By Keenan Pasztor
When the Miss America Organization took away the swimsuit portion of the competition in 2020, feminists around the world cheered. To many people, beauty pageants are a prime example of “how the patriarchy rules the world.” Women are put on stage and shown off like a “cattle auction.” The stereotype of a typical pageant girl is an airheaded skinny girl who knows nothing about the world and only knows about big hair and sparkly dresses. A simple Google search can lead you to many videos of “dumb pageant girls” giving ignorant answers to questions and even more articles about how pageants should not be supported by any women. What many people do not know is that pageants are actually all about women’s empowerment and raising young women to be leaders in the world. I know this because I competed in one.
Before I dive into how exactly pageants are empowering, I want to explain the world of pageantry. There are many different tracks of pageants; the most famous are the Miss America Pageant and the Miss USA Pageant. While they have different names, the basis is still the same. I competed in the Miss America track so my examples will be related to that pageant. The original Miss America pageant consisted of a 10-minute individual interview with a panel of judges, on stage question, talent, eveningwear, and swimwear (in 2019, the organization removed the swimwear portion due to controversy surrounding it). In order to enter, each contestant must be between the ages of 18 and 25. Once entered, each contestant competes to win a local title, the winners then go on to compete for the state title, and from there the national title.
Now that you know more about the pageant system, let me answer how standing on a stage in a sparkly dress is empowering. The women competing are more than just their looks. The Miss America Organization (MAO) prides itself on providing scholarship money for its contestants and enabling women who will change the world. The women involved in the Miss America Organization are held to the highest standards in scholarship, success, style, and service. The women in this organization are not only representing whatever city or state they won the title in, but they are also representing their chosen social initiative statement; a cause or organization that they dedicate their year of service to fundraising for and bringing awareness to. Not only are these women greatly involved in their communities, they also have great life ambitions. During my time in the organization, I met future lawyers, doctors, and CEO’s. These women are going places, and they all contribute a lot of their success to competing in the MAO.
I reached out to some of the women I competed with and asked them how pageants empowered them. One woman said, “Pageants have empowered me to speak for myself, other women, and what I believe in from a young age.” Another stated, “The Miss America Organization is one that allowed me to prosper and grow into the woman I am today. There is nothing more relevant than the ability to speak with authority, command a room and a stage, and be comfortable and confident in my own skin. These are skills I have learned from pageantry.” Pageants give women the opportunity to learn how to eloquently and confidently take a stand for what they believe in.
When it comes to judging these competitions, the judges do not look for the prettiest nor skinniest woman; they look for a woman who can carry herself, speak in a matter where people want to listen, and be a role model for young girls everywhere. The common misconception with pageants is that it is all about superficial looks; putting women on stage for men to ogle at. That is simply not the case. Being involved in a pageant was a life-changing year where I learned many skills that will help me in the future. It taught me how to be confident in front of people I don’t know, how to answer hard questions while remaining poised, form my own opinions of current events, master my public speaking skills, and it led me to a community of empowered women who lift each other up.
Those who say that pageants are anti-feminist are missing the entire point. It is so much more than standing on a stage. Women who compete in pageants are the waymakers for girls everywhere; teaching them that they can do whatever they set their mind to. These women are serving their communities and changing the world, one crown at a time.
Ms. Pasztor was ‘Miss Tustin 2019’ and graduated from Chapman University in Spring 2020.