I have very vivid childhood memories of my mom, my two younger sisters, and myself sitting around in our pajamas watching the Miss America Pageant year after year. We watched that Pageant religiously throughout the ’80s and ’90s, even holding our own pageants complete with makeshift tiaras and sashes in the basement of our Bel-Ridge house. We coveted that crown and thought, perhaps, one day it would be us on that stage, crying and waving as we walked down the runway to the famous song: “There she is… Miss America…” Alas, my dream of becoming Miss America was not meant to be but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the positive influence it has on helping young girls realize their own dreams.
Suffrage & The Miss America Pageant
The Miss America pageant began in 1921, just a couple of years after Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Since then, Miss America has been a symbol of beauty, grace, and oftentimes politics–a symbol of the times, really. Our new Miss America, like our re-elected President, is a reflection of an America longing for role models who look different than our Founding Fathers.
The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Miss America Pageant Throughout The Years:
- 1984: Vanessa Williams, succeeded by Suzette Charles, First and Second African-American Miss Americas
- 1990: Debbye Turner, Third African-American Miss America
- 1991: Marjorie Judith Vincent, Fourth African-American Miss America
- 1994: Kimberly Aiken, Fifth African-American Miss America
- 2001: Angela Perez Barquio, First Asian-American Miss America
- 2003: Erika Harold, Sixth African-American Miss America
- 2004: Erica Dunlap, Seventh African-American Miss America
- 2013: Nina Davuluri, First Indian-American Miss America: Check out her eloquent response to those who are upset by her win: Miss America’s Nina Davuluri talks about being a new face of the Miss America organization
Contestant Diversity & Acceptance
The Miss America Pageant and its public have openly accepted many types of diversity over the years, albeit not enough by any standard. For example, Alexis Wineman, Miss Montana 2012, competed in the 92nd annual Miss America Pageant. She was the first contestant diagnosed with Autism. During the latest Miss America Pageant, Miss Iowa, a 23-year-old vocalist born without her left forearm, competed for the crown as well. In 1995, Heather Whitestone, became the First Deaf Miss America. So I find it surprising that there are a group of outspoken Americans who are angry about the crowning of the new Miss America. Their vitriolic comments lead me to believe that it’s not a concern over accepting diversity but a concern over accepting racial diversity. That’s a sad realization in the year 2013 but a realization nonetheless–one that we should be aware of, acknowledge, but not accept as a guide for our moral compass. What they fail to understand, however, is that by discrediting the new Miss America they are directly contributing to our children’s lack of self-esteem and identity, especially that of young girls.
Young Women, Self-Esteem, and Identity
It’s no secret that our society still struggles with race, culture, and what it means to be diverse. Much of that burden falls on the shoulders of mothers, teaching and encouraging their children to reach for the stars in true American spirit but with gentle caution about the reality of how race effects the reality of their dream. I imagine that mothers to young girls take extra care to ensure their daughters don’t fall victim to self-esteem and identity issues, especially when it comes to race. So when girls are able to see an older, successful version of themselves it makes their dreams feel that much closer and the color of their skin becomes secondary. As such, when the new Miss America, an Indian-American, was crowned a winner I bet there were suddenly a whole lot more little girls who realized that their dreams of becoming a scientist, doctor, or even Miss America were not so far-fetched after all.
Thank you Miss America for helping the next generation of young women rise above the naysayers to realize their own dreams, just like you did.
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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com