Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guest post - Heather Tuttle's beauty pageant response

EP: When I read Thomas' post on beauty pageants, I remembered that I had at my disposal a wealth of knowledge regarding pageants - my good friend Heather Tuttle. An avid viewer of the Miss America pageant, she was my best hope for a reasoned response to Thomas' titillating theme. It took some time, but she came through as expected; below is her response.

Since before I can remember, following the Miss America pageant was a female tradition in my family. One of first memories of my great-grandma is her precise prediction of the Miss America winner. For years, I have religiously watched the pageant and take pleasure in predicting the winner. Other pageants are fun to watch at times, but I don’t plan my life around watching them like I do for the Miss America pageant. This is because the Miss America pageant has always been different. The fact that the pageant is the largest scholarship organization for women has always been key for me. When I was little, I was convinced that me becoming Miss America was the only way I would be able to have the money to get a top-notch education and make a significant impact in the world. Every year when ‘studying’ the contestants to predict my winner (I know, it’s obsessive and may seem a bit strange, but that’s the tradition), I always take into consideration her educational endeavors/achievements as well as the causes she represents. The Miss America organization requires contestants have platforms they are passionate about and will work toward while holding the title of Miss America. The Miss America crown enables a woman to make a real difference in the world. As Miss America, she is a role model, a voice, and has the ability to make positive change. For example, Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson, helped raise millions of dollars for research and treatment of juvenile diabetes. In 1998, Kate Shindle made significant changes politically in an effort to address HIV/AIDS. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent woman who keeps up on current events and is interested in making a difference in the world I live in. It is for this reason that the Miss America pageant has always been a sincere interest of mine.

I will agree that recently pageants (even the Miss America pageant) and their contestant have seemed to stray away from their former educational and scholastic focus. In the past five years, the Miss America pageant has been booted from network TV to an array of different cable networks due to lack of ratings. Each year, they change the host and aspects of the competition to try to entice viewers. Mix this with the prospect of a ditzy, unintelligible, rambling answer from a contestant and you’ve got ratings. It’s a sad reality. During the past few years I must say, I have not enjoyed the pageant watching or my preliminary preparation nearly as much as I once did simply because the candidates don’t seem to be the caliber they once were. Still, each year there are contestants out there who are involved in the pageant process simply because of their passion for a cause and their desire for scholarship. This is why I still watch and am an advocate of the pageant. Each year, these intelligent women do make the cut (securing some scholarship money) but they don’t necessarily make it to the very top. In my opinion, this unfortunately has to do with ratings. I know Bert Parks turns in his grave every time this happens.

So, in answer to your quandary- contestants who rise to the top of the pack (the girls who end up representing pageant contestants live on national television) are not the well-rounded, intelligent women they once were. Ratings have forced pageant organizations to adapt requirements and format thus creating more of the traditional ‘beauty pageant’ where the glamorous bikini bod takes the crown regardless of her scholastic aptitude or her advocacy for change. The fact that I hail from two of the three states used in your example of not-so intelligent beauty queen answers is embarrassing. It definitely gets me thinking that maybe I should have indeed subjected myself to the pageant life when I had a chance. My leg wrestling talent would have taken pageants in a whole different direction!