running for president, how would you feel about voting for her and why? » Contestant: If the men candidates running were qualified, I feet I would vote against her. My reasons being that women are very high strung and emotional people. They aren’t reliable enough when it comes to making a decision, a snap decision. I believe that a man in such a predicament would be able to make a more justifiable and better decision.
PAGEANT BROADCAST Parks « What in your opinion constitutes the ideal wife? » Contestant: « I imagine that the ideal wife depends entirely upon the viewpoint of the husband. »
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Parks « Some sociologists say that American women are usurping the place of the male in American life and have become too dominant. Do you agree or disagree and why? » Contestant: « I do agree w/that. I believe that there are far too many women in the working world. I can see many cases where this is a necessary arrangement, but I do feel that a woman’s place is in the home with her husband and with her children. »
LEONARD HORN: The concept of Miss America as an ideal American woman was consistent with society’s ideas of what an ideal young woman was. She was your everyday young girl who any man would be happy to call daughter, any man would be happy to call wife. Miss America was the American girl next door. She was an ideal that many women aspired to.
NARRATOR: Until now, the Pageant had managed to present a vision of ideal womanhood that most of the country shared. But by the mid-1960’s, the all-American girl-next-door was changing fast.
At a time when bikinis and miniskirts were all the rage, Pageant contestants continued to wear the regulation one-piece suits and dresses that fell within two inches of their knees. While anti-war protestors marched through the nation’s streets, Miss America was in Vietnam, touring with the USO. And in a moment of sexual revolution, the Pageant’s ideal remained wholesome and pure.
KATHY PEISS, Historian: Well, the pageant bore no relationship to the reality of life in the United States at that moment. The height of the Vietnam War, a period of great civil unrest, the civil rights movement and black power movements at their height, and the beginnings of a feminist movement. The birth control pill, the counterculture, the origins of the gay and lesbian liberation movement. All of these suggested that the pageant was terribly out of date and that it really was no longer relevant to the lives of women.
GLORIA STEINEM: It was a very exhilarating, affirming, funny explosion of rebellion and consciousness. It was partly about taking off the symbols, the gloves, the little white gloves, the dyed to match shoes, and in the middle of all of that, the artificiality of the Miss America Contest was an obvious kind of cartoon.
NARRATOR: In the spring of 1968, a 27-year-old writer and editor named Robin Morgan decided to take a stand — and with help from a group called New York Radical Women, she began laying plans for a protest at the annual Miss America Pageant.
« Where else could one find such a perfect combination of American values? » Morgan argued. « Racism, militarism, and capitalism — all packaged in one ideal symbol: a woman. »
ROBIN MORGAN, Writer: It seemed to me you know a sort of epiphany moment because it was the nexus of so many issues, beauty standards, money, women’s freedom, objectification of women, patriotism, and all of this somehow wrapped up in motherhood and apple pie or virgin hood and apple pie, in terms of Miss America. So it seemed like my god, what is not to dislike about this?
NARRATOR: Word of the protest soon reached Atlantic City, and pageant organizers braced themselves for the picket line.
It would be the first major demonstration of the women’s liberation movement in the United States.
ROBIN MORGAN: We had you know prepared for about maybe fifty people, and to do some guerilla theater, some songs, some chants, to picket on the boardwalk all day. What we had not counted on was that close to four hundred women showed up on the boardwalk. They came from all over. I mean they were carrying signs from Florida and from Wisconsin and some people drove from California, and that was just amazing. I mean it had clearly this protest tapped into something that was enormous and very, very moving.
GLORIA STEINEM: They put on the boardwalk a big trashcan and dumped in it all kinds of symbols of the stereotypical female role, a steno pad, a dust mop, an apron, a bra, all of these things. I think they never did burn those items because they couldn’t get a fire permit. Just shows you we’ve been too law abiding.
ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: singing « Ain’t she sweet. Makin’ profit off her meat. Beauty sells she’s told, so she’s out pluggin’ it. Ain’t she sweet. Ain’t she quaint with her face all full of paint. After all how can she face reality? Ain’t she quaint. »
NARRATOR: The demonstration soon drew a crowd of more than 600 spectators — most of them men, and nearly all unsympathetic. One suggested that the protestors throw themselves into the Freedom Trash Can.
ROBIN MORGAN: The threats, the epithets, the screams were mostly from guys who would, you know lean over the barricades and do the usual. I mean say sort of you know go back to Russia, you’re commie pinko lesbian crazy broom riding witches. You name it. You’re all too ugly to be in the Miss America Pageant.
NARRATOR: Inside Convention Hall, the Miss America contestants were running through one last rehearsal before show time. Outside, on the Boardwalk, the protestors were burning Bert Parks in effigy.
Parks was unfazed. When he got wind that one of the demonstrators was planning to infiltrate the Pageant finals that evening, he didn’t miss a beat. « I’ll grab her by the throat, » he said, « and keep right on singing. »
PAGEANT BROADCAST: 1968 Bert Parks sings, and Judy Ford crowned…
NARRATOR: Judy Ann Ford, an eighteen-year-old gymnast from Illinois, was the first blonde in eleven years to be crowned Miss America. « I’m so glad, » she gushed to the press that evening. « I feel like it’s a breakthrough. »
Meanwhile, just four blocks from Convention Hall, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, another ideal was about to be chosen.
Calling itself a « positive protest, » the Miss Black America Pageant had been scheduled to begin at midnight, in the hopes that newsmen would drop by when they left Convention Hall. It was nearly three in the morning before nineteen-year-old Philadelphian Saundra Williams was crowned. « Miss America does not represent us, » Williams told the audience. « With my title, I can show black women they, too, are beautiful. »
TRICIA ROSE, Cultural Critic: Miss Black America is of course an effort to say well, look, trying to be like a white person is not what’s at stake. But appreciating what is black is quite important. So Essence Magazine emerges. Black is beautiful, afros, you know, black women emphasizing that which is black as beautiful and so this was a way of saying, we exist as both a market and as a kind of esthetic really begins to take place in the late 1960s and gets even stronger in the late 70s and 80s.
NARRATOR: All the controversy of 1968 took its toll on Miss America. And before the year was out, Pepsi Cola, a sponsor of the Pageant for over eleven years, withdrew its support. « Miss America as run today, » the company declared, « does not represent the changing values of our society. »
LEONARD HORN: Society was swirling around it but the Miss America pageant stayed the same, continuing to worship an outmoded ideal. In fact, the powers that be at the pageant never did learn. They never did learn. They didn’t because they regard the Miss America pageant as sacrosanct. The Miss America pageant had developed a formula. The formula worked and nobody wanted to change it.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Bert Parks: « You know often I’ve heard it said, « Is Miss America relevant today? Well, is personal achievement relevant, is scholarship, is good citizenship relevant? We think it is. And we think it will be for a long time to come. »
NARRATOR: The Miss America Pageant still drew an enormous audience — reaching a peak, in 1970, of over 22 million households. But then the ratings started to slip — and the Pageant was finally forced to catch up with the times.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Song and dance number: « Call Me Ms. »
GLORIA STEINEM: It just seemed as if they were just trying to keep the lid on. You know they were just hoping against hope that…that somehow there wouldn’t be too many demonstrations or that the contestants wouldn’t stand up and raise a fist. You know somehow the people who ran the pageant were trying desperately to preserve it.
NARRATOR: The time had come for a new-style Miss America — and in 1973, the Pageant found one in an aspiring attorney from Denver, Colorado named Rebecca Ann King.
REBECCA KING DREMAN, Miss America 1974: I started watching it, the Miss America Pageant as a young girl and I wasn’t really sure that it was the kind of young woman that I was going to be, because I knew I was going to be president of the United States some day. The young women looked a little Barbie dollish to me. They looked a little too made up to me and a little too world peace and I just didn’t think I was that kind of young woman.
NARRATOR: King was finishing up her senior year at Colorado Women’s College, when a friend tried to talk her into entering the Miss America Pageant.
REBECCA KING DREMAN: I said what’s in it for me? She said there’s scholarship money so you can go on to law school. And so I said okay. I’ll think about it, but don’t tell anybody.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: King « During the past 23 years, my grandmother often said to me, that the character of the nation is determined through its womanhood. Through the practice of law, I hope to make a productive contribution to mankind, and find the happiness of a fulfilled woman. »
REBECCA KING: I was really in it for the money. And I think it shocked the pageant when I said I was in it for the money. And I didn’t think it was strange at all. I said what is it? It’s a scholarship program, right? Isn’t that what we’re here for?
PAGEANT BROADCAST: Parks « The winner of a 15,000 dollar scholarship and our new Miss America Rebecca Ann King, Miss Colorado… »
REBECCA KING: Well I didn’t fall apart as Miss America. Walked over, got the crown on, and I think my mother received maybe a hundred letters because I didn’t cry. She didn’t cry. What kind of Miss America do we have here on our hands walking down the runway not crying?
NARRATOR: For most Americans, the real surprise came later, when the new Miss America began speaking to the press — and came out in favor of legalized abortion.
REBECCA KING: It was right at the time of Roe v. Wade. I thought a woman ought to have the right to choose whether to continue with the pregnancy or not. And it just blew completely up and the Pageant never said not talk about it.
KATHY PEISS: Well the Miss America pageant in the 1970’s is faced with the growing politicization of women on both the left and the right. And one of the key moments of course is the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. So when Miss America comes out as pro-choice, inserting a political stand in the Pageant which had always seen itself as nonpolitical or apolitical it really is an important moment.
REBECCA KING: The pageant has always been a little behind the times, but it was definitely the ’70s. It was time for people to move on and the pageant was trying.
NARRATOR: The national press applauded Miss America’s new image. Even feminists, who had been protesting against the Pageant for half a decade, now called off their war and invited King to speak at the National Organization for Women’s annual convention.
Still Miss America’s television audience continued to shrink, edged out by competition from new cable networks and dismissed by younger viewers as old-fashioned.
LEONARD HORN: I think that a large number of people began not watching the Miss American pageant probably about the mid-70s. The ideals upon which the Miss America pageant appeared to rest no longer seemed very exciting or relevant. And I think we lost a generation of people.
NARRATOR: By the late 1970’s, Pageant organizers were desperate for viewers and casting about for ways to update the show. So they decided to fire Bert Parks, Miss America’s master of ceremonies for a quarter of a century.
It was later reported that the Pageant’s sponsors considered 65-year-old Parks « too old and too out of touch. » The decision caused such an uproar that Tonight Show host Johnny Carson even held an on-air campaign to get Parks reinstated. The Pageant replaced him anyway.
But a new host did not bring new viewers.
TRICIA ROSE: I was a teenager in the late-70s, and I, my recollection of the Pageant was that it just being a New Yorker, it just didn’t seem to reflect what the City looked like to me. So the pageant was a sort of helpful travelscape for me like oh this is what women look like in Texas and Florida. I was pretty much sure that the most blonde was going to be in the top two if not the number one slot. If a brunette was going to win, it was because of some other extraordinary traits that were compensating, but I very much understood it as a tall, blonde, you know, Southern woman’s festival.
MARGARET CHO: My father was very into it. And then, at one point when I was a little girl, I said oh I want to be one of those contestants. I want to grow up and do that, and he said no, oh no, you cannot do that, no. You know like, and I took it to mean that the beauty pageant was not open to all women. I mean my father thought that this whole pageant was fascinating and we would pick out the winners, but I was not allowed to even entertain the fantasy of becoming one of these women. And I thought well maybe I’m just not pretty enough. Maybe I’m just not white.
LENCOLA SULLIVAN, Miss Arkansas 1980: I remember always sitting in front of the television watching the Miss America every single year when I was a little kid, and I was the only one watching. Everybody else kind of went to bed, and I would be so excited, mom, mom, I got a … I chose the first runner up or the second runner up. But the interesting thing about that, I always kind of saw myself on stage as well, although no one looked like me. There was no one who looked like me.
NARRATOR: Twenty-year-old Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa 1970, had been the first African-American woman ever to compete in Atlantic City. In the decade that followed, there had been just ten other black contestants — and of those, only one had made the top five: Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas 1980.
LENCOLA SULLIVAN: You know I made history that night by being the first black woman to ever make top five in the Miss America Pageant’s history. And even though that was wonderful, of course I was sad that I didn’t make it to the top and didn’t walk away with the…the title of Miss America. That was actually one of the questions that was asked of me when I competed, was…is America ready for a black woman to become Miss America? And I said if Arkansas is ready, America is ready, but obviously America wasn’t ready.
NARRATOR: But in 1983, the 61st year of the Miss America Pageant, everything suddenly changed.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: 1983 Vanessa Williams singing and being crowned.
NARRATOR: A twenty-year-old musical theater major at Syracuse University, Williams had entered the Pageant in the hope of breaking into show business. Like so many Miss America before her, she wanted to be a star. But first, she would become a political symbol.
To some, the crowning of a black Miss America was a milestone in the struggle against bigotry. « Thank God I have lived long enough, » said Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, « that this nation has been able to select the beautiful young woman of color to be Miss America. »
KIMBERLY AIKEN COCKERHAM, Miss America 1994: I remember watching the pageant, and I don’t know that I had watched it before and I remember her singing. I remember her performance. I remember her being crowned, I remember thinking wow, she looks like me. This is something that I could do. I had never to that point thought that Miss America was something that was for me or something that I could do. So I think that that was a turning point for me. I think everybody was shocked, excited and just looking forward to having a year where there was a Miss America that was black and would get to do all the great things that every other Miss America had ever done. So I think it was just a time of excitement and anticipation.
NARRATOR: Williams’ fans made her the most heavily-booked Miss America in the Pageant’s history. Not quite ten months into her reign, she had already earned a record $125,000 in fees.
WILLIAM GOLDMAN: I remember talking to some pageant people and they said that the best Miss Americas they ever had was Vanessa Williams. Apparently she was just sensational. She was just the most verbal, bright, terrific seller of the Miss America contest they’d ever had.
NARRATOR: But there were those who considered Williams’ victory an affront. For the first time, Miss America received death threats and hate mail. When she made appearances in the South, armed guards had to be posted at her hotel room door. And even in the African-American community, there were those who assailed her for not being « black » enough.
Then, in July of 1984, Williams was informed that an unauthorized pictorial, featuring explicit nude photos she had posed for two years earlier, was about to be published in Penthouse magazine. Pageant officials were quick to respond.
ARCHIVAL: L. Horn press conference: « We do not believe that under the content and spirit of the rules as well as the contracts as well as the image of Miss America that she should remain Miss America and still give this particular program the vitality as well as the respect to which it is entitled. If we don’t draw the line here, where do you draw the line? »
LEONARD HORN: The sponsors were waiting on the sidelines. We had received a warning that if we didn’t handle this right, it didn’t turn out right, they were going to pull out. If they pulled out at the end of July, there would have been no money and no Miss American pageant in 1984. And there would not be a Miss America pageant today. That’s how close we came.
NARRATOR: Williams was given 72 hours to resign. She would be allowed to keep her scholarship and the money she had earned, but her title would be given to the first runner-up, Suzette Charles.
ARCHIVAL/Vanessa Williams: « It is one thing to face up to a mistake that one makes in youth. But it is almost totally devastating to have to share it with the American public and the world at large as both a human being and as Miss America. I put the session in the back of my mind and believed the photos would never be used for any purpose as the photographer had verbally assured me. I never consented to the publication or the use of these photographs in any manner.
NARRATOR: It was the first time in the Pageant’s six-decade history that a Miss America was asked to give up her crown.
KIM AIKEN: A lot of people were very disappointed. And I think any community, any minority community looks to their role models that are so accepted and are so loved by everybody as a point of inspiration, and maybe at that point it is, you are let down that okay, these are choices that she made that have caused a lot of embarrassment to her and her family but also to the black community.
TRICIA ROSE: I do remember feeling … incredibly sorry for her. I just felt that she was carrying the weight of this whole history of vicious stereotypes about black women and simply by trying to win the Pageant, she was in a sense trying to counter many of those stereotypes. And then to have these pictures emerge to undermine it was probably the most vicious way to have it because I would be stunned if she was the first Pageant contestant to have tried to raise money as a model by doing these kinds of pictures. I would be stunned if she were the first. But I wouldn’t be surprised if people were more interested in finding hers to undermine it because she in a sense you know, by definition threw the rest of the contestants into stark relief.
NARRATOR: The Vanessa Williams issue of Penthouse would ultimately bring in over 20 million dollars, the magazine’s all-time, single-issue sales record.
MARGARET CHO: You know what’s great about it is that she’s the only Miss America that anybody remembers, and she’s the only one that ever really became a star and that is what’s really great is that her … she has the most kiss my ass story that you can triumph over anything so she’s certainly a big hero of mine.
NARRATOR: For a time, the scandal revived public interest in the Miss America Pageant, and ticket sales for the 1984 finals rose by twenty percent.
That night, after only two months as Miss America, Suzette Charles walked the Convention Hall runway to a standing ovation, before crowning her successor: 20-year-old Sharlene Wells, a tall, blonde Mormon whom USA Today described as « squeaky-clean. »
NARRATOR: Confronted now by the possibility of scandals that Lenora Slaughter never could have imagined, Pageant directors drew up a new contestant contract, gradually adding dozens of regulations to which potential Miss Americas were subject.
KATE SHINDLE, Miss America 1998: That you’ve always been female, is one. Is that hilarious? You have to sign a contract saying I’ve always been female. There is, there’s a clause in the contract that you have never posed in the nude there’s always a clause that you can’t have ever, you can’t be the natural or adoptive parent of a child that you have never done anything that could possibly be interpreted as illegal, immoral, unethical, whatever. And everybody signs the contract, but who didn’t cheat on a second grade math test, you know what I mean?
NARRATOR: With the changes in the contract came a renewed campaign to portray Miss America as a « thinking woman » who could make a positive contribution to society. In 1989, Pageant officials introduced a new competition called « the platform, » which required contestants to demonstrate on ongoing commitment to a social problem — and to back it up with community service.
PAGEANT FOOTAGE: Miss Florida ‘Hello from the Sunshine State. I’m devoted to promoting unity through the celebration of our cultural diversity’ … Miss North Dakota, ‘I am devoted to encouraging youth to postpone their sexual activities …’
KATE SHINDLE: It’s one of those things that people love to make fun of. I’d love to, I support world peace and I want to give everyone a flower. It’s, it’s the kind of stereotype that we abhor that we really want to get away from, and the way of doing that at least in my mind is to show that we can walk the walk as well.
PAGEANT FOOTAGE: Kate Shindle being crowned? And talking about AIDS
KATE SHINDLE: Because I was talking about AIDS which was something people don’t necessarily associate with the sort of conservative, white bread grass roots Miss America organization, it got a lot of media attention I took some flack for talking to students about sexual activity, certainly about abstinence but also about safer sex. There are people who don’t want you to come to their high school and say things like that. But I will tell you that Miss America got me so much access. The fact that I was invited to speak at middle and high schools in middle America where they would never never invite an AIDS activist to come and speak to their kids. But they’ll roll out the red carpet for Miss America and hope she brings her crown was an enormous part of what I felt was effective during that year.
NARRATOR: More than eighty years after the first contest was held in Atlantic City, the Miss America Pageant still endures. It is one of the longest-running television programs in American history, seen by more than a billion people since its first broadcast in 1954.
It is also the single largest scholarship organization for women in the world. Each year, 1200 state and local pageants are franchised by the Miss America Organization. And each year, more than 10,000 young women enter those contests, all of them hoping Miss America’s crown will change their lives.
KIM AIKEN: I think every contestant that comes to Miss America has a different agenda. Some contestants and I remember even my year said, I don’t want to win this pageant, I really just want to be on TV. Some contestants come there because they want to be discovered by a modeling agency or they want to go into acting or broadcasting. Many contestants go because of their social activism. Many contestants go just because they have this idea of Miss America with the crown and the walking down the runway and many contestants go for that reason.
PAGEANT BROADCAST: 50’s contestant: I would love to be your next Miss America . . . it would enable me to further my studies at Sacramento State College … It would also give the opportunity to meet many wonderful people that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet … and it would considerably broaden my outlook on life … I would love to be your next Miss America.
MARGARET CHO: I think that women’s roles have changed so much in the last twenty years that we are constantly looking for the outside world to tell us who we are and that we really search for this sure identity, for this sure being of who we are and the pageant is one way of defining ourselves.
SARAH BANET-WEISER: It’s not you either love it or you hate it. It’s not it’s either good or bad. It just doesn’t fit that neatly into one of those boxes. I think that what civic rituals do is that they are stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. And I think that along with considering the Miss America Pageant as popular culture we needed to consider it as a civic ritual, as something that is about imagining citizenship and imagining, who we are, why we’re here, what we’re for.
WILLIAM GOLDMAN: I wonder, I don’t know, do little girls now of six and seven dream of being Miss America? I don’t know. Or do they dream of replacing Bill Gates, I have no idea.
AS IT HAPPENED
Judith Duffett, New York
On Sept. 7, nearly 150 women committed to women’s liberation from New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Florida, Boston and Detroit, converged on Atlantic City to protest the degrading image of women perpetuated by the Miss America Pageant.
Our goal was No more Miss America! Our objections to the Pageant, its racism (there’s never been a black contestant); its use of Miss America as a military mascot to entertain the troops abroad and symbolize the « unstained, patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for »; the degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie symbol which puts women on a pedestal/auction block to compete for male approval; the consumer con game which makes Miss America a walking commercial and oppresses all women into commodity roles; the cult of youth and the American institution of planned obsolescence which makes last year’s Miss America as stale as yesterday’s news and makes all women « useless » when they are no longer ripe for exploitation as sex objects, the Madonna/Whore image of womanhood which means that Miss America must be seductive in a bathing suit and at the same time be pure and untouched; and the whole idea of beauty contests, which create one « winner » and millions of insecure, frustrated losers, who feel they must meet the imposed standards of beauty or face disaster: « You won’t get a man! »
photo source: « The Liberated Woman’s Appointment Calendar And Survival Handbook, 1971, » by Jurate Kazickas and Lynn Sherr. Universe Books, 1970
Our purpose was not to put down Miss America but to attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant. We arrived on the Boardwalk at 2 p.m. Saturday and began picketing in front of Convention Hall. Some of our signs read: « Everyone is Beautiful, » « I am a Woman, Not a Toy, Pet or Mascot, » « Who Dares to Judge Beauty, » and « Welcome to the Miss America Cattle Auction. »
Guerrilla theater was used to illustrate some of our points. A live sheep was crowned « Miss America » and paraded on the liberated area of the boardwalk to parody the way the contestants (all women) are appraised and judged like animals at a county fair.
« Women are enslaved by beauty standards » was the theme of another dramatic action in which some of us chained ourselves to a life-size Miss America puppet. This was paraded and auctioned off by a woman dressed up as a male Wall Street financier. « Step right up, gentlemen, get your late model woman right here–a lovely paper dolly to call your very own property … She can push your product, push your ego, or push your lawnmower … »
The highlight of the afternoon was the giant Freedom Trash Can. With elaborate ceremony and shouts of joy, we threw away instruments of torture to women–high-heeled shoes, Merry Widow corsets, girdles, padded bras, false eyelashes, curlers, copies of Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, etc.
Throughout the afternoon activities, we were observed by some five or six hundred onlookers, mostly men, who were by turns amused, perplexed, and mostly enraged by our presence. The heckling was led by two young men: « You’re just jealous–you couldn’t be Miss America if you were the last man (?) on earth! » « Get back on your broom! » « Why don’t you go back to Russia? » « Which one of your girlfriends is your husband? » The women in the mainly lower middle class crowd by and large agreed with them. One woman, however, crossed the police line with her three children and joined us!
We generally ignored their jeers, but in the evening (we stayed until midnight), when the crowd was somewhat less hostile, we changed our tactics. Many of us put down our signs and went right up to the police line and began engaging in dialogue with the people. Two more women crossed the line to our side, though we did not make any noticeable conversions. But a dialogue was established, and women who had felt confused and hurt by the signs and leaflets which they didn’t understand and demonstrators with whom they could not identify, began to go through some changes in their heads when we started to talk to them personally. Proving what many of us have felt for a long time: women who are unreachable on most radical issues can be reached on this one, since it involves their daily lives.
Sixteen of us purchased tickets to the Pageant and from seats in the balcony near the stage, began a disruption as the outgoing Miss America was making her farewell speech. Although there was no TV coverage of the disruption (we were told later that one of the cameramen was about to pan to the balcony when he was told that if he did he would lose his job), the cameras and microphones did record the visible turning of heads and the stuttering and trembling of Miss America as we shouted « Freedom for Women! » and « No More Miss America » and hung a banner from the balcony reading « Women’s Liberation. »
The sixteen were quickly hustled out, and five were arrested, charges against them later dropped. Earlier Peggy Dobbins had been arrested and held on $1,000 bail. She was charged with disorderly conduct and « emanating a noxious odor » for spraying a can of Toni home permanent throughout the audience. The Pageant and city officials were undoubtedly sensitive on this area of commercial products. We had already declared a boycott of the products sponsoring the Pageant, of which Toni is one (the others are Pepsi-Cola and Oldsmobile). We expected that they would sweep Peggy’s case under the rug. Instead the charges against her were escalated to an indictable offense, with a possible sentence of two to three years.
All in all, the day was a tremendous success. We intend to be back in Atlantic City next year and every year until the Miss America Pageant is closed down. It may not take too long. There have been rumors that because of the disturbance, the Pageant next year may be taped with no studio audience.
We have also been in contact with a former Miss America who is on our side, and have heard from a woman who was asked to be a judge but declined, partly because she heard of our plans. I suppose it’s possible to have the Pageant without an audience, but you can hardly have one without contestants or judges!
‘BEAUTY OF THE BLACK WOMAN’
« There’s a need for the beauty of the black woman to be paraded and applauded as a symbol of universal pride, » said J. Morris Anderson, an organizer of the competing pageant. « We’re not protesting against beauty. We’re protesting because the beauty of the black woman has been ignored. It hasn’t been respected. We’ll show black beauty for public consumption — herald her beauty and applaud it. »
At Convention Hall, at least a few of the women pickets were Negroes. They were aware of the Miss Black America contest, but were not sure what they ought to do about it. « I’m for beauty contests, » said Mrs. Bonnie Allen, a Negro Bronx housewife in her mid-thirties. « But then again maybe I’m against them. I think black people have a right to protest. » « Basically, we’re against all beauty contests, » Miss Morgan said. « We deplore Miss Black America as much as Miss White America but we understand the black issue involved. »
NEGRO FINALISTS ACTIVE
While the Miss America finalists stayed out of sight, reportedly primping for their last show in Convention Hall, the eight Miss Black America finalists were out on the town acting like
beauty queens. They rode in open convertibles from the Ritz Carlton past the hall, around the business district and on into the Negro community. They waved white-gloved hands, smiled perfect smiles and showed off themselves as well as their elegant evening gowns in the afternoon sun.
They were cheered everywhere. The predominantly white strollers along the boardwalk waved and applauded. But nowhere was the reception more enthusiastic than along the main streets within the Negro community. Besides a motorcycle escort, they were accompanied by music makers with bongos, cowbells and flutes. And after their automobile tour, they went off to swim, party and wait for the midnight judging to begin. The final’s beginning coincided with the Miss America finale.
The Miss America Pageant and its sponsor, the Miss America Organization, has evolved from a beach-side showcase for frolicking bathing beauties to a competition that still includes bathing suits, but now emphasizes scholarships and social causes. In 1921 the winner of the first Inter-City Beauty Contest was crowned « Miss America, » and she won a first place prize of $100. The first pageant had only seven contestants from cities along the East Coast. Although the number of contestants and the pageant’s popularity increased throughout the decade, the event was closed down in 1927 due to growing criticism and charges of immorality, as well as a lack of financial support.
In 1933 organizers revived the pageant. By 1940, the pageant had regained its financial footing and respectability. It continued as a not-for-profit event; its official title became the « Miss America Pageant » and chose the Atlantic City Convention Hall as its permanent venue. The national executive director, Lenora Slaughter, shaped the modern pageant by adding features such as state competitions, the scholarship program, and a judging category based on personal interviews.
In the 1990s the pageant was reformed into The Miss America Organization, a not-for-profit corporation which comprised three distinct divisions: the traditional Miss America Pageant, the scholarship fund, and a Miss America foundation. The organization grants state franchises to one « responsible » organization in each state — usually the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). The state organization conducts a state competition in accordance with all the rules and regulations established by the Miss America Organization. These include having a panel of Miss-America-certified judges. The state pageant organizations, in turn, are responsible for reciprocal franchising of « responsible » organizations within each state to sponsor local and regional competitions. The local, state, and national organizations all rely on a vast army of volunteers and financial supporters to work throughout the year.
Contestants at all levels of the pageant compete in four categories: talent, evening wear, interview and physical fitness. Further, every Miss America state titleholder must select a platform for a social cause that is important to her. She spends her year’s service as a state winner advocating her issue. On the national level, Miss America also spends her year (since 1989, when the platform requirement was established) advocating her cause to the media, business people, public officials, and civic and charitable organizations.
The pageant competitions and the national broadcast are only one part of what the Miss America Organization does. The national and state organizations operate twelve months a year, raising scholarship funds from large and small businesses. The Miss America Organization’s main mission is to provide contestants with the opportunity to pursue their professional and educational goals through monetary grants and awards.
On the national level, scholarships are distributed as follows:
Miss America, $40,000
First runner-up, $30,000
Second runner-up, $20,000
Third runner-up, $15,000
Fourth runner-up, $10,000
Each of the five semi-finalists also wins $8,000. Each of the other 40 contestants receives $3,000. The three preliminary talent winners get $2000 each. The three preliminary swimsuit winners gain $500 each. One non-finalist interview winner is awarded $1,000. There are a number of other scholarship awards on the national level, including ten Bert Parks non-finalist talent winners, receiving $1,000 each, and a newly established Steinway Music Scholarship of $5,000.
Since establishing the scholarship program in 1945, the Miss America program has distributed more than $150 million in educational grants, making it the world’s largest scholarship program for women. Each year more than $30 million in diverse scholarships are made available to thousands of women who participate in local, state and national Miss America programs.
From its inception, the Miss America Pageant wrestled with its image. In the 1920s, pageant organizers worked to make it a sophisticated event. But critics such as women’s clubs and religious groups abhorred the display of the female form in public; it was not considered respectable behavior. Although Victorian values had relaxed, new freedoms for women — from the expression of more direct sexuality to winning the vote in 1920 — led to a general anxiety about women’s apparently loosening morals. To make matters worse, most of the women who flocked to the pageant came with hopes of landing a Hollywood or stage career, cashing in on their good looks but raising questions about their morality. The growing criticism caused pageant officials to shut down the event in 1928.
The economic depression of the 1930s brought a more conservative understanding of « proper » femininity. The ideal of the frugal homemaker replaced that of the flapper. Before the pageant could be revived, organizers had to create an event that had a higher moral tone. In 1935 Lenora Slaughter was hired to produce an event that was respectable and legitimate.
Lenora Slaughter, a Southern Baptist and businesswoman, had made a name for herself in St. Petersburg, Florida, by working tirelessly at the Chamber of Commerce to put that town on the map. Slaughter came to the Miss America Pageant on a six-week leave of absence from St. Petersburg. She ended up staying, and in time would become director of the pageant, in a reign that lasted until 1967. The pageant became her passion. She would bring the most significant and lasting changes to its structure.
The newly revived pageant of 1935 marked the beginning of a concerted effort to attract an appropriate « class of girl » to represent the nation with the title of Miss America. Unfortunately, Slaughter’s early years were plagued with scandal and notoriety. In 1935, a sculptor unveiled a nude statue of that year’s Miss America, Henrietta Leaver. Later, Miss America 1937, eighteen-year-old Bette Cooper, changed her mind about becoming Miss America and escaped in the middle of the night.
Slaughter initiated an all-out crusade to improve the pageant’s image. First, she banned contestants who held titles that represented commercial interests, such as newspapers, amusement parks and theaters. Contestants were required to carry the title of a city, region, or state. This distanced the pageant from the crass practices of other pageants where the connection between money and women displaying themselves in public was obvious. The contestants now had to be between 18 and 25 years old, and never married. And while in Atlantic City, they had to observe a 1 am curfew and a ban on bars and nightclubs. Slaughter initiated the talent competition in 1938, introducing the idea that the contestants could be judged on more than beauty.
Slaughter did not stop there. At the time, theaters, swimming pools, state fairs, and amusement parks ran local pageants. She persuaded local Junior Chambers of Commerce (Jaycees) to become sponsors, allowing parents to feel their daughters were in safe hands. Further still, Slaughter persuaded socialites from Atlantic City’s upper strata to act as hostesses and chaperones for the young women when they were in Atlantic City. A pageant judge once asked Slaughter what to look for in a winner. « Honey, » she said, « just pick me a lady. »
Slaughter’s most significant legacy is the Miss America scholarship program. « I knew that the shine of a girl’s hair wasn’t going to make her a success in life, » she wrote in her autobiography. Prizes before Slaughter consisted of such things as a fur coat, a Hollywood contract, or the chance to earn money modeling. In offering opportunities for advancement through education, Slaughter fashioned a pageant that appealed to middle-class sensibilities. Slaughter sat down and personally wrote about three hundred letters to businesses asking for college scholarship money that could be offered as the prize for the Miss America title. She initially raised $5000, and in 1945 the Miss America Pageant became one of the first organizations in the country to offer college scholarships to women. Lenora Slaughter died in December 2000 at the age of 94. By the time of her death, the Miss America Organization was the single largest contributor of scholarships to women in the United States.
The first African Americans to appear in the Miss America Pageant came onstage as ‘slaves’ for a musical number in 1923. It was not until 1970 that a black woman, Iowa’s Cheryl Brown, won a state title and made it to Atlantic City as a contestant. Lencola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas 1980, was the first African American to make it to the top five. In 1984 Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America, beginning the year as one of the best Miss Americas ever, in the eyes of many pageant insiders, but ending her reign mid-year amidst scandal.
The pageant’s long history of excluding women of color dates from its beginnings. At some point in the 1930s, it was formalized in the notorious rule number seven of the Miss America rule book. Instituted under the directorship of Lenora Slaughter, rule number seven stated that « contestants must be of good health and of the white race. » As late as 1940, all contestants were required to list, on their formal biological data sheet, how far back they could trace their ancestry. In the pageant’s continual crusade for respectability, ancestral connections to the Revolutionary War or perhaps the Mayflower would have been seen as a plus.
Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945 and daughter of Russian-Jewish parents, while technically eligible to compete under rule seven, sensed the far-reaching bigotry behind it. She had, after all, been pressured (unsuccessfully) to change her name to a less Jewish-sounding name. Myerson was the first Jewish Miss America — and the only one ever to be crowned, as of 2001. Myerson later recalled her discussion with Slaughter:
« I said… the problem is that I’m Jewish, yes? And with that kind of name it’ll be quite obvious to everyone else that I’m Jewish. And you don’t want to have to deal with a Jewish Miss America. And that really was the bottom line. I said I can’t change my name. You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson. »
In addition to Myerson, others had pushed the boundaries of the pageant’s unwritten and written rules for inclusion. In 1941 a Native American, Mifauny Shunatona, represented Oklahoma at the pageant, though there would not be another Native American contestant for 30 years. Irma Nydia Vasquez from Puerto Rico, and Yun Tau Zane from Hawaii, the first Asian contestant, both broke the color bar in 1948.
Asian American comedian Margaret Cho recalls watching the pageant: « My father was very into it. And then, at one point when I was a little girl, I said oh I want to be one of those contestants. I want to grow up and do that, and he said no, oh no, you cannot do that, no. …and I took it to mean that the beauty pageant was not open to all women. I mean my father thought that this whole pageant was fascinating and we would pick out the winners, but I was not allowed to even entertain the fantasy of becoming one of these women. And I thought well maybe I’m just not pretty enough. Maybe I’m just not white. »
By the 1960s there still had not been a black contestant. Following the advances of the civil rights movement, black Americans set up their own contest in 1968. Black communities had sponsored segregated black beauty contests for years, dating farther back than the Miss America contest. However, the 1968 Miss Black America Contest, held in Atlantic City on the same day as the Miss America Pageant, was organized as a direct protest of the pageant. On that same day, feminists staged a boardwalk demonstration protesting the pageant. The 1968 Miss America Pageant was confronted with its shortcomings on several fronts.
It was not until 1984 that Vanessa Williams of New York was crowned as the first black Miss America. Many likened her accomplishment to that of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball. Controversy followed Williams as, for the first time, Miss America recieved death threats and hate mail. By all accounts, Williams was doing an excellent job of representing the pageant at her public appearances. But halfway into her year, the discovery of pornographic photos of her forced Williams to resign. She had been pressured into posing for the photographs that she had been told would never appear in print. In 1984 they came out in the most successful issue of Penthouse magazine ever printed, netting publisher Bob Guccione a windfall profit of $14 million.
When Williams resigned, the media and the American public could talk of little else. Williams’ situation seemed to be about more than a single young woman’s error in judgment. Many people, both inside the black community and outside it, saw racial politics at the heart of the scandal, and debated how Williams’ race might have affected events. No matter how people viewed the scandal, Williams often was cast as representing not only herself, but also her race.
Vanessa Williams persevered, and went on to have a major recording career. Her runner-up, an African American woman from New Jersey named Suzette Charles, took over as the 1984 Miss America. Since then, there have been other black Miss Americas, as well as the first Asian Miss America, Angela Baraquio, Miss Hawaii of 2000. Today, the Miss America Pageant has made diversity part of its official mission.
Still, it is a particular kind of diversity. For recent historians and commentators, the question that is becoming most significant is how « diverse » a contestant can be. Is the pageant truly diverse, or is it peddling an outdated image of America as a homogenized melting pot? Do women of color need to fit the idealized white version of femininity that is the legacy of the pageant? Can more ethnic and racially diverse features be represented at the pageant? And can modern beauty even be reduced to a single, representative face? These questions are likely to be raised by the pageant for years to come.
October 19, 2000
Cheryl Brown Hollingsworth, now of Lithonia, Ga., is married and the mother of two married children. She hopes to be in Davenport for tonight’s pageant.
Thirty years ago a pretty and talented ballet dancer from Iowa set the international press spinning when she became the first-ever African-American contestant in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.
The fact that she came from a conservative Midwestern state like Iowa was doubly astounding to those who were reporting on the pageant, and she drew attention not only from newspaper and magazine writers around the world but from the security forces in Atlantic City, who were quite visible during rehearsals in Convention Hall.
Today, Cheryl Brown Hollingsworth of Lithonia, Ga., who was Miss Iowa of 1970, says, “Iowans were very accepting of me, but I think it took the country by surprise to realize that it was a young woman from Iowa who became the first African-American contestant.
“I don’t feel I personally changed the pageant,” Brown said in a phone interview from her home this week, “ but I feel that my presence expanded people’s minds and their acceptance. And, in subsequent years, they were much more open to African-American candidates.” She says, “I didn’t feel hounded by the press, but it was obvious that security was tight —especially at Convention Hall rehearsals when our chaperones weren’t always present.
“There were women’s lib protesters on the Boardwalk, and no one knew whether there would be more protesters because of the African-American connection.” The reigning Miss Iowa, Jennifer Caudle of Davenport, who will give up her crown tonight, is only the second African-American contestant from Iowa in the past 30 years.
Brown, who has been working in banking industry for 26 years, manages a financial center for First Union National Bank in Atlanta, Ga. Her husband Karl, formerly of Moline, is regional human resources manager for the Federal Express. Her mother-in-law, Mildred Taylor, still lives in Moline.
The couple has been married 28 years. Their daughter Etienne Thomas of Durham, N.C., finished law school in December and was married in January. Son Joshua also is married and is an Army paratrooper at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Brown was to have judged this week’s state pageant in Davenport, but a conflict with her job made that impossible at the last minute. At this writing, she planned to arrive in Davenport by Friday evening, operating on a very tight schedule. “I’ll be pushing it,” she said, “but I hope to make it.” She’d also hoped to be here for the 50th anniversary pageant two years ago, but had to cancel because of another conflict. “This would have been only the third pageant I’d have judged,” she said. She was an Iowa judge in the early ’80s.
Brown came to Davenport in 1970 as a student from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. As Miss Decorah, she won a college scholarship —then more scholarships from the state and national pageants, with an extra scholarship for being a non-finalist talent winner in Atlantic City.
These helped with her education at Luther College, where she met her husband.
Although she didn’t place in the coveted “top 10” in Atlantic City, Brown’s talent brought her back to the Miss America Pageant the following year. “I was one of the Miss America contestants chosen to go on a USO tour to Vietnam, and we were all invited back to the pageant.
“I think it was one of the last Miss America groups to go to Vietnam,” Brown said.
Because she was a New Yorker, Brown stayed in the Bettendorf home of Marge and Walter Steffens during her reign, because her title required her to maintain a Quad-City residence. The Steffens’ daughter Barbara was a friend of Brown’s. She remembers the fun she had shopping for her Atlantic City wardrobe —all at the expense of the pageant board.
Brown now keeps up with Miss Iowa news through a pageant newspaper.
She had hoped to come back for the 50th anniversary of the Miss Iowa Pageant in 1998, but another conflict prevented that.
“My daughter isn’t interested in pageants and is not a dancer,” Brown said. Brown’s father, who had been employed at a New York City airport, died three years ago, and recently her mother moved to Atlanta to be near her.
February 10, 2011
As we celebrate Black History Month and honor progress against racial and gender bias, it’s good to acknowledge some of the roadblocks that had to be overcome, especially for African American women.
In the 1960s, nobody had to tell me that a dark-skinned girl was ineligible to be Miss America; everybody knew the crown was reserved for white girls only. The rare occasions when the pageant included African Americans had been demeaning, such as the 1923 competition in which blacks played the roles of slaves during a Court of Neptune musical extravaganza. By the 1930s, the exclusion was made explicit with Pageant Rule #7, which required that Miss America contestants “be of good health and of the white race.”
By the 1940s, contestants were required to complete a biological data sheet tracing their ancestry as far back as possible —preferably to the Mayflower.
Not until 1970 would a U.S. state be so rebellious as to send a black contestant to the Miss America Pageant, and ironically it would be one of the whitest states in the nation: Iowa. The first black woman to win the Miss America crown was Vanessa Williams in 1983, a surprising triumph at a time when the prototypical “beautiful woman” in the mainstream culture of the day had a slim build, blonde hair and blue eyes.
Internalizing this racism, many black females put themselves through a torturous process trying to appear “less black” —straightening the kinks out of their hair, bleaching their skin, minimizing their curvaceous bodies and even occasionally clamping their wider noses with clothespins in a preposterous attempt to narrow them. They weren’t unaware of the consequences of skin color: Social science research would later establish that lighter-toned African Americans had better employment prospects than their darker counterparts.
But I had no doubt that attractive girls and women came in all colors, from pale porcelain to glorious ebony, as history has taught us. And if the Miss America pageant was too stubbornly prejudiced to see that, I decided, we should simply initiate a contest all our own. Maxine Craig, associate professor of women and gender studies at the University of California, Davis, took note of it in her scholarly paper ”Walking like a Queen: Learning to be Miss Bronze:”
On June 9, 1961 an Oakland, California black newspaper announced the beginning of the ‘first major beauty contest for Negro girls held in Northern California.’ Belva Davis, an energetic free-lance journalist, recruited contestants, trained them, found sponsors, a band and a banquet hall, sold tickets, arranged for press coverage and thus created the first northern California ‘Miss Bronze’ contest.
The pageant was open to unmarried African American women 17 to 25 years old, from the Oregon border all the way south to Fresno. I recruited contestants in the Bay Area via my newspaper column, my radio show and even church appearances. Eventually Sacramento, Merced and Fresno staged their own local pageants, with their winners advancing to the Miss Bronze Northern California finals. The winner and first runner-up, as well as the talent-competition winners, were awarded free trips to Los Angeles to compete in the Miss Bronze California Pageant finals.
I did everything I could to make the competition affordable to all young women. Entrance was free, as were the required charm school classes. We secured donated swimsuits for the contestants — always modest one-pieces, to keep the churches happy —and provided stipends for their evening gowns.
Today, few would consider the creation of a beauty pageant as a serious way to fight injustice, but it proved to be an effective tool four decades ago. The Miss Bronze contest gave our young contestants the confidence and self-pride they needed to pursue the dreams they held of breaking through the crust of doubts about their own self-worth. Simple things such as good posture, a confident smile, the rewards of volunteering–all helped the contestants define and aspire to become their best selves. Participation in the Miss Bronze California pageant opened the door to talented women of that era, some who continue to enjoyed long careers in the entertainment industry–like Oscar nominee (for The Color Purple) Margaret Avery, and Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue of The Fifth Dimension.
The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave me the comfort I needed to realize the value of what some saw as frivolous and demeaning to women. He said,
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Those words hold true today. Find a place where you can work toward equality, forget the name and go to work.
Belva Davis’s new memoir is Never in My Wildest Dreams; see an excerpt from it in the latest issue of Ms. magazine.
Photo of Marilyn McCoo of The Fifth Dimension performing in 1970, from Wikimedia Commons. McCoo won the Miss Bronze California pageant in 1962.
FOX News Magazine
September 13, 2013
The preliminary rounds for this year’s Miss America pageant are already under way in Atlantic City, with the final night of competition airing on ABC this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.
But before you settle down for an extravaganza of swimsuits, singing and sashaying, why not take a few minutes to learn a bit more about one of America’s favorite national pastimes? After all, there’s a whole lot more to Miss America than meets the eye (besides her hidden talent for playing the marimba).
Here’s a few of the most interesting stories, scandals and secrets surrounding the Miss America pageant.
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#1. The Miss America pageant started as a ploy to keep tourists on the Atlantic City boardwalk after Labor Day. In 1920, a group of local businessmen organized an event called the Fall Frolic, which happened to feature a rolling chair parade of young ladies. At the following year’s Fall Frolic, the parade was reworked as the Inter-City Beauty contest, and entrants were chosen through newspaper-sponsored photo contests. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman won the title of « The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America » and took home the Golden Mermaid trophy. She returned to defend her title in 1922, where she was informally dubbed « Miss America. »
#2. After Yolande Betbeze won the title of Miss America for 1951, she flat-out refused to wear or promote Catalina swimwear, one of the pageant’s sponsors. (Betbeze told the company she was a singer, « not a pin-up. ») Because of this, Catalina cut ties with Miss America and created their own beauty competition in 1952: the Miss USA pageant.
#3. To compete for the Miss America crown, a contestant can’t be married — but she can certainly be divorced. A rule change in 1999, which was applied to the 2000 pageant and onward, states that the contestants only need to swear that they’re unmarried, not pregnant, and not the adoptive or biological parent of a child (rather than the previous rule that required a Miss America contestant to swear that she had never been married or pregnant).
#4. California, Oklahoma and Ohio boast the most Miss America wins with six each. Nineteen states and two U.S. territories share the distinction of earning zero Miss America titles.
#5. In 2012, the widow of the songwriter who penned the familiar Miss America tune (« There she is, Miss America … « ) filed a lawsuit against the pageant. Phyllis Wayne felt that the song — written by her late husband Bernie Wayne — had been improperly licensed at the 2011 and 2012 ceremonies. A confidential settlement was reached in late 2012, but the song wasn’t heard at the 2013 pageant, and it won’t be heard at the 2014 pageant, either.
#6. Historically, there has always been a set of qualifying criteria that must be met in order to enter the Miss America pageant, but none was as controversial as rule #7. This rule, which was in place until 1940, stated that « contestants must be of good health and of the white race. » To satisfy this requirement, Miss America hopefuls were required to trace their ancestry back through as many generations as they could.
#7. The first and only Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson, was crowned in 1945. She was pressured to change her name to « Beth Merrick » for the pageant, but the Bronx native told her pageant director that she wouldn’t do it. « I said … the problem is that I’m Jewish, yes? And with that kind of name it’ll be quite obvious to everyone else that I’m Jewish. And you don’t want to have to deal with a Jewish Miss America, » Myerson recounted. « And that really was the bottom line. I said I can’t change my name. You have to understand. I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I’m the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson. »
#8. Television and radio announcer Bert Parks has hosted more Miss America pageants than anyone else, having emceed the event every year between 1955 and 1979. When he was fired at the age of 65 (organizers were trying to revamp the show for a younger audience), Johnny Carson staged a « We Want Bert » campaign to get him reinstated. It didn’t work, but Parks was eventually invited back to appear as a guest for the pageant’s 70th anniversary in 1990.
#9. Prior to becoming an Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning actress, Cloris Leachman competed in the 1946 Miss America pageant as Miss Chicago. (In the pageant’s earlier years, delegates representing larger metropolitan areas such as New York City and Chicago were allowed to enter alongside delegates from New York State and Illinois. After complaints, the pageant did away with these positions — as well as the position of Miss Washington D.C., albeit temporarily.)
#10. The morning after winning the title of Miss America at the 1937 pageant, Bette Cooper decided she didn’t want to commit to the role and ran off with a man (by motorboat, some say). She opted to return to school instead of fulfilling her Miss America duties, and no other contestant was awarded the title in her stead.
Vintage Powder Room
a window into the past
1 Jul, 2012
All hail the Queen! The Regina hair net envelope suggests that any wearer of the net inside will become a queen. Well, a hair net is much easier to wear out in public than a jeweled crown is — unless you’re Miss America.
The Miss America Pageant was conceived in Atlantic City. The Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City devised a plan that would keep profits flowing into the city past Labor Day, which was when tourists traditionally left for home.
The kick-off event was held on September 25, 1920, and was called the Fall Frolic. Who could resist an event in which three hundred and fifty men pushed gaily decorated rolling wicker chairs along a parade route? The main attractions were the young maidens who occupied the chairs. The head maiden was Miss Ernestine Cremona who, dressed in a flowing white robe, was meant to represent peace.
The Atlantic businessmen had scored a major success with the Frolic. They immediately realized the powerful appeal of a group of attractive young women dressed in bathing suits, and so a committee was formed to organize a bather’s revue for the next year’s event.
The bather’s revue committee contacted newspapers in cities as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Washington, D.C. asking them to sponsor local beauty contests. The winners of the local contests would participate in the Atlantic City beauty contest.
Atlantic City newspaperman Herb Test reported that the winner of the city’s pageant would be called Miss America.
The 1921 Fall Frolic was five days of, well, frolicking. There were tennis tournaments, parades, concerts, a fancy dress ball and SEVEN different bathing divisions! If you were in Atlantic City during those five days and not dressed in a bathing suit you would have been out of place. Children, men, even fire and police personnel, all were in bathing suits. There was a category created specifically for professional women, and by professional the pageant’s organizers didn’t mean corporate women, secretaries or hookers, they meant stage and screen actresses.
The first Miss America was chosen by a combination of the crowd’s applause and points given to her by a panel of artists who served as judges. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman (30-25-32), who bore a strong resemblance to screen star Mary Pickford, was proclaimed the winner. Gorman was crowned, wrapped in an American flag, and presented with the Golden Mermaid trophy and $100.
Atlantic City expanded the frolic during the 1920s and the number of contestants grew to 83 young women from 36 states. The event drew protestors who thought that the girls were immoral — why else would they be willing to parade around in bathing suits in public? The organizers countered the protests by publicizing that the contestants were wholesome, sweet young things who neither wore make-up, nor bobbed their hair.
Louise Brooks, bobbed haired beauty.
With the runaway success of the Atlantic City pageant, other groups saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon by promoting their own ideals of beauty. The 1920s saw pageants for a Miss Bronze America, and even the Ku Klux Klan staged a pageant for Miss 100 Percent America! It’s difficult for me to visualize a woman wearing a bathing suit and one of those dopey conical hats.
For the next several years the Atlantic City pageant continued to thrive and to change. One of the changes was in scoring. How does a panel of judges determine a beauty contest winner? By the mid-1920s a points system was established: five points for the construction of the head, three points for the torso, two points for the leg…I’m wondering just how many points a perky rounded posterior was worth.
In 1926, Norma Smallwood, a small-town girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was crowned Miss America. She parlayed her reign into big bucks. She reportedly made over $100k — more than either Babe Ruth or President Calvin Coolidge!
Smallwood appears to have been the first Miss America who realized that her crown was a business opportunity. When she was asked to return to Atlantic City in 1927 to crown her successor, she demanded to be paid. When the pageant reps didn’t come forward with a check, Norma bid them adieu and headed for a gig in North Carolina.
By 1928 women’s clubs, religious organizations and other conservative Americans went on the attack and accused the organizers of the Miss America Pageant of corrupting the nation’s morals. One protester said, “Before the competition, the contestants were splendid examples of innocence and pure womanhood. Afterward their heads were filled with vicious ideas.”
Still from OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (1928)
The controversy over the beauty contest scared the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce so badly that, in 1928, they voted twenty-seven to three to cancel the event!
The stock market crash and resulting economic depression made the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce rethink the event, and it was revived 1933.
In 1933, thirty young women were brought to Atlantic City aboard a chartered train called the Beauty Special.
The Atlantic City Press newspaper reported:
“Queens of pulchritude, representing 29 states, the District of Columbia and New York City, will arrive here today to compete for the crown of Miss America 1933.
The American Beauty Special train will arrive at the Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad Station at South Carolina Avenue at 1:20 p.m. to mark the opening of the eighth edition of the revived Atlantic City Pageant. The five-day program will be climaxed Saturday night with the coronation ceremonies in the Auditorium.
A collection of blondes, brunettes and red heads, will assemble in Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, this morning, and the beauty special will leave at 11:55 a.m.”
It is surprising that more women didn’t participate in the 1933 Miss America pageant. In the midst of the Great Depression the contest prizes sounded fabulous, “Wealth and many honors await the Miss America this year. She will receive many valuable prizes and a cash award as well. In addition, she will have opportunities to pursue a theatrical career.”
Some of the contestants may have believed the stories related in rags-to-Broadway-riches films like GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. The opportunity for a girl to win a part in a film or on Broadway would have been a potent lure for those who saw themselves as the next Joan Blondell or Ruby Keeler. I can imagine many of the Miss America hopefuls on the Beauty Train singing WE’RE IN THE MONEY.
The 1933 winner was Marian Bergeron, a talented girl from Westhaven, Connecticut. She was poised for a shot at stardom until the newspapers reported her age; she was only fifteen. Her young age put a damper on an offer from RKO, but she was buoyed by a two year reign – no pageant was held in 1934.
During the 1930s the Miss America pageant continued to be viewed by many as a circus of sin. In October 1935 a scandal rocked the contest.
Less than a month after seventeen-year-old Henrietta Leaver had been crowned Miss America, a nude statue of her was unveiled in her hometown of Pittsburgh.
Henrietta swore up and down that she had worn a bathing suit when she posed for the statue, and she also said that her grandmother had been with her each time she had posed. Nobody bought Henrietta’s story and the image of the Miss America pageant was further tarnished.
One of my favorite Miss America contestants of the 1930s was Rose Veronica Coyle (1936 winner). Rose was twenty-two when she won title of Miss America. Rose wore a short ballet shirt with a white jacket, brightened by huge red polka dots, and sang “I Can’t Escape from You”.
Rose Coyle, Truckin’
She then wowed the judges with her eight-minute long tap dance routine performed to TRUCKIN’. The audience loved her so much the judges allowed her an encore — the first in the pageant’s history.
The Miss America Pageant lost its venue after WWII broke out because it was needed by the military. Rose Coyle and her husband, Leonard Schlessinger (National General Manager of Warner Bros. Theaters) saved the day by relocating the Miss America Pageant to the Warner Theatre on the Boardwalk. It would be the pageant’s home until 1946.
Beauty Pageants, Miss America, Miss American Rose Day
In What Day is it?
October 20, 2009
In thousands of beauty pageants across America, she stands there, an aura around her as she tries with all of her might not to squint under the bright, hot kleig lights causing tiny beads of sweat to form on her forehead, as she focuses on holding that perfect vasoline-covered smile, praying not to trip on the dress while walking past the dimly-lit judges’ table in front of the stage….
Origin of Modern-Day Beauty Pageant
In 1921 the Businessman’s League of Atlantic City, a fun-loving group of guys to be sure, decided to hold what they called a ”Fall Frolic.” Sticking wheels on 350 colorful wicker chairs, the organizers decorated them and assembled together scores of attractive women to pose on the chairs, as men pushed them down the Boardwalk. The spectacle was such a success (go figure) that organizers decided to ask cities far and wide to run photo pageants in their newspapers, perform state-wide runoffs, and send all the winners to Atlantic City the following year as state representatives. A local newspaperman, Herb Test, spoke up and stated that the ultimate winner should be crowned “Miss America.” Although only a handful of states sent women the next year, an empire was born, changing how beauty was perceived for decades to come.
The nationalizing and glamorizing of beauty pageants significantly helped to standardize what it means to be “beautiful” in America. Oh, I’m not trying to villify the Billion-Dollar pageant industry…. They were only building on the commercial success that came with parading a steady stream of female cinema bombshells in Hollywood. It’s no coincidence that the first winner of the Miss America Pageant was 16-year-old Margaret Gorman, noted to have been popular because she looked like then-famous movie starlet Mary Pickford.
Little girls in small towns scattered across America read about the annual winners, pouring over photographs of the contest in their local papers. Quite a bit more than a handful of young women began that dream of competing someday in what has become over 1,200 local and state-level pageants leading to the now televised national pageants, hoping to be picked (by the new pageant ”experts,” tape measure in hand) as perfect.
Eating Disorders : The 800 lb. Gorilla in the Room
A Johns Hopkins University study showed that the average contestant on Miss America is 5’7″ talls, weighs in at a feathery-light 120 lbs., and has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5, placing her squarely in the undernourished category for her height. This is to be compared to the average American woman, with a height of 5’4″, weighing 142 lbs., with a BMI of 24.4. In other words, to be considered as the next nationally televised representative of American beauty, a young women has to put serious consideration in joining the population of those residing deeply in the territory bordering an eating disorder.
My three young girls see the woman who is pressed forward by the crowd, to cut the ribbon on the new mall’s ground-breaking with impossibly large scissors. They see the happy young girl waving from the car passing by on the parade, the one in the beautiful white formal. My girls are health, having been known to turn down seconds at the dinner table many a time. Despite these continual exercises in self-control, they don’t see the same figure in the mirror as those that represent our shared ideals of shapeliness. How easy it must be for them to equate success in life with that waif-like figure paraded in front of them in magazines and on television, in music videos and commercials. I work hard to make sure they understand the difference between perception and reality…
It is estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health that between 5-10% of all women in America suffer from eating disorders, and up to 15% have had issues with them in their lives. Women have begun to fight back at this impossible body image, demanding a more realistic view of what is considered beautiful by the media, often lashing out at the beauty pageants, television conglomerates, and fashion industry.
From Skinny to “Fit”
She looks fat?
She looks fat?
Beauty pageant marketers have heard the complaints, simply moving their message from thin to the more popular image of “fit,” adding the word “fitness” to describe swimsuit competitions, as though to wear a skinny slip of fabric is akin to a sporting activity. My Dad used to watch pretty much any sport that was on television, including of all things Bass Fishing. If they had grass growing competitions, I am sure he would have owned a hat with Kentucky Blue Grass emblazoned on it. To my surprise, he also loved to watch Women’s Baskeball. I’m not always sure it was for the right reasons… The players looked pretty fit to me. The average female Olympic women’s basketball player (a Hell of a lot taller, fitter and thinner than the average woman) coincidentally has a BMI averaging 24.4, same as your typical, much shorter red-blooded and totally hot American female.
There is nothing fit in the rapid (and dangerous) weight-loss regimen that one not-long-ago Miss America winner underwent, going from a size 7 to a size 2 in just four months in preparation for the competition. I seriously doubt she played basketball to get in that condition. Our girls cannot (and should not) try to keep up with this dangerous example of American “fitness.” They don’t wind up on stages with tiaras after that type of behavior. They wind up in hospitals.
The Addition of “Good Causes”
National and International Beauty Pageants have further pushed away the issue of eating disorders by brandishing before them (and perhaps hiding behind) a variety of wonderful causes they support financially, including AIDS Education, Women’s Rights, School Violence and Breast Cancer Awareness. They are certainly incredible, worthy causes. I believe in and support them all, in case an apologetic wants to bash me over the head with one. But the pageants continue to fail to take on the 800 lb. gorilla in the room head-on, undertaking the loosening of what body style has to be met to compete and win. What better way to create a more healthy, positive body image for our daughters, one that empowers them to stop looking in the mirror so much and begin looking more seriously at their educations, than to change what they physically see in beauty pageant winners? In that girl who cuts the ribbon or waves in the parade?
Even Barbie is No Longer Skinny Enough…
French Shoe Designer Christian LouBoutin recently complained that he felt that Barbie, the perennial American doll that pretty much everybody acknowledges has impossible proportions, has cankles. Yes, fat ankles. He wants the doll redesigned to have skinnier ankles. Thanks, jerk.
Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton (size 4) sparked controversy in the news recently, stating she was let go for being too fat to fit in the clothing provided to her for photograph sessions. In support of these statements, fashion shots of the 5’10″ 120 lb. model were produced to the media, doctored in order make her hips appear even skinnier than her head, because a size 4 was not small enough to produce the desirable eye-candy on a sailboat look…
The Power of Beauty
There is no mistaking the power of attractiveness. Have we been trained to believe that beautiful people somehow possess greater faculties of the mind, or a deeper reservoir of essential, earthy goodness? Researchers have shown that when handing in homework of equal merit, more attractive students get higher grades on average by their googly-eyed teachers. More attractive criminals tend to get lighter sentences from their jurors. Less attractive people earn less than average-looking people, who make less than more attractive workers holding similar positions.
Where Does It Stop? Who Will Take a Stand?
Thank you Miss American Rose!
Thank you Miss American Rose!
The Miss American Rose Pageant is very unlike other pageants. Competitors of all ages are not invited to attend at a particular location, instead mailing in their applications to pageant headquarters. That’s right, mail-in. There are no travel expenses, no clothing and hairstyle costs, no hotel rooms and trainers, no poise school and singing lessons, no tape under the boobs, no wardrobe malfunctions, no stupid answers to canned questions. And definitely no itching powder in a competitor’s swimsuit.
The competition is based largely on a girl (or woman’s) lifetime achievements, rather than being almost wholely focused on one’s appearance and poise. There are optional competitions based on academics, talent, community service, career, and finally beauty. But before you roll your eyes, the beauty portion of the pageant is based on either photograph or written essay, as outer and inner beauty are each being considered as having their merit..
I have to stand and applaud the Miss American Rose Pagaent. They have shirked the standardized beauty specifications, put down the tape measures and scales, and allowed the definition of what is beautiful to return to the eye of the beholder. They have drawn forth and celebrated the inner beauty in each and every girl and woman, empowering and pushing them to be leaders, teachers, and examples for all of us.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, Miss American Rose Pageant. My daughters and I love you.
Women’s History entry
Newspaperman Horace Greeley publishes a landmark book by journalist and social reformer Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. The work argues for women’s equality in all aspects of life.
Women’s History entry
Leading women in early feminist movement American women move further into the public sphere; the first Women’s Rights Convention is held at Seneca Falls, New York.
Women’s History entry
Amelia Bloomer begins her crusade to reform American women’s fashions.
Miss America entry
P.T. Barnum’s efforts to launch a live beauty contest are unsuccessful. Respectable women do not parade their beauty in public. He launches a picture-based beauty contest sponsored by local newspapers. It is highly successful and imitated.
Civil War soldier holding flag The nation is divided in two as North and South clash in the U.S. Civil War.
January 1: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation.
Miss America entry
The first recorded bathing beauty contest takes place at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Inventor Thomas Edison is a judge. A bridal trousseau is the prize. Contestants must be under 25, not married, at least 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weigh no more than 130 pounds.
Women’s History entry
November 18: Journalist Nellie Bly sets off to travel around the world in under 80 days.
Women’s History entry
An umbrella organization, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, is formed. Women’s clubs are venues for women’s education and development, and will increasingly focus on community service.
In a second wave of U.S. immigration, people from Eastern Europe and Italy come to America.
Miss America entry
The Chicago Columbian Exposition features a Congress of Beauty.
Women’s History entry
The National Federation of Afro-American Women is formed. A year later it joins with the League of Colored Women to become the National Association of Colored Women.
U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson rules that segregation is not unconstitutional. The doctrine treating African Americans as « separate but equal » holds for the next half century.
Rough Riders, San Juan American soldiers fight the Spanish American War in Cuba and the Philippines.
Women’s History entry
The National Women’s Trade Union League is formed.
Women’s History entry
November: McClure’s Magazine publishes the first installment of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s exposé, The History of the Standard Oil Company.
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Swimmer Annette Kellerman is arrested for indecent exposure while trying to popularize a one-piece swimsuit worn with tights rather than bloomers.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded.
World War I begins in Europe.
D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is the first full-length feature film in the new motion picture industry. It portrays the Ku Klux Klan as American heroes.
The new sound recording industry begins a phase of rapid growth.
World War I poster The U.S. enters World War I. Of the 4.3 million American soldiers who fight, 126,000 are killed. The total number dead in the bloodiest war mankind has ever seen is 8.5 million, from over a dozen nations.
Women’s History entry
Meter readers The First International Congress of Working Women meets in Washington, D.C.
The Red Summer: widespread anti-Communist sentiment, racial and labor unrest, and the aftermath of war combine and cause the nation to erupt in violence.
prohibition January: The Eighteenth Amendment makes the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquors illegal.
Women’s History entry
August: The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified, giving women the right to vote. The National League of Women Voters is organized.
Miss America entry
Margaret Gorman with other contestants September 7: The first Miss America Pageant, called the « Inter-City Beauty Pageant, » takes place in Atlantic City as a part of a Fall Frolic to attract tourists. There are seven contestants. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, D.C., wins the title, Miss America.
Miss America entry
September: The Inter-City Beauty Contest grows in popularity, attracting over 70 contestants. After pageant officials forget to include a « no marriage » rule, it is discovered that « Miss » Alaska, Helmar Leiderman, is not only married but is also a resident of New York.
Miss America entry
September: Mary Katherine Campbell becomes the only woman to win the Miss America title two years in a row. Pageant officials subsequently establish a rule that a woman cannot hold the title more than once.
The Immigration Act establishes a national quota system for limiting immigration.
Miss America entry
Norma Smallwood, Miss America 1926, makes $100,000 in appearance fees, an income higher than either Babe Ruth or the president of the United States.
September: Baseball star Babe Ruth hits record-breaking home run number 60. All the people in attendance wave handkerchiefs in his honor. The record will stand for over 3 decades.
Miss America entry
Religious groups and women’s clubs protest the loose morals of young women in the pageant. Bad press plus financial trouble shut the pageant down between 1929 and 1932.
Unemployment lines October 24: The stock market crashes. The Great Depression begins.
March 25: Nine black youths are accused of the rape of two white women in Paint Rock, Alabama. The Scottsboro boys’ case becomes one of the most significant legal fights of the twentieth century.
Women’s History entry
Female nurse May 20: Amelia Earhart is the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She becomes a Depression-era hero and advocate for women’s equality, saying, « A pilot’s a pilot. I hope that such equality could be carried out in other fields so that men and women may achieve equally in any endeavor… »
Miss America entry
September: Atlantic City sponsors revive the Miss America Pageant. Fifteen-year-old Marian Bergeron is Miss America 1933. Age requirements are instituted afterwards requiring contestants to be between 18 and 26.
Miss America entry
Sometime in the 1930s a pageant rule is established requiring contestants to be of the white race.
Women’s History entry
Union membership among women in the U.S. increases threefold, to almost 20% of the female workforce.
Franklin Roosevelt President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated.
Miss America entry
– Pageant officials hope to re-invent the pageant. They hire Lenora Slaughter to do the job for six weeks. She will stay for 32 years, serving as the pageant’s director.
Miss America entry
Winner Bette Cooper changes her mind about being Miss America, and flees Atlantic City.
Farmer Dust Bowl farmers in the Great Plains suffer the effects of severe dust storms as well as economic hard times.
Miss America entry
A « society matron » chaperone system is enacted, to keep pageant contestants away from scandal.
Miss America entry
A talent competition is added as part of the scoring process.
Miss America entry
Contestants are no longer allowed to represent cities, resorts, or theaters. Instead, they are required to represent states.
April: RCA’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC) broadcasts the opening of the New York World’s Fair. One of the first television sets is displayed at the Fair.
September 1: Germany invades Poland. World War II begins.
Miss America entry
September: The pageant is officially dubbed the Miss America Pageant and moves into Atlantic City’s Convention Hall.
Pearl Harbor December 7: The Japanese bomb a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. A day later, President Roosevelt declares war on Japan and the U.S. enters World War II.
Women’s History entry
Women working for war effort Women’s employment rises dramatically as women take on new wartime jobs.
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Miss America is transformed into an emblem of patriotism. Miss America 1942, Jean Bartel, turns down a lucrative movie offer to sell a record number of war bonds.
Women’s History entry
Women’s branches of armed forces are formed, including the Army WACS, the Navy WAVES, the Coast Guard SPARS, the Marines MCWR, and the Army Air Force’s WASPS. Women are six percent of the armed services.
January 22: More than 17 months after news of Hitler’s plan to annihilate Europe’s Jews reaches the U.S., President Roosevelt issues an executive order to establish the War Refugee Board.
Miss America entry
Director Lenora Slaughter raises $5000 to launch the Miss America scholarship program. Previously Miss America is offered furs and movie contracts. Now she is offered funds for college. The original scholarship patrons are: Joseph Bancroft and Sons, Catalina Swimwear, F.W. Fitch Company, and the Sandy Valley Grocery Company. She also enlists Junior Chambers of Commerce across the country to sponsor local and state contests.
Miss America entry
September 8: Bess Myerson becomes Miss America 1945, the first Jewish Miss America and the first winner of the scholarship program. She plans to study conducting.
Miss America entry
Bess Myerson receives few offers for appearances and product endorsement. America appears not to be ready for a Jewish Miss America. Myerson decides to spend her year speaking for the Jewish Anti-Defamation League on the topic, « You Can Not Be Beautiful and Hate. »
May 8: V-E Day. President Harry Truman announces the end of the war in Europe via radio.
September 2: V-J Day, when Japan formally surrenders, ends World War II.
Miss America entry
Lenora Slaughter bans the phrase « bathing suit »– the garments are to be called « swimsuits. »
The Baby Boom begins. The birth rate will rise dramatically over the next decade.
Miss America entry
Lee Meriwether September: For the last time, Miss America is crowned in a bathing suit. Afterwards, winners are crowned in evening gowns.
Women’s History entry
June 12: President Harry Truman signs into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, enabling women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed services. The law limits the number of women that can serve in the military to two percent of the total forces in each branch.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is formed.
A « Cold War » develops between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Korean woman and child June: North Korea invades South Korea. President Truman commits U.S. troops.
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September: Yolande Betbeze sings an operatic aria and is crowned Miss America 1951. Catalina Swimwear withdraws sponsorship of the pageant after Betbeze refuses to appear in public in a swimsuit.
Dwight Eisenhower is elected president.
Miss America entry
Catalina inaugurates the Miss Universe and Miss USA Pageants, two years after withdrawing support for the Miss America Pageant.
June 2: Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in England.
Miss America entry
ABC approaches the pageant about televising the event. Fearful of losing the Atlantic City audience to TV, pageant officials say no. Movie star Eddie Fisher hosts the pageant.
September: Alfred Kinsey’s report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, challenges many myths about sexual behavior in American society.
December: Playboy, a men’s magazine featuring photographs of nude women, publishes its inaugural issue, featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover.
May 17: The « separate but equal » doctrine established by Plessy v. Fergusson in 1892 is overruled in Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court unanimously rules that segregation in schools is unconstitutional.
Miss America entry
Miss America on television Philco Television Sets purchases 1954 television broadcast rights to the pageant for $10,000 and contracts with ABC for the broadcast.
Miss America entry
September 11: Twenty-seven million people tune in to see Lee Ann Meriwether crowned Miss America. Grace Kelly is a judge and Bess Myerson reports from backstage. The scholarship award is $10,000.
Miss America entry
Bert Parks Bert Parks is hired as the pageant’s emcee. He introduces a theme song, There She Is , written by Bernie Wayne.
Miss America entry
Every state in the nation is at last represented at the pageant.
Women’s History entry
Women protesting in Washington Women are major participants in the civil rights and anti-war movements.
Women’s History entry
The President’s Commission on the Status of Women is established, chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The commission will take two years to publish its Peterson Report, documenting workplace discrimination against women and making recommendations for child care, maternity leave, and equal opportunity for working women.
Women’s History entry
Betty Freidan publishes The Feminine Mystique, reflecting a groundswell of dissatisfaction with women’s social status, and it is a best seller. Gloria Steinem’s magazine article, « I Was a Playboy Bunny, » details the author’s undercover investigation of the New York Playboy Club.
Martin Luther King Jr. August 28: Martin Luther King leads a March on Washington to urge support for pending civil rights legislation. He delivers his famous « I have a dream » speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
November 22: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
Women’s History entry
The 1964 Civil Rights Act includes a key provision for women. Title VII outlaws discrimination in public accommodations or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. At the last minute the word « sex » is added by a Southern congressman, thinking it will kill the entire bill. Instead, it passes.
The Immigration Act abolishes a quota system that had restricted immigration.
President Johnson with American soldiers The first American troops arrive in Vietnam.
Miss America entry
The Miss America Pageant is televised in color in its first year on NBC.
Women’s History entry
October: The National Organization for Women is formed.
Women’s History entry
The women’s liberation movement begins to grow. In Berkeley, California, women gather to raise consciousness about feminist issues.
Miss America entry
Lenora Slaughter, the pageant’s director, retires.
April 4: Martin Luther King is assassinated. Rioting occurs in 100 American cities.
June 6: Senator Robert Kennedy is assassinated.
August: Protesters disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Miss America entry
Miss Black America pagent September 7: Judi Ford is crowned Miss America 1969. Feminists get national media attention for their protest on the Atlantic City boardwalk, where they crown a sheep and throw products like lipstick and hair curlers into a « Freedom Trash Can. » The same day, the first Miss Black America Contest is held in Atlantic City in protest of the « white » Miss America Pageant.
Miss America entry
Pepsi Cola withdraws its 11-year sponsorship, claiming the pageant no longer represents the changing values of American society.
Women’s History entry
Shirley Chisholm is the first African American woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Miss America entry
Feminist protesters at Atlantic City Feminist protesters return to Atlantic City, claiming the pageant treats women as sex objects. Protesters will return every year well into the 1970s.
May 4: National Guardsmen kill four students at anti-war demonstrations at Ohio’s Kent State University.
Miss America entry
Rules barring non-whites have finally changed. The first black contestant to make it to Atlantic City is Cheryl Brown, Miss Iowa.
Miss America entry
Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970, has to be evacuated to safety while entertaining soldiers in Vietnam.
Women’s History entry
A prototype of Ms. Magazine is published.
Women’s History entry
March 22: The Equal Rights Amendment passes Congress and is sent to the states for ratification. The amendment will be defeated, after a lengthy battle, in 1982.
Women’s History entry
Title IX of the Higher Education Act bans exclusion on the basis of sex from programs or activities in universities receiving federal financial assistance, marking a turning point for women’s access to athletics programs.
June 17: Five men are arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington, D.C.
Women’s History entry
January 22: In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court grants women the right to legal abortions.
March 29: The last American troops leave Vietnam.
Miss America entry
Becky King Rebecca King is chosen Miss America 1974. She is the first winner to use her scholarship award for professional education, studying to become a lawyer.
Women’s History entry
Little League Baseball votes to allow girls on its teams.
President Richard Nixon August 9: President Nixon resigns.
March 28: The nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania has a meltdown at its core, in America’s worst nuclear accident.
November 4: Militant Islamic students seize hostages at the American Embassy in Teheran, Iran. Fifty-two hostages will be detained for 444 days — over 14 months.
Miss America entry
Miss Alabama, Lencola Sullivan, is the first African American to make the pageant’s top five finalists.
Women’s History entry
Only 27% of the nation’s households conform to traditional ideas of a family with a male breadwinner and female housewife. Two-income families or female-headed households are rapidly replacing the older pattern.
President Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan is elected president.
Miss America entry
Bert Parks is fired. He is considered too old, too corny, and too sexist for the times. Talk show host Johnny Carson initiates a protest that is unsuccessful. Ron Ely and then Gary Collins replace Parks.
Women’s History entry
September 25: Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the U.S. Supreme Court’s first female judge.
Women’s History entry
Sally Ride June 18: The first woman astronaut, Sally K. Ride, travels into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Miss America entry
Vanessa Williams Vanessa Williams is crowned Miss America 1984 and is the first black woman to hold the title. Two months before the end of her reign, Penthouse magazine will publish nude photos of her taken when she was 17. Pageant officials will force her to resign.
Women’s History entry
The Democratic Party nominates Geraldine Ferraro for the vice presidency, the first time a major party has nominated a woman.
Miss America entry
Albert Marks retires as Chairman of the Board of the Miss America Organization after 27 years. The first paid CEO, Leonard Horn, is hired.
Miss America entry
Miss America Kaye Lani Rae Rafko devotes her year to advocacy of care for the terminally ill, becoming the first winner to dedicate her reign to a social issue.
Miss America entry
The social issue platform, where contestants commit to advocating for a cause if they become Miss America, becomes part of the pageant’s requirements.
The Berlin Wall falls, marking the end of the Cold War.
President George Bush with leader of Kuwait Persian Gulf War. The U.S. leads a multi-national coalition against Iraq after that country invades Kuwait; Iraq surrenders.
Women’s History entry
Anita Hill, a law professor, testifies before a U.S. Senate committee that the conservative Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, engaged in sexual harassment. Issues of race and gender are debated across the country.
Miss America entry
Kim Aiken, Miss America 1993, is the fifth African American Miss America. She uses her year to promote the cause of the homeless.
Miss America entry
Alabama’s Heather Whitestone wins the swimsuit and talent competitions and is crowned Miss America 1995. She is deaf and becomes the first Miss America with a physical handicap.
Miss America entry
Record low TV ratings prompt NBC to drop the Miss America Pageant after 30 years. ABC picks up broadcast rights.
Miss America entry
The swimsuit competition is modified. Contestants can wear any style, including two piece and bikini.
Miss America entry
The swimsuit rules are again modified, barring string bikinis and thong swimsuits.
Miss America entry
In the year 2000, the first Asian American Miss America is crowned. Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawaii is Miss America 2001.
September 11: Terrorists from the Middle East highjack four airplanes. Two crash into New York’s World Trade Center, destroying both towers and killing thousands. One crashes into the Pentagon, also causing extensive damage and loss of life. The fourth plane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all passengers.
The United States commits to a war on terrorism.
Miss America entry
September 26: Katie Harman, Miss America 2002, rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, along with several New York firefighters.
June 19, 2012
The arrival of more than 6,000 Indians from Asia between 1904 and 1911, mainly to work as farmhands, marked the first major influx of this population into the United States. Indians from Asia in the U.S. were first classified in court decisions of 1910 and 1913 as Caucasians, and therefore could become citizens as well as intermarry with U.S.-born whites. However, the decisions were reversed by the Supreme Court in 1923, when Indians from Asia were legally classified as non-white and therefore ineligible for citizenship.
That court decision prevented Indian immigrants from naturalizing. New immigration from India already had been prohibited by a 1917 law.
The restrictions were lifted after passage of comprehensive immigration legislation in 1965. Since then, a large influx of highly educated professionals from India has immigrated to the U.S. for skilled employment. In 2010, an estimated 2.2 million adult Indian Americans lived in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Indians are the third-largest group among Asian Americans and represent about 17% of the U.S. adult Asian population.
Characteristics (2010 ACS)
Nativity and citizenship. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) adult Indian Americans in the United States are foreign born, compared with about 74% of adult Asian Americans and 16% of the adult U.S. population overall. More than half of Indian-American adults are U.S. citizens (56%), lower than the share among overall adult Asian population (70%) as well as the national share (91%).
Language. More than three-quarters of Indian Americans (76%) speak English proficiently, (41) compared with 63% of all Asian Americans and 90% of the U.S. population overall.
Age. The median age of adult Indian Americans is 37, lower than for adult Asian Americans (41) and the national median (45).
Marital status. More than seven-in-ten (71%) adult Indian Americans are married, a share significantly higher than for all Asian Americans (59%) and for the nation (51%).
Fertility. The share of Indian-American women ages 18 to 44 who gave birth in the 12 months prior to the 2010 American Community Survey was 8.4%, higher than the comparable share for Asian-American women overall (6.8%) and the national share (7.1%). The share of these mothers who were unmarried was much lower among Indian Americans (2.3%) than among all Asian Americans (15%) and the population overall (37%).
Educational attainment. Among Indian Americans ages 25 and older, seven-in-ten (70%) have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree; this is higher than the Asian-American share (49%) and much higher than the national share (28%).
Income. Median annual personal earnings for Indian-American full-time, year-round workers are $65,000, significantly higher than for all Asian Americans ($48,000) as well as for all U.S. adults ($40,000). Among households, the median annual income for Indians is $88,000, much higher than for all Asians ($66,000) and all U.S. households ($49,800).
Homeownership. More than half of Indian Americans (57%) own a home, compared with 58% of Asian Americans overall and 65% of the U.S. population overall.
Poverty status. The share of adult Indian Americans who live in poverty is 9%, lower than the shares of all Asian Americans (12%) and of the U.S. population overall (13%).
Regional dispersion. Indian Americans are more evenly spread out than other Asian Americans. About 24% of adult Indian Americans live in the West, compared with 47% of Asian Americans and 23% of the U.S. population overall. More than three-in-ten (31%) Indian Americans live in the Northeast, 29% live in the South, and the rest (17%) live in the Midwest.
Here are a few key findings from the 2012 Asian-American survey about Indian Americans compared with other major U.S. Asian groups:
Indian Americans stand out from most other U.S. Asian groups in the personal importance they place on parenting; 78% of Indian Americans say being a good parent is one of the most important things to them personally.
Indian Americans are among the most likely to say that the strength of family ties is better in their country of origin (69%) than in the U.S. (8%).
Compared with other U.S. Asian groups, Indian Americans are the most likely to identify with the Democratic Party; 65% are Democrats or lean to the Democrats, 18% are Republican or lean to the Republicans. And 65% of Indian Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance, while 22% disapprove.
Why Was Bess Myerson the First and Last Jewish Miss America?
No Jewish woman has been crowned Miss America since Bess Myerson won in 1945. Is it anti-Semitism, or are less insidious cultural forces at work?
The Daily beast
Jan. 07, 2015
When I was little I was given Elinor Slater’s Great Jewish Women, an encyclopedia of influential and praiseworthy Jewish women, for Chanukah (twice). Amidst the pages featuring intellectual, political, and business titans, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Golda Meir, Lillian Hellman, Barbara Boxer, and Helena Rubinstein, the appearance of Bess Myerson, a Miss America winner struck me as odd, perhaps antiquated.
But Myerson more than earned her place on that list. She died on Monday at the age of 90, and her standing as the first Jewish Miss America and, perhaps more significantly, the only Jewish Miss America, provides more than a nostalgic pause.
Her Miss America win transcended mere superficial beauty standards. It marked a groundbreaking moment in how the country viewed Jews, especially Jewish women. Her passing and the realization that a Jewish Miss America hasn’t been crowned since her reign raises questions about why there has been such a dearth since 1945.
It is not really possible for any American Jew of my generation, or possibly even my parents’, to fully comprehend the significance of Myerson’s win in 1945. With World War II coming to an end, the visibility of Jewish soldiers combined with the soon-to-be realized horrors of the Holocaust was about to do a lot reduce anti-Semitism in America.
But the 1930s and 1940s were still hostile times. Charles “Father” Coughlin, a raving anti-Semite, was one of the most popular radio hosts in the country. Most top colleges had a quota system highly restricting Jewish applicants, to say nothing of America’s formal immigration restrictions. So committed was the U.S. to keeping out Jews that it famously turned away the St. Louis, a ship carrying Eastern European Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s reign, in 1939 to follow the quotas set by the 1924 Immigration Act.
What perhaps affected people more on a day-to-day basis were the pervasive anti-Semitic stereotypes that Jews were cheap, weak, big-nosed, swarthy, and ugly little creatures.
Then came Bess Myerson, a daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants who was raised in the Sholem Aleichem Houses in the Bronx. It’s hard to say whether there was something distinctly “Jewish” about her look. She had the stereotyped dark hair and features, but they were not the stigmatized frizzy Jewish girls’ hair. She was delicate. She was tall and slim. She was undoubtedly arrestingly attractive.
Between the physical appeal and her musical talent (she played George Gershwin’s “Summertime” on the flute), she won over Miss American judges. In fact, she nabbed the coveted crown even though pageant organizers begged her to change her name to the less obviously Jewish ‘Beth Merrick.’ Three out of the five major pageant sponsors pulled out during her reign, so she joined forces with the Anti-Defamation League in a campaign called “You Can’t Be Beautiful and Hate.”
Myerson strikingly bashed every negative stereotype of a Jewish woman by being named the all-American model of femininity—and yet she was unabashedly Jewish. She was also one of the more popular Miss Americas, going on to having a successful career as a spokeswoman and a contestant on 1950s game shows before turning to politics (and scandals). Her post-crown fame, though, only further begs the question: Why has there not been another Jewish Miss America since 1945?
There isn’t a single or straightforward way to answer this question. For starters, it may be as simple as statistics. As of 2013, Jews make up 1.8 to 2.2 percent of the adult U.S. population. As a pure numbers game, there probably wouldn’t be a Jewish Miss America more than once every 50 years. The seven-decade stretch could be a statistical fluke.
Then, there’s the Miss America pageant itself, which hasn’t had the most diverse array of winners. The first African-American contestant didn’t appear until 1970, and there wasn’t a black Miss America until 1984 with Vanessa Williams’ (in)famous win.
Including Williams, there have been eight African-American Miss Americas in the past 30 years, along with the first Asian-American winner in 2001 and the second Asian-American and first Indian-American winner in 2014. Slowly, it seems, Miss America is coming around and embracing ethnic and racial diversity (in terms of bodily diversity, you still have to be pretty conventionally thin and hot). So, why no Jewess in the mix of more recent and diverse Miss Americas?
I’d be hesitant to jump on the elephant in the room, anti-Semitism, which is far too extreme and black-and-white of an explanation. At the same time, it would be remiss not to examine the negative physical stereotypes of Jews, and especially Jewish women, and wonder if that hasn’t played a role.
Hair color and skin tone may have been somewhat flexible for Miss America, but having a big, hooked, distinctly stereotypical Jewish nose certainly didn’t fit into the ideal of female beauty, especially in the 1940s. While Italian and Greek women also often struggled with this mainstream standard of attractiveness, bad noses was something very much associated with Jews—and something Jewish women in particular struggled to accept. In fact, Rita Rubin described rhinoplasty in Tablet as a “special rite of passage” for Jewish women—who could afford it—for decades.
Although she was unwavering in her commitment to identifying as a Jew, Myerson still had a look that was still relatable to mainstream America in the 1940s. Also, she was tall and thin, too, further adding to the ways she met the physical beauty conventions. “I have to think her body type played a role,” said Rachel Greenblatt, a Lecturer in Jewish Studies at Harvard University.
Still, Greenblatt is disinclined to thinks that beauty standards are the prime explanation for why there hasn’t been a Jewish Miss American since Myerson. In fact, the reasons have probably changed over time. “There’s a difference between why there wasn’t one in 1955 versus why there wasn’t one in the 1980s,” said Greenblatt.
Greenblatt added it could have been a PR disaster in the 1950s if Miss America, for example, was barred from a hotel (a fairly standard anti-Semitic regulation during that decade) while on tour for the pageant. It’s unclear if Miss America organizers were thrilled that Myerson herself took anti-Semitism head-on and became an ADL advocate.
However, those same anti-Semitic-related concerns clearly wouldn’t govern why there wasn’t a Miss America decades later, especially since plenty of Jewish women are considered sex symbols, like Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, and Rashida Jones. Many Jewish women have been accepted as conventional, mainstream hot.
The movement towards the kind of racial and cultural diversity Miss America is moving towards may be a better explanation for why there hasn’t been a Jewish woman crowned recently. “Diversity comes into people’s consciousness, as a business concern, in the 2000s, and Jews aren’t ‘diversity’ by then. They are [considered] just white,” said Greenblatt. “To show diversity, you need something more ‘exotic.’”
There may be another, blunter explanation for the lack of Jewish Miss Americas, namely women of the tribe may simply not be competing as much.
This hypothesis is anecdote-based, as I cannot tell from name alone which Miss America contestants on record were Jewish to test this theory. However, a fairly common facet of American-Jewish culture is being reared with an emphasis on education, studies, and professionalism. Even the hot Jewish women I mentioned above did something a bit more “intellectual” than pageantry: acting.
The Jewish woman who has come closest to winning Miss America most recently, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, said she “absolutely agrees” that competing in the pageant doesn’t fit with the traditional Jewish-American emphasis on education and intellectual pursuits.
Rabinowitz, who was Miss Massachusetts and competed in Miss America in 2011, says her own family and community were surprised when she decided to compete (a decision, which, like Myerson’s, was fueled by a desire to fund her education).
“I’m not so sure that’s changed since Bess Myerson. If you read the reactions, she was billed as ‘Beauty and Brains.’ The idea you could be smart and involved in pageants was novel then, and it’s novel now,” said Rabinowitz. “Just like the stigma Jews have faced, so have pageants with the idea that it’s just about being a pretty face.”
Myerson herself appears to have bought into that stigma, offering mixed to negative views on the Miss America pageant. When asked if she would enter Miss America all over again in 1980, she stressed that she entered the competition to save money to pursue her music studies.
“Having a great desire to be a concert pianist and not having the money to buy a big black Steinway piano? I sure would,” she said. In 1995, Myerson made a point not to attend the 75th anniversary of the Miss America pageant.
She was emphatic when asked if she’d let her own daughter compete: “No! I’ve got the money to buy her a piano.” Like most Jewish mothers, Myerson thought her daughter could do better.
The Next Jewish Miss America?
January 3, 2011
In the 89-year history of the Miss America pageant, there has been only one Jewish winner: Bess Myerson, in 1945. On January 15, there may be another: Loren Galler Rabinowitz, Miss Massachusetts.
The 24-year-old Harvard University graduate from Brookline is the daughter of two doctors, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a novice when it comes to pageants, but she is no stranger to competition.
Galler Rabinowitz grew up skating with her mother. She “so liked having someone on the ice to talk to,“ that at age 9 she found a partner and became an ice dancer. At 14, she won her first national title, with David Mitchell, then placed fourth at the 2003 World Junior Championships and captured the bronze at the 2004 US Senior Championships.
In 2005, when Mitchell injured his shoulder, Galler Rabinowitz knew it was time to stop deferring her Harvard admission. “I was so excited to get back in the classroom and have a quote-unquote normal college experience,” she told the Forward.
In 2006, nine months after retiring from skating, Galler Rabinowitz embarked on a full load of premed and English classes and collected more accolades — in the literary arts.
As an upperclassman, she was selected to work on her honors thesis with the 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham. It was a book of poems that paid tribute to the wartime experiences of her maternal grandmother, Eva Galler, who by jumping off a train en route to the Belzec extermination camp managed to be the sole survivor when the Nazis killed her family.
Galler had also written poetry, and her love of reading and writing — along with the medical careers of Galler Rabinowitz’s parents — shaped Galler Rabinowitz’s twin dreams of becoming a professional poet and a pediatrician.
As Galler Rabinowitz approached her May 2010 graduation with high honors, she applied to 21 medical schools and planned to spend a year working for in the not-for-profit sector, despite the looming financial burdens of medical school.
Little did she know that a random trip to a dress shop would propel her appreciation for public service onto the national stage.
At the shop, she ran into Michelle Neves Hantman, Miss Massachusetts 2000, who mentioned that the Miss America Organization offered generous scholarships specifically for women going into medicine. To be eligible, she had to enter just one local pageant.
“I thought, ‘Hmm — I don’t know if I can win a beauty pageant,” Galler Rabinowitz said, “but if this is an application by essay, I have a shot.”
In March 2010, toward the end of her senior year, Galler Rabinowitz finessed a private interview, an onstage question and the swimsuit, evening wear, and talent portions to win Miss Collegiate Area, a competition open to anyone living in Massachusetts. “All of a sudden, I’m qualified for the state pageant,” she said.
In June, she won the title of Miss Massachusetts, as well as the state’s talent portion by playing a piano suite composed by one of her father’s cousins, Leonard Bernstein.
“More than anyone putting a crown on my head, the moment I remember is catching eyes with my mom and seeing how incredibly proud she and my father were,” Galler Rabinowitz said.
Especially, she added, because “I’m sort of coming out of left field; I don’t fit the [traditional] profile.”
In addition to standing only 5 feet 2.5 inches and being the only Jewish 2011 Miss America contender, Galler Rabinowitz has no entourage and a minuscule history of competitive pageantry.
“Anthropologically, it’s been so interesting to do this,” she said.
The eye-opener has worked both ways, as Galler Rabinowitz fielded questions from other contestants about keeping kosher and about her Conservadox Jewish lifestyle. She also writes her own material.
“All through my college career, I heard: ‘Oy, why are you majoring in English? You’re not going to have any skills to prepare you for anything.’ Au contraire. Speechwriting-on-the-fly skills are coming in handy like you wouldn’t imagine,” she said.
So is multitasking. Currently, she spends half her day coaching skaters and tutoring students in writing, math and SAT preparation, and spends the rest of the day in a tiara, performing community service and speaking at charity events.
“The accoutrements are exciting,” she admitted, “but they’re not as important a having the ability to speak and have people listen.” Again, she cited her grandparents’ influence in New Orleans, where they relocated after the war and were increasingly embraced by the community the more they shared their background.
“I want to take an opportunity to pick up where my grandmother left off,” Galler Rabinowitz said. “I speak frequently at schools, and I make a point not to talk about things I’ve achieved, but about where I come from and why I am who I am.”
Unfortunately, Galler won’t be in Las Vegas for the January pageant. In 2005, After Hurricane Katrina, Galler found her home destroyed — including photos of her family, who had all perished during the war — and according to Galler Rabinowitz, she spent so much time in the contaminated home that she lapsed into a coma and died in 2006.
But Loren’s “virulently optimistic” 89-year-old grandfather, Henry Galler, will be watching from Dallas, where he has since relocated. (Henry survived the Holocaust by serving in the Polish army in the Soviet Union, and was miraculously reunited with his childhood friend, Eva, at a friend’s wedding after the war.) In addition to her grandfather, her parents and her twin younger sisters, Galler Rabinowitz hopes one other person will be watching: Myerson.
Recently, in Atlantic City, the pageant’s longtime home, Galler Rabinowitz made certain to find Myerson’s portrait in the convention hall and take a slow walk down the boardwalk “to get a sense of the magnitude and historical legacy. I think at that point, I understood why my grandfather was so excited about it.
“Imagine having lost everything — your family, your belongings, your sense of identity — coming here, wholeheartedly embracing this country and having three girls who earned graduate degrees in law, business and medicine, respectively, and a grandchild representing the state, and maybe even a nation. It’s so exciting.”
Aimee Berg is a writer living in New York.
Galler Rabinowitz takes pageant detour on way to medical school
You know the story: Harvard graduate, poised for success, becomes a doctor, lawyer, president, CEO.
But here’s something you don’t see every day.
Galler Rabinowitz, a former professional figure skater, poet (under the mentorship of Pulitzer Prize-winning Jorie Graham), and future medical student, said she decided to enter the Miss Massachusetts competition at the urging of Michelle Hantman, Miss Massachusetts 2000.
Hantman “suggested that the Miss America Organization would be a good fit for me, given my commitment to academics and public service,” recalled Galler Rabinowitz, who will head to Las Vegas in January to compete for the national title. “Additionally, the scholarship opportunities available through the program are extraordinary — particularly through the Allman Scholarship, which is specifically for students accepted at or attending medical school.”
The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of academic scholarships to young women in the world. As Miss Massachusetts, Galler Rabinowitz received $8,000 in scholarships, and another $250 for winning the talent portion of the competition. (She is also a classically trained pianist.) The winner of the Miss America title receives a $50,000 academic scholarship.
“As Miss Massachusetts, I have committed my year to charity work and public service,” said Galler Rabinowitz, who as a Harvard undergrad often woke at 5 a.m. to give youth skating lessons and tutor college-bound students. “In addition to doing appearances at events across the state, I’ll also be working to promote Miss America’s national platform, the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises funds for the medical treatment of nearly 17 million children annually.”
Galler Rabinowitz, who was raised in Brookline, Mass., and in Barbados, will return to the island country where her mother runs a malnutrition center for children “to promote my personal platform, fighting childhood hunger, based on the research work I have done at my mother’s center.”
As part of her time in Barbados, Galler Rabinowitz, who was awarded one of the English Department’s Le Baron Briggs Traveling Prizes for her humanitarian work and poetry, plans on furthering her writing and working at the Barbados Nutrition Center.
“I’m also hoping to once again teach creative writing in a shelter for abused women and children, where I volunteered last summer.”
“Thinking big,” Galler Rabinowitz said, was the most important thing she learned at Harvard.
“This is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use my voice to effect social change,” she said. “I’m looking forward to raising funds and awareness for children in need and talking to students across the state about what it means to be successful. To me, it’s getting to do something you’re passionate about every single day, and making the world around you a better place in the process.”