Passing Judgement Isn’t Pretty

Happy Wednesday, RLB readers!

Today’s post is from a guest blogger who is also a beauty queen. Pageants aren’t something we normally talk about here at RLB, but we want this blog to acknowledge the experiences of any and all women. So, with various tiaras and sashes under her shiny, savvy belt, Kira has a thing or two to say about our penchant for rolling our eyes at pageant contestants, and how quick we are to judge things we don’t fully understand.

As a young girl watching the Miss America competition on TV, the onstage question was always my favorite part.  I thought it was the most challenging and terrifying and interesting moment, watching beautiful women who were pushed to the limits of their nerves.  I imagined myself receiving my question with grace, and answering with unwavering eloquence.  I always challenged myself to answer along with the competitors.  Ultimately the desire to make my dream of answering the onstage question a reality, and the cajoling of a pageant veteran and dear friend, led me into competing in the world of pageantry (thanks, Keelie!).

Kira and Keelie, Pageanting Among the Rocks:
kira keeley

Watching the Miss America 2014 competition, I am transported back to my own journey as Miss America’s Miss Santa Fe 2009 and Miss Albuquerque 2010.  For a few weeks out of the year, during the Miss America competition, we are mesmerized by young women vying for the crown, as we carefully comb over their strengths and weaknesses as competitors.  I report to my friend watching with me how the girls fared in previous competitions, and note improvements in their performances.  Since I can’t help myself, I also compare myself to them, both in the height of my own competition and now.

Kira in Pageant Mode:
Kira now (with me!):

Pageant time is a time for some to revel in the dream of walking across the stage as a graceful and poised young woman.  For others, it is a time to criticize the pains these women put themselves through and the expectations that society has put on them.  I don’t know if any of you have thought about crowns recently, but not that long ago Miss Utah USA 2013 Marissa Powell was torn apart for her response to her onstage question.

An interesting pageant fact: the onstage question does not count for any points in the Miss USA competition.  But the American public is quick to judge this very public and high-pressure situation.  How easily we attack and then forget these young women.  Miss Utah was accused of making women look uneducated, when her answer was an honest attempt to address the issue of educating women.  Some argued that she proved the point she was trying to make, while others indicated it was a ridiculous and unanswerable question in the first place.  Nearly all of her critics were quick to claim that they could have done a better job answering this question.

Could they, though? Could you? I would like to challenge you to try it.  No, not enter a beauty competition, but stand up in front of thousands of people in person (and millions on broadcast television) to answer a totally random question, that you must diplomatically craft a response to at a moments notice.  You don’t have a live audience of thousands?  Well let’s say any public venue will do.  Preferably one where strangers are present.  Remember, contestants are expected to simultaneously provide an answer while expressing an opinion that doesn’t offend anyone.  It’s your turn to answer the question. Ready?

“A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

You have 20 seconds. GO.

How did you do?  Not so easy, is it?  And you’re not even wearing a gown and five-inch heels.  Did Miss Utah have the best answer?  No.  But that doesn’t mean she didn’t try her best.  She might not have won Miss USA, but Miss Utah was briefly a focus of national interest.  Frankly she got a lot more attention for not doing such a great job, than she would have if she’d answered the question perfectly.  Undoubtedly she will be forgotten – many of you have already forgotten her – until another beautiful young woman working to obtain a crown is asked to answer another clumsily vague and politically charged question, and she “fails.”  This new incident will then be publicly dissected and compared (yet again) to Miss Teen South Carolina, Miss Utah USA, and so on and so on….

In my opinion, the failure to answer these questions adequately is not a reflection of the young woman competing, but of our society.  We ought to demand more of ourselves and give these girls a break, because they are challenging themselves to learn and grow, to master their talents, and to be representatives of their communities, all while providing us with some great entertainment.

Congratulations to all the young pageant women who are shaping themselves into the women that they want to become.  I hope they find themselves through these competitions, and that they do not let the many negative comments and judgements affect them.  Pageants changed me as an individual, and gave me a new perspective and respect for a different kind of competition.

From E at RLB: It’s tempting (and easy) to dismiss pageants as archaic, misogynist spectacles. After watching Kira compete for several years, I can honestly say that these ladies work their well-toned tushes off to compete in a world that is quite foreign to most of us. While we’re a long way from representing myriad body types in pageant land, the strictures of what makes a pageant contestant are broadening. The 2014 competition saw a tattooed National Guard service member, a one-armed Miss Iowa, and the first ever Miss America of Indian-American descent. Sometimes change is a process, not an event.

Miss Kansas, Miss Iowa, and Miss New York/America:
miss kansasmiss_iowa  miss-america-nina-davuluri-ftr