The "Cool" Power of Pageantry

This morning I was on NECN's Morning Show talking about the controversy surrounding the Indian Land Elementary Warrior School Pageant-- a child beauty pageant meant to be a fundraiser in South Carolina that was ultimately canceled after parent protests.

You can read more of my thoughts on "Parents against pageants" by clicking here.  In a nutshell I think there are reasons to be concerned about schools sponsoring elementary school-age pageants (as opposed to high school level "pageants" like Prom/Homecoming Queen), but that doesn't mean all child beauty pageants are bad. As I say, there's reason to think it's easier to do a child pageant at 6 months than 6 years.

As Steve, the anchor, mentions about 55 seconds into the clip, Miss USA (the first ever from Rhode Island-- hence her New England connection), appeared about 45 minutes after I did. I know it's easy to confuse us-- ha!

At about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the above clip Olivia Culpo does address the South Carolina school pageant.  Note that she does so in very stereotypically pageant fashion though, emphasizing that beauty is really on the inside.

I was somewhat surprised to hear Culpo respond in that way because as I was driving to NECN's studios earlier I heard her talking on the radio.  During her radio interview I was a bit shocked by how candid (and fun) she was about a few things.  One of the things she said was a bit negative though-- which I think she herself recognized because she then effectively said, "Whoops, shouldn't have said that on the radio!" While talking about her cello playing the radio hosts asked her why she chose to compete in Miss USA, which doesn't have a talent component.  She responds that she thought about doing the "American" system, but decided to do Trump's Miss USA because it's "cooler."  You can hear this exchange starting around 3:20 here.

Both Miss USA and Miss America have positives and negatives and while there are some cross-over contestants most young women opt for the system that fits them best.  Because Miss America places an emphasis on talent and interview/platform the women who go that route often aren't as "sexy" as Miss USA system contestants.  Trump's system is known for being physically sexier, but both Miss America and Miss USA have done a great job of helping women get into the entertainment industry.

Note that former Miss USAs (like Susie Castillo) are more likely to be entertainment reporters, while former Miss Americas (like Gretchen Carlson) are more likely to be news anchors/commentators.  The difference between Castillo and Carlson reflects slightly different politics (Miss America is known for being more conservative, as I wrote about in June on Slate-- though note that despite Trumps' known conservatism the Miss USA system is noted for being liberal, which helped lead to the first Miss Conservative U.S. Pageant in July).

Of course not all beauty queens go on to entertainment careers. Some go into politics, and I wrote about some of those currently running for political office yesterday at The Hill. You can check out my piece by clicking here: "From reigning to campaigning: Beauty Queen political candidates."  Despite Culpo's comment I found all the women I spoke with for this article to be pretty "cool."  I especially loved that Caroline Bright's (Miss Vermont 2010) mother has a PhD in women's studies and that Lauren Cheape (Miss Hawaii 2011) decided to run for office on her plane ride home from the Miss America Pageant (it is a long flight from Las Vegas to Hawaii, but it's not life-changing for everyone!).  I also loved Lauren's attitude about her noteworthy talent, jump-roping (yes, including a "butt bounce"!), which she uses to help fight childhood obesity and to explain to kids that you will inevitably make mistakes (like stepping on the jump rope) but you just need to keep going.

And, again, while some Miss America contestants may not be considered traditionally "cool" by their Miss USA sisters, many of them are pretty amazing individuals who I'd love to have a conversation with.  Take, for instance, the reigning Miss Montana who will compete for the title of Miss America 2013 in January.  Alexis Wineman could be the first woman with a developmental disorder to win the Pageant. The 18-year-old was diagnosed with autism at age 11.

The name of her platform is pretty clever, by the way: "Normal is Just a Dryer Setting, Living with Autism."

Wineman reminds us that "cool" comes in all different settings and any pageant that can teach children that cool and beautiful come in many different shapes and sizes is probably okay with me-- especially during October, which is Anti-Bullying Awareness Month (for more recent thoughts from me on anti-bullying this month, check out the profile of our little family toward the end of this newsletter).