By Stori Long
On Jan. 15, 2011, Teresa Scanlan, 2010’s Miss Nebraska, was crowned Miss America. She is the youngest girl to win the pageant since the 30’s. She wants to go to law school and become a politician. Moreover, she is, by her own admission, a devoted Christian.
This alignment with Christian values and “pageant values” has been a source of some concern for Dr. Melody Maxwell, who earned a Ph.D in religion from International Baptist Theological Seminary. In her article, “Christians and the Miss America Competition,” Maxwell describes her concern for the disturbing “model of womanhood” that the Miss America pageant represents and the message it sends that to be successful young women must be eloquent, driven, graceful, as well as beautiful and desirable.
While I can certainly see where some of her concern may come from, I myself am more disturbed by the continually narrowed definition of what a “model of womanhood” is. One of my favorite things about the times we now live in is that a woman is able to pursue success in any field she desires. I think often in an effort to balance out an extreme obsession with exterior beauty that exists in our word, Christians swing too far to the opposite side of the spectrum where appreciation of beauty is equated with vanity and shallowness.
Obviously, obsession with the outward appearance is not consistent with Christian values, as Maxwell rightly observes in her article, and sometimes an “appreciation” of beauty morphs into something dark and twisted. However, I believe this can be said of any pursuit, including pursuit of intelligence, pursuit of money, pursuit of athletic ability. All of these focuses can be dangerous if they become the ultimate good in anyone’s life.
I think that Maxwell mistakenly looks at the Miss America says the message of the pageant is that the women portrayed are what a woman must be to be successful, but I do not think this is the case at all. The pageant is saying that this is what a woman must be to be successful in pageants, but how is this different than any field or interest that a woman, or anyone, may enter into? If a woman is to enter academia, the business world or motherhood, there is still a standard she must meet to do well in that particular field and the keys to success are not the same across the board.
I would be far more prone to agree with Maxwell if I thought there were as a general stigma against those who do not fall into the beauty pageant ideal, but I have never observed this. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. I am not a pageant girl, and I have never once been mocked because of it. On the contrary, I have heard many judgments made about girls who choose to participate in them. There is a stereotype and stigma concerning those who participate in pageants and I think this is very limiting and unfair. I also think it is narrowing to say that a pageant is not a place where a young woman can use Christianity as a platform. It reminds me of the beauty pageant in the book of Esther in the Bible, where because of her spirit, compassion, willingness, and physical beauty, God is able to use Esther to fulfill his purposes. This is not to say that God does not use certain people because of their physical appearances, but rather God equips us with qualities that allow us to best be used in the specific context he places us.
Stori Long is a senior professional writing major from Crowley and a reporter for the Lariat.