Steve Woods

A Return to True Beauty

In What Day is it? on October 20, 2009 at 10:13 pm

In thousands of beauty pageants across America, she stands there, an aura around her as she tries with all of her might not to squint under the bright, hot kleig lights causing tiny beads of sweat to form on her forehead, as she focuses on holding that perfect vasoline-covered smile, praying not to trip on the dress while walking past the dimly-lit judges’ table in front of the stage….

Origin of Modern-Day Beauty Pageant

Original Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City

Original Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City

In 1921 the Businessman’s League of Atlantic City, a fun-loving group of guys to be sure, decided to hold what they called a “Fall Frolic.”  Sticking wheels on 350 colorful wicker chairs, the organizers decorated them and assembled together scores of attractive women to pose on the chairs, as men pushed them down the Boardwalk.  The spectacle was such a success (go figure) that organizers decided to ask cities far and wide to run photo pageants in their newspapers, perform state-wide runoffs, and send all the winners to Atlantic City the following year as state representatives.  A local newspaperman, Herb Test, spoke up and stated that the ultimate winner should be crowned “Miss America.”  Although only a handful of states sent women the next year, an empire was born, changing how beauty was perceived for decades to come.

Rubber-stamping Beauty

Miss Margaret Gorman, 1st Miss America

Miss Margaret Gorman, 1st Miss America

The nationalizing and glamorizing of beauty pageants significantly helped to standardize what it means to be “beautiful” in America.  Oh, I’m not trying to villify the Billion-Dollar pageant industry…. They were only building on the commercial success that came with parading a steady stream of female cinema bombshells in Hollywood.   It’s no coincidence that the first winner of the Miss America Pageant was 16-year-old Margaret Gorman, noted to have been popular because she looked like then-famous movie starlet Mary Pickford.

Little girls in small towns scattered across America read about the annual winners, pouring over photographs of the contest in their local papers. Quite a bit more than a handful of young women began that dream of competing someday in what has become over 1,200 local and state-level pageants leading to the now televised national pageants, hoping to be picked (by the new pageant “experts,” tape measure in hand) as perfect.

Eating Disorders : The 800 lb. Gorilla in the Room

How Do We Rescue Her?

How Do We Rescue Her?

A Johns Hopkins University study showed that the average contestant on Miss America is 5’7″ talls,  weighs in at a feathery-light 120 lbs., and has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5, placing her squarely in the undernourished category for her height.  This is to be compared to the average American woman, with a height of 5’4″, weighing 142 lbs., with a BMI of 24.4.  In other words, to be considered as the next nationally televised representative of American beauty, a young women has to put serious consideration in joining the population of those residing deeply in the territory bordering an eating disorder.

My three young girls see the woman who is pressed forward by the crowd, to cut the ribbon on the new mall’s ground-breaking with impossibly large scissors.  They see the happy young girl waving from the car passing by on the parade, the one in the beautiful white formal. My girls are health, having been known to turn down seconds at the dinner table many a time.  Despite these continual exercises in self-control, they don’t see the same figure in the mirror as those that represent our shared ideals of shapeliness.  How easy it must be for them to equate success in life with that waif-like figure paraded in front of them in magazines and on television, in music videos and commercials.  I work hard to make sure they understand the difference between perception and reality…

It is estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health that between 5-10% of all women in America suffer from eating disorders, and up to 15% have had issues with them in their lives.  Women have begun to fight back at this impossible body image, demanding a more realistic view of what is considered beautiful by the media, often lashing out at the beauty pageants, television conglomerates, and fashion industry.

From Skinny to “Fit”

She looks fat?

She looks fat?

Beauty pageant marketers have heard the complaints, simply moving their message from thin to the more popular image of “fit,” adding the word “fitness” to describe swimsuit competitions, as though to wear a skinny slip of fabric is akin to a sporting activity.  My Dad used to watch pretty much any sport that was on television, including of all things Bass Fishing. If they had grass growing competitions, I am sure he would have owned a hat with Kentucky Blue Grass emblazoned on it. To my surprise, he also loved to watch Women’s Baskeball.  I’m not always sure it was for the right reasons… The players looked pretty fit to me.  The average female Olympic women’s basketball player (a Hell of a lot taller, fitter and thinner than the average woman) coincidentally has a BMI averaging 24.4, same as your typical, much shorter red-blooded and totally hot American female.

There is nothing fit in the rapid (and dangerous) weight-loss regimen that one not-long-ago Miss America winner underwent, going from a size 7 to a size 2 in just four months in preparation for the competition.  I seriously doubt she played basketball to get in that condition.  Our girls cannot (and should not) try to keep up with this dangerous example of American “fitness.”  They don’t wind up on stages with tiaras after that type of behavior.  They wind up in hospitals.

The Addition of “Good Causes”

National and International Beauty Pageants have further pushed away the issue of eating disorders by brandishing before them (and perhaps hiding behind) a variety of wonderful causes they support financially, including AIDS Education, Women’s Rights, School Violence and Breast Cancer Awareness.  They are certainly incredible, worthy causes.  I believe in and support them all, in case an apologetic wants to bash me over the head with one.  But the pageants continue to fail to take on the 800 lb. gorilla in the room head-on,  undertaking the loosening of what body style has to be met to compete and win.  What better way to create a more healthy, positive body image for our daughters, one that empowers them to stop looking in the mirror so much and begin looking more seriously at their educations, than to change what they physically see in beauty pageant winners? In that girl who cuts the ribbon or waves in the parade?

Even Barbie is No Longer Skinny Enough…

Cankles? Really?

Cankles? Really?

French Shoe Designer Christian LouBoutin recently complained that he felt that Barbie, the perennial American doll that pretty much everybody acknowledges has impossible proportions, has cankles. Yes, fat ankles.  He wants the doll redesigned to have skinnier ankles.  Thanks, jerk.

Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton (size 4) sparked controversy in the news recently, stating she was let go for being too fat to fit in the clothing provided to her for photograph sessions.  In support of these statements, fashion shots of the 5’10” 120 lb. model were produced to the media, doctored in order make her hips appear even skinnier than her head, because a size 4 was not small enough to produce the desirable eye-candy on a sailboat look…

The Power of Beauty

There is no mistaking the power of attractiveness.  Have we been trained to believe that beautiful people somehow possess greater faculties of the mind, or a deeper reservoir of essential, earthy goodness? Researchers have shown that when handing in homework of equal merit, more attractive students get higher grades on average by their googly-eyed teachers.  More attractive criminals tend to get lighter sentences from their jurors.  Less attractive people earn less than average-looking people, who make less than more attractive workers holding similar positions.

Where Does It Stop? Who Will Take a Stand?

Thank you Miss American Rose!

Thank you Miss American Rose!

The Miss American Rose Pageant is very unlike other pageants.  Competitors of all ages are not invited to attend at a particular location, instead mailing in their applications to pageant headquarters.  That’s right, mail-in.  There are no travel expenses, no clothing and hairstyle costs, no hotel rooms and trainers, no poise school and singing lessons, no tape under the boobs, no wardrobe malfunctions, no stupid answers to canned questions.  And definitely no itching powder in a competitor’s swimsuit.

The competition is based largely on a girl (or woman’s) lifetime achievements, rather than being almost wholely focused on one’s  appearance and poise.  There are optional competitions based on academics, talent, community service, career, and finally beauty.  But before you roll your eyes, the beauty portion of the pageant is based on either photograph or written essay, as outer and inner beauty are each being considered as having their merit..

I have to stand and applaud the Miss American Rose Pagaent.  They have shirked the standardized beauty specifications, put down the tape measures and scales, and allowed the definition of what is beautiful to return to the eye of the beholder. They have drawn forth and celebrated the inner beauty in each and every girl and woman, empowering and pushing them to be leaders, teachers, and examples for all of us.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you, Miss American Rose Pageant.  My daughters and I love you.

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  1. As a young girl someone offered my mom free modeling lessons for me. Wow how exciting to be thought of as pretty enough to be put up on stage for all to admire. I remember diligently practicing the lessons, how to sit, stand and walk across a room with a book on my head. I studied the manual nightly hoping somehow the act of pure interest would transform me into the thin, long haired and perfect smiles that I was up against in both the class and in real life.
    The the big day came when I was to compete in a pageant. I picked an outfit and bathing suit that I thought showed my personality. My mom always worked so she could not go with me. I did notice, however, that most of the other girls were accompanied by a mother, an aunt or some other mentor guiding them and offering suggestion.
    I remember how confident I felt that evening when I slipped into my white Patten boots and the too short shorts and cropped top that over accentuated the curviness of an overweight 10 year old girl.
    I had spent hours practicing a dance routine in my cramped bedroom that I shared with two younger brothers. Rewinding the reel to reel over and over again till I was sure the rhythm of the music and my interpretive dance were just perfect!
    When I walked on stage my smile was so big I had even forgotten how crooked and displaced my teeth were.
    The lights were bright and all I could hear was the music I had chosen to perform to, Tom Jones, She’s a Lady!
    After my ‘Coming Out’ performance, I was certain I was the best, after-all, most of the other girls just walked back and forth across the stage.
    My mother and step father met me backstage and grabbed me by the hand. I was crying as they dragged me to the car. I did not know why we were leaving before the show was over.
    My mother looked at me with her glaring and somewhat embarrassed for me eyes and asked, “How could you pick out such an outfit? Didn’t you learn anything about how you should dress and act in that class?” My step father just smiled and giggled, “You should have heard the comments the other parents were making.”
    Years later while watching the movie, “Little Miss Sunshine,” I could not help but smile inside for my understanding of her character and how great being different really is!

    • I love your comment! I can imagine you being wonderfully you, despite the stares. Please always be you! Holly, please say hello to me in Twitter and/or Facebook, I would love to say hello back!

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