Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Miss America criticism is wrong: A response and critique

*NOTE: This is a direct criticism and response to an article featured in an Indiana newspaper. Please first read the original article here.

Recently, I was direct-inboxed an article entitled “Miss America ready to retire?” Obvious panic set in, but being a journalist I soon wondered what the article would actually be referencing – perhaps Miss America was already budgeting savings designated for retirement, or perhaps she was simply making a joke referring to her busy schedule as the new titleholder. What I found, however, was an expose that was nothing more than, quite frankly, wrong.

The author, Ms. Ariel Ropp, begins her piece referencing the “iconic” images of Miss America, including white teeth, “copious glitter,” and a bejeweled crown. Stating that she was only initially interested in the pageant to see how Miss Indiana, a local resident, would perform, she goes on to explain that Miss America is insignificant in a world where “‘hot’ women [are] elsewhere on television,” that the pageant plays on sexism in that such a contest “would not happen to men,” and – the main motivation behind her piece – that Miss America in 2012 is irrelevant.

If being relevant means being raunchy, then sure, Miss America is certainly irrelevant. But perhaps this is our problem – that to garner credit or worth in 2012, we must act out or sell the incredulous or tasteless. If Miss America as a spokeswoman for the brand of “scholarship, success, style, and service” is no longer relevant, why aren’t we concerned? If Miss America as a modestly-dressed, appropriately-glamorous, well-spoken, goal-oriented and service-minded woman (I know, I know, lots of hyphens!) is no longer “relevant,” what type of woman is? You’re right, Ms. Ropp, audiences can get their fix of “hot” women elsewhere on television, but they can’t find a Miss America. To compare the two is to compare apples and oranges; comparing a scholarship pageant featuring classy, educated, and worldly women to the “hot” women of reality TV and their wonderfully-inspiring bar excursions, tanning salon trips, articulate language and worldwide endeavors…well, it just doesn’t work.

Ropp is quick to state, however, that “unlike Miss America contestants…female reality show stars at least have the chance to show off their personalities and build a following.” She also explains that the shift towards being recognized as a “scholarship pageant” is inaccurate because 35 percent of a state competitor’s score is “based solely on their appearance in bikinis and evening gowns.” Yes, because a) in shape women never wear bikinis to show off what they’ve worked for, b) a woman’s confidence level, poise, or grace while in an evening gown never detracts from the garment, c) 65 percent of the score is not based on interview, talent, and on-stage question, and none of these require a showing of personality. 68,000+ Facebook and 14,000 Twitter followers does also not enable a “following,” nor do the countless number of subscribers to Fourpoints Magazine or ridiculous amount of volunteers, coaches, directors, and subcategories of business that the Miss America Organization has spawned.

Maybe it’s a fa├žade and Miss America truly is relevant in the modern day (and she is, but that elaboration makes for a different post!). After all, the Miss America system wouldn’t attract thousands of young competitors each year without having left some significant, positive impression. But I can’t read opinion pieces and editorials like these and feel as though the problem is also that these authors just aren’t paying attention (and obviously, seeing as she can’t remember Laura Kaeppeler’s name, Ms. Ropp is not). In fact, pieces such as these are the exact reason as to why the scholarly, glamorous, dedicated woman that is Miss America is even being doubted in the realm of relevancy. Ms. Ropp’s biting cynicism is exactly why women who, by her own admission, “have been successful in school, campaigned for various charitable causes and generally served as positive role models in their communities and states” are being exchanged for the female reality show stars of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of Such-and-Such. “Generally served as positive role models”? What does that mean? Because what it’s implying is that these women are not positive role models, or at least not all of them, or that their ability to be a role model is somehow diminished by the fact that they are confident enough to carry themselves in interview, wear a bikini, perform a talent, and answer a hard-hitting question impromptu...onstage in front of thousands of people…and televised to 8 million more.

Quite honestly, it looks to me as though the argument against the relevancy of Miss America is the only thing that should retire.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

War of the women: beauty, bodies, and bullying

You've already seen the photo -- it's all over Facebook. The featured image shows the photos of four well-known thin celebrities and, beneath them, four Hollywood icons lauded for their beauty and figures. Between the two groups, a caption: "Since when did this...become hotter than this?" The image has become all the rage between women defending their idea of the "non-mainstream" figure being the definition of sexy, hot, and beautiful, that the thin bodies possessed by the highlighted celebrities and those who look like them are lacking in comparison to thicker hips, thighs, and breasts. The problem here, however, isn't the woman that's "too thin" or "too big," it's the woman that thinks she has to be either.

We’re well-aware of the idea of “fat hate.” The fat kid in the movie is always funny; the fat kid is real life is always made fun of. I would know, I’ve been there. Being overweight in a world that glamorizes thinness and advertises size 00s in magazines and commercials is like going to a Halloween party and being the only one in a scary costume (think Mean Girls!). But on the other hand, “skinny hate” is no different. The idea that it is socially acceptable to tell someone to “eat a sandwich” or “gain a few pounds,” yet taboo to offer smaller portions to an overweight dinner guest is completely hypocritical and wrong. Bullying, mental or physical, can occur at any end of the spectrum, and regardless of the circumstance, criticizing someone else’s body – the one and only body they can and will ever have – hurts.

The comparison photo is bullying. By posting this picture, you are saying that one body is beautiful and one is not. Let me rephrase – you are saying that one woman is worthy, acceptable of praise, and one if NOT. You are saying that one woman is unworthy and unacceptable. It’s the same as saying that if you look like “this” or you have “this,” then you are unsexy, unattractive, and unpretty. All of these “un”s! Last I checked, it’s not spelled “womun,” it’s spelled “women,” as in encouraging, enabled, and enduring, or “woman,” like angelic and anointed. Besides, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the “girl hate” is “fat hate” or “skinny hate;” when any are allowed, all that’s unifying anything and anybody is just pure hate.

We as women are consistently bombarded by sales ads, stereotypes, and standards that distract us from the issues that should be most important to us, like our health, our achievements, and our inherent beauty and strength. These advertisements tell us that instead of loving our body in its own natural healthy state – whatever that may look like – we should strive for what we are not. But what’s so funny is that, big or small, the message to all of us is the same, that we should be dissatisfied. They teach us that “thin is in,” but that “real women have curves.” Unfortunately (or perhaps more fortunately), skinny does not equal healthy and big does not equal noble or intellectual. Both can be irresponsible by taking for granted our gift of health and well-being, and both can hinder the world. Both can keep women from realizing their potential and understanding that what we are naturally is okay. Even more than okay, what we have, what we possess – whether it’s our big boobs, thin arms, our kind-of-there belly or our intellect, passion, and talents – is beautiful. That beauty can come in many forms, and it’s only in coming to love ourselves that we can fight the advertisements and be satisfied.

Keeping with the Mean Girls theme, it’s like the lesson Cady explains: “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” Calling someone else’s body type unattractive or ugly doesn’t make you any more superior. In fact, it actually only makes you kind of ugly. And in your representation as a woman of women everywhere, it makes women look ugly. Just like the companies advertising their latest diet fad or make-up product, you’re representing a brand. You’ve heard your boyfriends and brothers say it, how girls are catty, jealous, petty. Is your advertising giving them this impression? Or are you, as a spokesperson for the brand of women, advertising your product as resilient, vivacious, and powerful?

This is why girl body bullying is so corruptive. It acknowledges, accepts, and – wait for it – PROMOTES the idea that one woman can be better than another. It accepts that woman, in all of her existence as a human being, in all of her beauty, intellect, and experience, is insufficient. It completely obliterates all of her successes and goals and sees only her flaws, and this invites men, the beauty industry, and any of our own challenges to keep us down. We’re setting the example for own they can treat women by how we treat other women. If all we draw attention to is our strengths and accomplishments, then the only example we set into motion is one that empowers those around us. It is up to us to recognize and advertise our beauty in all of its healthy, natural forms and love what each of us is able to contribute to the world. Past striving to defend our curves or our bones, it’s time to appreciate that inner beauty, opting for more than anything how we feel over how we might look. After all, when you feel good, you strive to help others feel good, and ultimately then, the battle of the bodies can become a teamwork effort that makes the world feel good.

So maybe we all can't be Kirsten, Bettie or Marilyn. Maybe we all can't be style icons or celebrities, and maybe we all can't have voluptuous lips or long hair or height. But in the realm of girl world, bodies, and bullying, one thing is for certain - no one ever said we all can't be beautiful.