Intentionally Unreasonable: The ugly truth behind beauty pageants

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Beauty pageants are dreadful events and soul-crushing experiences – once you look beyond the thin veneers of cemented smiles and polyester sashes.

They perpetuate and promote the very worst of our human nature: delusion, denial, voyeurism, objectification and narcissism.

I know first-hand how depressing and dysfunctional these events are when witnessed up close, because I was an official judge of Miss Michigan USA several years ago. To this day I’m still haunted by the uncomfortable experience of interviewing a “third-generation Libra” who “enjoyed nude horseback riding.”

Even more memorable than her awkward over-sharing was the quiet desperation that she carried like a constant and overbearing weight.

Later, that same girl went from happy contestant to vengeful contestant in a matter of minutes (“I hate you all!” she told the judges) when she didn’t make the cut.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when a 17-year-old contestant in the Winslow Miss 4th of July pageant initially refused to share her crown with another contestant after a scoring mistake was discovered.

Instead of graciously accepting the offer to be a co-winner, this little angel went on the attack to keep her “crown” by claiming that by “… keeping the crown, I am fighting corruption, cheating, and possibly lying.”

Right. She wasn’t being a spoiled brat. Instead she was standing up to a corrupt system that had favored another contestant, a 14-year-old girl.

Kid pageants and the major-league pageants are all born from the sad and sexualized remnants of an era before women could vote, work or speak the unthinkable word “equality,” and serve no real purpose beyond a ceremonial celebration of the superficiality of all involved – participants, parents, enablers, promoters and gawkers (parade watchers, television viewers, etc.).

Just one year after our country went dry in 1920 with Prohibition, the titans of tourism in Atlantic City were desperate to find some other distraction to promote at the world’s epicenter for cheese (tacky, not dairy). Hence, the Miss America Beauty Pageant was born in what is now the shadow created by Donald Trump’s namesake hotel in Atlantic City.

The fact that Trump “owns” two pageants (Miss USA and Miss Universe) should be evidence enough to pierce any pretense or veil of respectability.

Yes, they all market themselves as supporting young women through various (mostly shallow) scholarship opportunities.

Yes, they all celebrate “community service” as a judging criterion – while never really measuring the real impact or time commitment made.

Yes, they all go out of their way to suggest a value assigned to intelligence (frequently artificial) by posing questions that are absurdly written and rehearsed: “What are your thoughts regarding the Greek bailout and the austerity conditions required by the International Monetary Fund? Also, please name your favorite Eurozone country and why?”

Just as the Hooters restaurant chain hides behind its chicken wings and strip clubs promote “dancing” as their core entertainment, beauty pageants are little more than organized and sanitized displays of female de-powerment. A sanctioned process where one group of people (mostly men) stands in voyeuristic judgment of another group (mostly women) based purely upon anthropological physicality. Any other rationalization or justification is a lie.

In reality, we are a consumer society that enjoys commercializing the titillation of human sexuality in our many entertainment forms. You can’t listen to music, watch television, read a magazine, or watch a movie without being bombarded by suggestive images, words and innuendo all neatly packaged for our guilt-free enjoyment.

Those choices are fine when they involve adults on both sides of the production and consumption equation. But not with kids. Ever.

That’s the issue I have with pageants in general; it’s the entire dysfunctional feeder system that takes young girls and puts them on a path of style over substance as the promoters and pimps constantly try to Honey Boo Boo us into accepting a seemingly benign brand of child exploitation through what is packaged and presented as an “adorable” delivery method/platform.

This week is the 50th anniversary of the Yarmouth Clam Festival, which is a wonderful community event. I’ll enjoy all of it with one exception: the parade within the parade on Friday of local pageant winners. Among dozens of fire trucks, bands, jugglers and floats will be a variety of “Miss This” and “Miss That” all smiling and waving their way along Main Street as they’re applauded for the vaguest of accomplishments. For what, really?

And, along the route will be hundreds of young, impressionable girls watching the spectacle and witnessing how we as a society celebrate beauty in this most public forum.

I’ll be there somewhere, wishing that instead of pageant winners on parade we focused our attention and adulation on the many great local female athletes who worked to really accomplish something this year. Or, the young local women who achieved greatness in academics or the arts. Maybe, the heroic victory by the U.S. women’s national soccer team in the recent World Cup?

Three brilliantly accomplished women now sit on our Supreme Court. Here in Maine we have a female U.S. senator. Our country’s former secretary of state is a candidate to become our next president. The list is long of noteworthy women and their accomplishments.

Perhaps it’s time to move past the error/era of 1921, when we needed to parade women around for our entertainment purposes and instead focus on the deserved dignity of their hearts, minds, accomplishments and equality.

Sidebar Elements

Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.