In a world where controversial ‘Hot Topics’ are abuzz, Brian Gawlak finds the teachable lessons on trending issues.
I am a fan of Vanessa Williams and have been since the late 1980’s. I think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world, can sing, makes decent movies, and I’ve even enjoyed a show or two she’s starred in. I have followed her, with great respect, since she was unfairly forced to resign from her position as the first ever African-American Miss America back in 1984 amidst the Penthouse nude picture scandal.
I think the invitation to judge this year’s Miss America competition, and the subsequent apology which came to her was 32 years overdue, but I’m happy that the gesture was made. I admit that I watched the Miss America CEO issue the apology to Vanessa Williams in a recap on social media, and did not watch the show itself – with sound on anyway. I had Miss America playing in the background as I was working, the television on mute so I would not get distracted.
I took a break from work and sat outside on the lanai with my wife and we caught up on each other’s days and engaged in a conversation. The next thing I knew, my wife was laughing and talking about “the irony of it all,” apparently talking to me about sexism and the pointlessness of the pageant, as I apparently got sucked in to watching the top ten finalists get chosen through our sliding glass door, television still on mute. I had a good laugh because it was ironic that my wife was talking to me about objectification of women and I was too busy watching to take in anything she said. This got me thinking: what message does the Miss America pageant, or any beauty pageant for that matter, send to our young daughters?
My wife and I try to empower our children to recognize the beauty within themselves and in others. We stress the importance of inner beauty and the importance of intelligence, empathy, and kindness. Body image is discussed in our family – as both sides of the family have weight issues (and no matter what anyone says, I know it is genetic as I have struggled with my own weight my entire life). I would like to think we have a pretty good handle on helping our daughters find their way in a world full of vanity, inappropriate importance on physicality, and blatant sexism.
Why do we still have a televised pageant where 50 or so women compete for what is supposed to be a philanthropic job? What does how one looks in a bathing suit have to do with her ability to promote a charity or endeavor? Per WikiPedia: The stated purpose of the contest is that it “provides young women with a vehicle to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs.” So, evening-wear is a great way of determining who would be best at that?
I understand the format has changed over the years to include interviewing segments and talent competition, but I still don’t understand how even those “skills” serve the platforms in which Miss America will perform her duties as the crowned pageant winner.
They won’t. The Miss America pageant is about standards of beauty, the objectification of women, and the spreading of inappropriate importance of body image. I understand I’m a hypocrite for criticizing it and watching it (even on mute, which I can see is probably even worse). Being the father of three girls has changed me some (read: a lot).
My girls are getting older and as the years go on, bedtime will get later (and I literally can not watch the show). I want to ensure I don’t send mixed messages – trying to empower them, but then watching a show that I feel is antithetical to the message I am trying to send them. Going forward, I will no longer have the show on as background, and will have a conversation with my girls about the non-level of importance these contests have.
Vanessa Williams is probably the most famous former Miss America (in fact, according to a google search, she is the number one most famous – and I did not know who the other four in the top five were). Did the Miss America show play a role in her career? Probably. I think the reason she is so famous is less about how beautiful she is (all the contestants are physically beautiful), but because of her talent and her obvious business sense exhibited by her cashing in during the controversy and what she did with her career in the aftermath. If there was a pageant that highlighted that skill and ability? I’d tune in weekly and pop some popcorn for what would become my family’s must-see-tv!