American Beauty

Michelle Marie Riches

Writing and PR Intern

Last week in Atlantic City, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America, becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win since the pageant’s debut in 1921. Naturally, hoards of racist people on the Internet are outraged. Cries of, “But this is America!” and, “Go back to 7/11!” echoed throughout the twitter-verse. Several people were appalled that a Muslim woman could win the title so close to the anniversary of 9/11, which is absurd not only because it is obscenely racist, but also because Davuluri is Hindu.

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Williams became the first African American woman to win the pageant and Davuluri is very proud to also share the titles of Miss Syracuse and Miss New York with another historic Miss America.  It is wonderful to see diversity among the winners considering no woman of color competed until the 1970s, which is sickening to begin with, but the Miss America Pageant is problematic on another level. Though presented as a scholarship pageant, the beauty competition is still considered a main event. Because apparently looking good in a swimsuit is a relevant part of a grad school application.

In order to compete in the competition for Miss Syracuse, Davuluri felt the need to lose sixty pounds. Statistically speaking, the average American woman is a size fourteen. I would be shocked if a single woman on that stage was more than a size six. While it is every woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, we must ask ourselves if she would have stood a chance before her weight loss. Probably not.

For the next year, young American girls have a wonderful new role model to look up to: a talented woman of color who intends to attend medical school; but considering more than half of all teenage girls want to lose weight, we should consider electing role models that come in all shapes and sizes. By continuing to hold a swimsuit competition in a “scholarship” pageant, we are telling young girls they must look a certain way in order to be worthy of success.

It is absolutely shameful that we have such a narrow standard of beauty. Nina Davuluri was beautiful before her weight loss and she is beautiful now, but beauty should not be such a large factor in a scholarship pageant that supposedly represents all American women. She deserved to win because of her intelligence, because of her talent, because of her character, not because she could fit into a certain size swimsuit.

In an interview with NPR, Davuluri said, “The girl next door is evolving as the diversity in America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same person come 10 years down the road.” We can only hope that in 10 years, the Miss American pageant will begin to embrace all kinds of diversity.