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Miss New York took the 2013 Miss America crown. Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of "The Most Beautiful Girl in The World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity," and Elwood Watson, co-editor of "There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant," offer thoughts on the pageant's history and whether the contestants still represent an ideal.
Elwood Watson: “The first Miss America started in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey ... it was a way to maintain tourism to have a revenue during the off season ... businessmen and others had to have some economic revenue to get through the season.”
Sarah Banet-Weiser: “If you look at the women who are in the pageant regardless of whether or not they’re white women or women of color, there is still a kind of homogeneity to them in terms of what is seen as the ideal definition of beauty. In other words, there are no women in that pageant who would be seen for example as conventionally overweight.”
Banet-Weiser on the 1968 feminist demonstration against Miss America: “It wasn’t protesting just the pageant, although it came to be largely seen as the pageant protest. It was actually protesting all sorts of, what feminists thought are kinds of things that held women back. So things like ideal physical beauty, things like steno pads for secretaries, bras, girdles, all these things - and they had this trash can called “The Freedom Trash Can” where they threw these things in as part of the protest as a gesture towards liberty. So they staged it in front of the Miss America pageant because they were kind of rightly calling out the fact that when women walk in front of a panel of judges that give them numbers according to a scale of beauty that is kind of an event that is about objectification.”
Watson: “By 1983 you had Vanessa Williams and Suzette Charles and they both made history because Suzette Charles was the first runner up. Vanessa Williams actually won the title Miss America 1984, she had to resign after the scandal that took place there with photographs, but Suzette Charles took over and became the second black woman to win the pageant. Since that time you’ve had eight black women become Miss America.”
(Photos, except for protest photo, courtesy of Miss America Pageant.)