MISS AMERICA & THE CASE FOR SWIMSUITS

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Submitted Date 11/05/2018
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For as long as I can remember, women have been judged on their appearance. As a little girl, I used to look forward to watching the Miss America pageant to see all the beautiful women from all over the United States. While these women were being praised on their bodies, I felt like I was being forced to hide my body.

As a teenager, a nun took it upon herself to lift my tank top up towards my neck. She immediately disciplined me, “that is between you and God.”That” referred to my massive cleavage, something that I had yet to completely understand the power of at such a young age.

Now think about this. For her to succeed in pulling up my tank top, her fingers had to be on the inside my shirt near my cleavage which she was trying to hide. It obviously never occurred to her that the way she thought of my cleavage was the issue. How dare she objectify me for the body that God gave me?

It also never occurred to her that her actions constituted at a minimum assault or sexual harassment, and most likely a form a child abuse considering I was a minor. As a young girl, that encounter had a profound effect on the way I felt in my own body.

I felt ashamed for having big breasts even if God was the one who gave them to me.

Growing up over the years with my gigantic breasts, I yearned for a breast reduction. I eventually had one for my overall wellbeing, but I endured years and years of unwanted commentary. From being embarrassed in a strapless bridesmaid dress that I did not choose … to constantly being asked if I had a breast implant, I competed with my own body for attention. I responded to this the only way I knew how. Modesty. I merely wanted people to see me, not my breasts.

I always wished I could be one of those women on stage at the Miss America pageant who did not need to cover up.

They were praised for their bodies rather than ridiculed for having a body to kill, or one that men admired. 

Now, I wonder can a woman truly be celebrated for her beauty without being objectified or violated?

Or, is that the price of beauty?

Will there one day be a society in which women can walk around proud of their bodies without risking being harassed or assaulted?

Will there be a day when a woman can be herself without covering her femininity to ensure she is respected as an intelligent woman?

Now, there two movements going on. We have the #BodyPositivity movement in which women are posting photos of their natural bodies on social media. With the help of models like Ashley Graham, women are feeling proud of their curves and society is becoming more accepting of women of all sizes. There is also the #MeToo movement that is drawing attention to the objectification of women, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in and outside of the workplace. Women are becoming less and less afraid to speak up. Society is not just listening. Women are getting more support than they previously got when they spoke up. I can only attest to this from my own experiences and what I see in the news media. 

We have these two movements that draw attention to our bodies. On one hand, we have one movement celebrating women’s bodies and another that demands that women’s bodies not be violated, rightly so. I am an advocate of both movements.

With that, the Miss America pageant is no longer the same one I grew up watching. Granted, the controversies surrounding the Miss America pageant demanded the organization take measures to protect its contestants. The email scandal in which former CEO Sam Haskell wrote grossly offensive emails about the female contestants drew attention to how sexist the pageant is.

Now a competition, the Miss America event is tittivated to honor women’s inner beauty rather than their outside beauty. I am all for this, don’t get me wrong. I think this has been a long time coming. But I do not know if we need to do away with celebrating women’s outer beauty.

In transforming the pageant into a competition, Miss America will no longer include the swimsuit round. This is merely one of the measures they put into place in response to the #MeToo movement. They also announced that all women would be welcome to participate regardless of their size because I assume, they want to send a message that fat-shaming anyone or calling them other names is offensive.

I should tell you that I did not watch the new Miss America competition yet. I admittedly have not watched it much as an adult, but it was something I looked forward to as a young girl growing up. 

Knowing how much I watched it as a young girl and aware of how it impacted my lack of body positivity, I can not help but focus on two things that have significantly changed for the Miss America event.

One, they have eliminated the swimsuit round.

Second, they now invite all women to participate.

What message does the organization send to women by eliminating the swimsuit round now that all women of all sizes can participate in Miss America whether it is a pageant or competition?

Why do women have to cover up in response to Haskell’s behavior? Does that tell young women that they are to blame for the objectification and shaming of their body by a man?

Is eliminating the swimsuit contest the answer to why some women are not comfortable strutting around in a swimsuit for the world to watch? Would the women feel differently if the world saw the beauty rather than the flaws in their curves and imperfections?

In trying to evolve in this #MeToo era, can they ignore the #BodyPositivity movement?

What message would it send a young girl watching Miss America on television if she saw a contestant proudly wearing a swimsuit regardless of her size, cellulite, or other imperfections?

Couldn’t the organization evolve to celebrate women’s beauty in all sizes through the swimsuit contest despite its sexist history?

I find myself thinking how the new Miss America is missing out on the opportunity to make a bigger impact on a young girl’s self-image which includes not just her intelligence but her body.

Knowing the positive impact Ashley Graham has had on the way I learned to love my own body, I know I would have loved, as a young girl, to see Ashley Graham walk confidently on stage in a bikini as a contestant for Miss America. 


Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

Resources: 

Gonzales, Erica. June 5, 2018. “Miss America Just Dropped the Swimsuit Competition and Will No Longer Judge on Looks.” Harper’s Bazaar. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a21081548/miss-america-no-swimsuit-competition/

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