Haute Off the Press: Beauty Pageants, Behind the Scenes
Each week our no-holds-barred beauty blogger Grace Gold picks apart a hot topic beauty story. It’s our version of an op-ed…with lipstick, laser treatments and liner involved.
There she is, Miss America.
But what exactly does that glittering crown represent? As a former pageant competitor myself, I've often had to confront this controversial question.
At its best, pageantry can afford incredible opportunities young women otherwise may not have. Did you know that the world's biggest scholarship institution for women does not come from The Rhodes Trust or The Fulbright Program, but the Miss America Organization (MAO)? Last year alone, MAO made available more than 45 million dollars in scholarships for competitors at the local, state and national levels. Winners (or "crownheads," as per tongue-in-cheek pageant lingo) use their energies and time in the spotlight to raise funds and awareness for charitable causes. For example, the current Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler, has created a network of support homes for the children of incarcerated parents, and is using her scholarship funds to pursue law school.
And then there's the other side of pageantry. Think boob cutlets, butt glue, false eyelashes, spray tans, clip-in extensions, and I-could-list-infinitely-on-beauty-enhancements.
Pageant queens and officials love to wax poetic about the service, opportunity and celebration of beauty as an inner trait, but find me a winner who falls outside of the western beauty ideals of size two-to-five hips, smoky eyes and glossed lips, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn. This is before you even get to the horribly warped stratosphere that can be childhood pageantry. Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone?
I caught up with the current Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella at a recent Australian Gold event, and I asked her if she felt pressure to appear a certain way while wearing the crown.
"When I first won, I felt like I had to look perfect at every appearance, because it's what people were expecting," Campanella told me. "But then I realized that it's more about what you bring to the crown, and what's unique about you."
In my experience, many of the competitors acknowledge the more absurd parts of pageantry, joking discreetly backstage about competing in a portion based on bikinis and Lucite heels—the prayer that a "cutlet" doesn't go airborne mid-turn. My old pageant roommate Alice (now a local news reporter) had a five-minute full-body spray-tan routine down pat, emerging from the bathroom in a protective face mask one would normally wear to protect against airborne disease, victoriously declaring, "It looks like an oompah loompah was murdered in there!"
Many in the pageant world would argue that without the sex appeal, the public may not watch a scholarship competition and that pageant gals rise above it to access the opportunities they truly want.
What are your thoughts?