This post is cross-posted at JWA
I’ll admit it–the first (and usually only) thing I think of when someone mentions the Miss America competition is the movie Miss Congeniality and a group of starving, not particularly bright, but beautiful women. But after reading this article about Loren Galler Rabinowitz in The Forward I’ve begun to rethink that reaction. Rabinowitz is a former competitive ice skater, Harvard graduate, classically trained pianist, poet (she wrote a book of poems for her senior thesis under the tutelage of Jorie Graham), and Miss Massachusetts 2010. She’s also Jewish. At first I was surprised that someone so smart and talented would want to enter a beauty pageant, but after reading about the positive effect being Miss Massachusetts has had on her life, I realized that maybe I should rethink my stance on beauty pageants.
She decided to enter the pageant world after graduating from Harvard in the hopes of earning a scholarship for medical school. She won $8,000 after winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, and is currently competing for the $50,000 that Miss America receives–certainly nothing to scoff at. After winning Miss Massachusetts, she spent the year coaching young ice skaters, tutoring children in math and writing, and using her position as Miss Massachusetts to raise awareness of issues at charity events. She’s been promoting the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for children’s medical treatment across the globe, as well as trying to work against childhood hunger. Wearing her tiara has the power to make people listen to what she has to say, and I respect her for using that power to say a lot of important things.
Impressed by Rabinowitz, I was curious about what one actually does to become Miss Massachusetts. According to the Miss Massachusetts website, contestants are judged based on an interview (to judge her “poise, charm, self-confidence and her ability to communicate,” as well as the “substance” of her answers), a swimsuit competition (for “beauty of face, figure, physical fitness, and the confidence”) and and an evening gown competition (for “overall appearance, self-confidence, sense of style and the beauty she brings to the gown of her choice”). I found this list to be pretty disappointing–after getting so excited about Rabinowitz and her achievements, I was surprised to see something like “beauty of face” on the list of judging points. Rabinowitz is beautiful, as are her former competitors, but there is clearly so much more to her than simply her beauty, and I find it sad that two out of the three judgment categories are physical judgments. It verges on demeaning, if you ask me.
That being said, I don’t think that how she became Miss Massachusetts should take away from the fact that she has been using her position for good, and that even before she became Miss Massachusetts, she was a successful and accomplished woman. However, I’m still not thrilled about the idea of a competition rooted in judgment of women’s bodies–there’s a long history of underweight and excessively thin pageant winners in this country, and even though contestants are supposedly judged on “fitness,” walking around in a bathing suit seems to me to really be a measure of how thin someone is. Not the healthiest selection process.
So, I wish Rabinowitz all the best in the Miss America competition, and hope that she succeeds in all of her endeavors, including medical school. But I also hope that people will think critically about the Miss America Pageant. It has the potential to empower women like Rabinowitz by giving them a podium from which to speak about and raise awareness of issues that matter. If the goal of the Miss Massachusetts’ competition is truly “To open doors and provide career and educational opportunities” to women, and to help them to “grow personally,” I believe that its selection process should reflect those values more than it currently does. A good leader should have poise and grace, but there are better ways to assess those assets than judging how well someone walks around in a bikini.
PS: Did I mention she’s 5’2.5″? Just a fun fact for all of us short people out there.