Miss America: The Ultimate Feminist Nightmare

Have you ever wondered to yourself “I wish I could view not one, not two, but SEVEN examples of sexism, sizeism, racism, and self-loathing, all in one easy-to-swallow sitting!”. Well my friend, you are in luck, as Miss America 2013 is here! Down below you will find a few key points of everyday injustice, amplified by this year’s pageant, guaranteed to get your panties in a bunch!

Obsession with appearance: I probably don’t need to say much about this aspect, but let’s just be honest to get it out of the way. There are no overweight women in the competition. There are really no average-weight or average-looking women in the competition. There is no one competing that hasn’t drastically altered their appearance to get to the top, be it through makeup, plastic surgery, fake tans, or even fake teeth. Major points are given simply on how the women look in different clothing (or lack thereof). This competition is about appearance. It may include other factors like the talent or interview segments, but the message is plain and clear: While minor nuances of beauty may not be the final determining factor, you won’t even get a chance without it.

Body image: During the pageant, the swimsuit competition is described as a test of the candidates’ dedication to health, fitness, and confidence. But in reality, it’s confidence only while you look like the ideal of what a woman should look like… and health, even if it means potentially dangerous plastic surgery to look “healthy”… and fitness, as long as you’re thin, and actual muscle tone and definition are not really necessary. Many of the women mentioned in the pre-show interviews that they were hungry and that they held back on eating quite a bit before the competition. Afterwards, the losing Miss America candidates were given donuts, partly as a jab at the fact they’ve been starving themselves before the competition. Nothing screams the “health” they promote like starving and then eating donuts. Oh wait, no, that’s bulimia. Ha ha! I get it! So funny! Oh Miss America pageant, you get me every time!

Race: I don’t want to get myself in a conundrum by guessing the race or ethnicity of specific contestants, but as you can see below…

'Nuf said.

‘Nuf said.

Tiptoeing the virgin/whore dichotomy: In the pre-show, one of the heads of the Miss America pageant defined the how just about any woman could have a shot at becoming Miss America. Amongst his already narrow appearance requirements of “anyone” (which were being “thin” and “pretty”), he also stated that Miss America can never been married, pregnant, or have any criminal record. Criminal record… ok, I don’t expect a competition like Miss America to be as open-minded to accept that everyone make mistakes (or that there are sometimes very reasonable and sometimes honorable reasons to disobey the law), but marriage and motherhood? The explanation is that to be married or be a mother, the Miss America competitor would have had to… do the deed (gasp!). And we can’t have them openly admitting that. One of the candidates also stated that Miss America is more like “classy” than “sexy”, while another explained that Miss America is a different type of sexy than, say, Victoria Secret, because Miss America is about “character” and “poise” (because Miss America contestants model tiny bits of cloth labelled “swimwear” in front of millions of people, while Victoria Secret models tiny bits of cloth called “lingerie”, which makes them entirely different and makes Miss America more respectable than Victoria Secret. Got it.). Oh the balancing act. I must hand it to the women, it takes an awful lot of work to make sure you are sexy, but not dare to be sexual… or too sexy for someone else’s liking… or call your underwear the wrong thing (like my bra? I mean, BIKINI TOP! BIKINI TOP! I promise it’s a bikini top! I’m not slutty I’m classy!!!)

VS Fashion Show

Victoria Secret Fashion Show

Miss America Swimsuit

Miss America Swimsuit Competition





Totally different





Love to hate: While we may ooo and ahh at the beauty (and, occasionally, yes, the talents) of these young women, it is typical sexism to want to believe that a woman can never “have it all”. If you are too sexy, you’re probably slutty; if you’re too strong, you’re unattractive; and yes, the winner of them all… if you’re too pretty, you’re probably dumb. The airhead beauty queen is a treasured stereotype that we love to hate, and the Miss America pageant loves to give us what we want. From this year’s feature of Miss California confusing the term “euthanasia” with a vaccine to former Miss Teen USA South Carolina’s stumble over an incomprehensible answer, it’s assured that even as we admire these women, we will take a bit of satisfaction to still look down on them and take them down a notch.

Pseudo female empowerment: Similar to Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist, the Miss America pageant loves to tout female empowerment through oppression. One of the candidates mentioned how Miss America now embodies the “modern woman”, one who could be a leader in the business world, or even the next president of the US. Given that programs like Miss America consistently push for girls to spend their time and resources on self-objectification to look pretty (because, remember, it is the most important quality), I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

Mainstream sexism: Of course, women should be able to do what they want, and if they really want to get in this type of competition, that’s their prerogative. However, like the Victoria Secret fashion show, this is hosted on a major, free network and the announcer directly suggests to YOUNG WOMEN that they can go online to find out how they could try to become Miss America. Unfortunately, Miss America and beauty pageants in general are not a small, off-the-wall hobby that only the dedicated will frequently find and be exposed to. Like so many other negative, image-focused, sexist messages young women are exposed to, it’s readily available and in your face.

So there you have it. Seven key embodiments of the need for feminism, all wrapped up in a 2 hour special. We’ve got some work to do.

But, for one little ray of sunshine, Miss Montana became the first autistic competitor. Though I’m obviously not fond of this competition, kudos to her and the competition for at least broadening their diversity in the realm of disabilities.

9 thoughts on “Miss America: The Ultimate Feminist Nightmare

  1. I am always a bit saddend when people call the Miss America and Miss USA competitions (two diffrerent systems, btw) anti-feminist. You see, feminism is about women’s choice. These women are all outstanding citizens. They aren’t average women for a reason. They are examples of the idea that women can become outstanding in all aspects, not just average. They are role models. While I can’t stand here and say that pageants are perfect, I can say that unless you have competed in them yourself, your probably don’t understand what all really goes into preparing for these events, and you probably can’t understand that by tearing them down and calling them sexist and anti-feminist ….is actually an act of sexism and anti-feminism in itself. Just something to think about.

    • I was wondering if they were two different competitions, since I saw the names used interchangably on news articles, but I’ll look a little more and correct it accordingly.

      But in regards to it being anti-feminist, like I mentioned above, these women should and do have the choice to do what they want. However, the ideals that these competitions promote (fitting into a narrow definition of ‘beauty’, being judged primarily on your appearance, constantly smiling and being pleasant as to not make waves, slut-shaming through touting that they are more ‘classy’, playing the virgin-whore dichotomy by showing of their bodies half-naked but not daring to ever have been pregnant, married, or posed for a racy magazine, usually tending towards more conservative values) are not feminist values. What’s worse, as I mentioned, is that this is not an off-the-wall hobby, like say, bodybuilding, where the majority of people know that what they are competing for is not something that the rest of society demands women attain. It is very much held up as the epitome of a ‘good woman’, shown on a regular network channel for anyone to watch, and even plays into the girlhood princess ideals with cutsey crowns.

      Sometimes I see that there are two trains of thoughts on feminism; one that thinks of feminism as the values that help promote women as a whole, and one that just believes women should never be criticized and should do whatever they want, regardless of it’s impact on women as a whole. These pageants definitely promote a lot of ideas about women that are negative to the movement, but as individual women, they may not feel that much of a repercussion from it. Honestly, though, I don’t see that as feminism.

  2. Just in case you’re interested, here is an article about how pageant have helped women to go on to do great things for their community and society in general.


    “There are no overweight women in the competition. There are really no average-weight or average-looking women in the competition.”

    Pageants absolutely do not have any kind of weight requirements for contestants. It’s fair to ask then why are most contestants at least fairly thin, and that is simply because overweight or average weight women never enter. They just don’t ever sign up, even though it is encouraged for women all of shapes and sizes to enter, they don’t want to because they don’t have the confidence to compete against thinner counterparts.

    Also with most pageants, interview scores are more heavily weighted than any other round. I’ve never competed or seen a pageant where physical beauty outweighs interview.

    These girls aren’t starving themselves. If they were, they wouldn’t be able to stand long enough on stage and they would have to be rushed to the hospital. America is a nation that drastically overconsumes unhealthy food. The average person overeats. It’s not a matter of weight, it’s a matter of the fact that most people in America aren’t eating propely. During preparing for pageants, these women are probably eating more like how people should be eating all the time. There’s nothing wrong with donuts, but only in moderation, but I suppose that is a different topic.

    “it’s assured that even as we admire these women, we will take a bit of satisfaction to still look down on them and take them down a notch.”

    The fact that the world loves to see pageant women fumble their answers says a whole lot more about themselves than the contestant. “hahah what a dumb bitch,” they said as Miss Teen SC talked about maps in Africa, now if that isn’t misogyny, I don’t know what is.

    • I’m not saying the women don’t do good things, it’s just not what the show focused on.
      The head of the pageant said in the pre-show that Miss America has to be thin. Flat out said it. And shouldn’t that reflect something abou the pageant if what you’re saying is true and that thicker girls don’t even try? Maybe that they feel they have no chance (as one of the heads, again, flat out said in the pre-show)?
      The girls also flat-out joked in the pre-show that they were hungry and were starving themselves. Again, flat-out admitted it.
      From what I saw when I watched the pageant, there was a very large portion dedicated to simply how they look (20% for swimwear, 20% for evening wear). I’ll admit I didn’t keep track of all of the percentages, but I still think having AT LEAST 40% of your worth based on how you look in various types of clothing (and being sure to only look thin, occassionally with some plastic surgery) is not very empowering for women, and particularly women as a whole.
      And the point I made at the end WAS that mocking the pageant contestants is misogny, and that I think the pageants play no small part in providing the audience with someone to mock.
      I think you may be reading the article the way you want to read it, which is to say I’m tearing down these women. I don’t like that they play along and support this kind of program, but the main issue is this whole system in place which promotes negative ideas about women. I’m sorry, but a program that just plays into patriarchal ideas about women is not my idea of empowering women.

  3. I see where you’re coming from I think. Like I said, I know that pageants aren’t perfect and I don’t agree with every little thing about them (like the age limit and pregnancy/marriage rule). I consider myself a feminist and also someone who follows and competes in pageants and I get laughed at and criticized by other feminists who are confused at how I can be both a feminist and a pageant competitor. It might not make sense to other feminists but pageants have helped me so much in shaping who I am today and how my future looks, and I know that there is so much more to a woman than her looks. I’m not trying to make this about me, just using myself as an example. I enjoy reading your blog, btw.

  4. Chelsey,

    I have the perfect video that encapsulates everything you just wrote in this article. It’s a 3-minute music video, called “Beauty Obsession Remix” that exposes just how extreme our society has gotten in regards to beauty and body image. We’ve gotten to a point where the pressure to conform to the “ideal body type” or “ideal beauty” has pushed so many young girls and women to resort to damage their bodies or surgically alter their features. The overblown media hype that surrounds the Miss America pageant and the way these women are portrayed, like “this, people, is what a perfect woman looks like.” It’s no wonder half of three-to-six year old girls worry about being fat.

    The video can be viewed here.

  5. Pingback: The Naming of Women | Francis James Franklin (Alina Meridon)

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