Things were different back then. There was no Victoria’s Secret catalog for young boys to sneak up to their room. If they were lucky enough to get their hands on an old Playboy, they were too afraid of mom finding it and dad whipping off his belt, proclaiming “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” It was a lie. And every year, we watched the Miss America Pageant.
Winning the pageant was a big deal, and many winners went on to careers in entertainment and news media. It was a stepping stone to stardom. But we watched it because the women were supposed to be beautiful. It always struck me as a kid that they looked plastic, with hair that didn’t move and faces that would melt in the sun. I stopped watching it as it didn’t interest me, but then, the times they were a changin’. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Plastic Barbies weren’t my thing.
It’s amazing to me today that this anachronism is still around. I would have thought it would die of its own accord, of boredom, of no longer holding the interest of women to participate or men to watch. Yet, it survived. There was a horrible cable show, Toddlers & Tiaras, There is still a certain cohort interested in participating in beauty pageants. To each her own.
But now it’s going to be different?
Nearly 100 years after the first Miss America contest took place in Atlantic City — back then, the ladies wore one-pieces closer to burkinis than bikinis — the organization has said so long to the bathing suit competition. “We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” said Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization.
As Bari Weiss notes, this couldn’t have come from someone more appropriate than Gretchen Carlson.
Ms. Carlson is the perfect person to lead Miss America through this transformation. She won the crown herself in 1988 and went on to a career at Fox News, where she laid the groundwork for the #MeToo movement, blowing the whistle on Roger Ailes long before there were headlines about Harvey Weinstein.
And the message was custom made for this brief moment in herstory.
Miss America 2.0, as the event has been branded, will be “a competition” — not a pageant, Ms. Carlson said on “Good Morning America.”
“We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country, with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues,” she added.
What a load of crap. Bari Weiss goes on to talk about the outward pretense of strong women who, in the privacy of their own lies, calculate calories and endure the burn of hot wax on their lady parts.
The real reason the bikini contest was done away with is that it’s simply too explicit for our euphemistic era, where “strong” is the code word for skinny, and “healthy” for beautiful. Our culture hasn’t stopped objectifying women. We — men and women both — are just getting better at pretending it’s not happening. Ours is the age of Pilates and athleisure, of detoxifying and “wellness,” of organic and biodynamic, of game-ifying weight loss by calling calories points.
The Miss America Pageant was “just too gauche for 2018,” where reality hides behind euphemisms and the jargon of feminism conceals the insecurities of normal women and their tacit desire to be desirable while denying they care at all.
And lest anyone think this to be a woman issue, men do the same. Some manscape and wash in Axe, hoping their male smells are sufficiently concealed to make it through the night. Some hope their pheromones will draw in their soul mate. Nobody burns with desire to have sex with someone they find unattractive. Nobody wants to be that person no one wants to have sex with. Whether you have sex isn’t necessarily the point, as long as they desire you. No amount of scrubbing with Dove will turn your plus (size) into a plus if that’s not what turns them on in the first place.
The game is now all about discretion — of insisting you aren’t working hard while you are absolutely gritting your teeth, of telling your date that you just don’t like bread. While men pretend not to judge women for the way they look, we go to great lengths to pretend we don’t care, either.
There was a time when the shift in the mating ritual was to remove the pretense. Women took off their bra instead of putting on their Spanx. Hair was natural, whether it was straight or curly. Apparently, it wasn’t sufficiently satisfying, as both men and women soon shed their Levis for jeans that gave them the “look you want to know better.” All the pretense rebounded.
And so we blend leaves together and call it “delicious” and “juice” instead of a mealy sludge.
We wear stilts to hike around concrete jungles and lie about how they are anything other than medieval torture devices.
We get the tiny horns on the tips of our fingers and toes painted in shades so subtle that heterosexual men don’t even realize we got them painted at all.
We shell out hundreds of dollars for magic elixirs and oils the size of Theranos Nanotainers that don’t even promise youth but boast that they are “clean.”
We lie under fluorescent lights and hold our thighs open for strips of burning hot wax while we chat about the new season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
I would have thought the Miss America Pageant would have died of natural causes decades ago, yet it survived. And now it’s going to pretend that it’s not about “outward appearance” but be some all-girl version of Jeopardy or America’s Got Talent. All so women can pretend they are strong and fierce and no longer interested in appearing attractive, while still competing in a beauty pageant. You’ve come a long way, baby.