Source: CNN

It’s been a manicured-brow-raising week in the world of beauty pageants, as Miss USA and Miss Teen USA have both resigned from their roles, fueling speculation about both pageants’ management and treatment of their talent.

Both pageant winners — Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt and Miss Teen USA 2023 UmaSofia Srivastava — posted explanations for their departures, Voigt citing her mental health and Srivastava citing misalignment of the organization’s values with her own. And both are bound by strict non-disclosure agreements, radically limiting what they can say.

The Miss Teen USA and Miss USA pageants fall under the broader umbrella of the Miss Universe Organization, a global network of pageants. In a statement following Voigt’s announcement to step down, the Miss USA pageant said, “We respect and support Noelia’s decision to step down from her duties,” noting that, “The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time.” Miss Teen USA made a similar statement after Srivastava’s resignation.

There seems to be much intrigue in pageant world over these resignations. And there is a deeper question that needs to be raised: In 2024, why in the world are we still doing beauty pageants?

I know, I know: “It is not a beauty pageant, it is a scholarship program.” According to Miss USA, the pageant is about celebrating “beauty, intelligence, and empowerment.” It just so happens that all of the contestants fit into a very narrow definition of female attractiveness, intelligence doesn’t usually seem to count for anything in the judging process and “empowerment” is a term that has been rendered fully meaningless. What power, exactly, are pageant contestants “empowered” with?

It is arguably progress that beauty pageants now have to pretend that they aren’t just beauty pageants, but something related to talent, character and empowerment. The problem, though, is that a world in which women were fully empowered, treated with the same dignity as men, and judged according to their characters and not their sexual attractiveness to men is a world in which beauty pageants would not exist.

No matter how you spin it or how much language about “empowerment” you slap on a website, pageants are pageants: venues to judge women dressed up like Barbies and declare one the most beautiful of them all.

That an interview portion determines if a woman can string a few words together doesn’t actually solve the fundamental flaw of pageants, especially since interviews are used to judge “personality,” which seems to be shorthand for how sweet and feminine a contestant is. These competitions, no matter how much you massage the language around them, are condescending and sexist.

That isn’t to insult the many women and girls who participate in them (although I do think we should look very sidewise at parents who enter their young daughters in beauty pageants, dressing them up like little adults and training them to perform a cartoonish and often sexualized kind of femininity).

It’s not hard to understand the appeal of beauty pageants for some young women. Female beauty remains rewarded and celebrated; many girls grow up hearing and observing just how important it is to be perceived as physically attractive. Most women, even the most feminist among us, engage with a system that rewards youth and beauty in women in a way it simply doesn’t with men: We wear makeup, pick out flattering (by which we mean slimming) clothing and dye out the grays in our hair. Girls and women who have been genetically blessed with looks that fit a pageant ideal may understandably decide to capitalize on that. After all, they didn’t build this system.

And some admirable and successful women did get their start in pageants. Some remain in the realm of the professionally beautiful, while some have moved into careers more dependent on deeper skills. The list includes Diane Sawyer, Lynda Carter, Halle Berry, Sarah Palin and Vanessa Williams — although Williams, the first Black Miss America, was forced to resign after nude photos were published without her consent in Penthouse magazine. She no longer fit the virginal image the pageant wanted, and so they punished her for it. It took them more than 30 years to apologize.

The pageants have made some changes to adapt to the modern world. Miss USA contestants no longer have to be unmarried, under 28, never divorced, childless and not pregnant. The opportunity to be judged as the most beautiful gal on stage now extends to a wider variety of women — a complicated kind of progress indeed. And participants remain quite constrained in what they can do or say once they’ve been crowned by the organization, which is precisely why we know so little about these latest resignations.

Despite the nondisclosure agreements, whispers are getting out about why Miss USA in particular may have stepped down, including mistreatment by pageant higher-ups. (The Miss Universe organization has not returned CNN’s request for comment.) Fans noticed that the first letter in the first 11 sentences of Voigt’s resignation statement spell out “I am silenced.”

Every woman deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in her workplace, even if that work involved evening gowns and bathing suit competitions. But the kind of treatment it’s suggested she endured simply isn’t all that surprising given the ethos of pageants themselves. When women and girls are treated like objects to judge and ogle, smiling and (apart from a brief interview) largely silent, is it really so surprising that those who run pageants may not treat young women like autonomous human beings worthy of respect and freedom?

I hope Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are able to speak out about whatever it is they experienced. But I also hope this is the beginning of the end of those titles and these sexist, silly contests.

See Full Web Article