In 1981 I was a contestant in the Miss Texas pageant, a preliminary to Miss America. Back then it took several major steps in order to even compete in that level of competition, including winning a local pageant (Miss Hughes Springs and Miss Northeast Texas US Teen 1980) and then a Texas preliminary pageant (Miss Lake o’ the Pines 1981). Throughout my Freshman year in college I was often seen meandering through my dorm lobby in full pageant regalia, followed by my team of assistants and advisors. As part of my year-long pre-Miss Texas duties I attended other pageants as ‘visiting royalty’, performed my talent all over Northeast Texas, did lots of ribbon cuttings for small businesses, rode in dozens of parades and much more. I was also interviewed multiple times, did lots of photo shoots, and continuously exercised in order to maintain top physical shape for the competition.
One of my main objectives in pageants was to win scholarship money for college, which I did. And as an aspiring actress, I received some of the best on-the-job training possible for a 19-year old girl from Hughes Springs, Texas. I had unprecedented access to radio, print interviews, and onstage appearances, quickly teaching me how to be extremely poised and confident in my own skin.
In 1981, the Miss America franchise only allowed 1-piece bathing suits; bikinis came 18 years later, in 1997.
But seriously, when all you’re wearing is a thin piece of lycra and you’re standing center stage, spotlight aimed directly on you, on television, with a stadium full of boisterous people and a table of judges carefully studying every inch of your body? Ya might as well be naked. I will never forget looking out at that audience and seeing men with binoculars leering at me while I was standing there smiling, doing my forward-backwards-forward poses, and wondering what in particular they were staring at…
So how do I feel about the Miss America Pageant nixing that part of the competition?
You can tell how “fit” a woman is in regular clothing, and without traumatizing her for life. Back then, even though I was in the best shape of my life and always placed high in Swimsuit Competitions I was just as insecure as anyone else. (Although I remember being naively obnoxious after someone told me I had no cellulite–to which I responded, ‘What’s cellulite?’ Ah, youth…and stupid karma…)
Truth is, the Miss America franchise has always prided itself in not being about beauty as much as brains. They were the original “scholarship pageant” and scoring-wise, the Interview portion makes up the majority of points, with Talent a close second. In fact, state contestants are always quick to point out that we were in a Miss America preliminary and not Miss USA, which has always been mostly about beauty and little else.
So am I upset about the Swimsuit portion of Miss America being cut? No. What I am concerned about is the steady increase of Political Correctness (which I wrote about extensively in my first book, ‘What Women Really Want’) replacing the old Miss American values of God, country, and patriotism. The days of proudly touting Christianity and maybe a love of guns are becoming a thing of the past. Like everything in the media now, contestants are being judged based on their political beliefs as much as their brains and talent. Last year’s Miss Texas made a dig at President Trump in the Miss America 2017 pageant. (Do you remember any contestant ever saying anything about any other president in any other pageant? Me either.) So yeah, there’s that…
Despite the politics, I still believe there are some really great values associated with competing in pageants. In addition to cash prizes and scholarships, any time a small town girl has the opportunity to be interviewed by a panel of strangers is a good thing. Having to answer random questions intelligently on the fly can prepare her for future job interviews better than anything she could learn on her own. And in a world full of sleazy dancing and almost-porn on television (yes, I sound so old…) the poise and grace needed to walk across a stage is also a good thing.
I was recently a judge in a local Texas pageant. During the interview process, I made sure the girls understood what I considered a top “beauty secret”: CONFIDENCE. Any young girl of any age, shape, size, or color who can walk into a room full of strangers with her head held high, exuding confidence and self-assurance, will out-shine any conventionally pretty girl every time. “Let your light shine from the inside-out,” I told them.
And THAT is what real “beauty” is all about.