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No Way to Treat a Lady

by Barnabas
July 31, 2002

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July 29 — Miss North Carolina said she dropped out of the race for Miss America after her ex-boyfriend wrote to pageant officials suggesting they ask her about two photographs in which she appeared nude...The contract [between a Miss America Contestant and the Miss America organization] prohibits contestants from "engaging in any activity that could reasonably be characterized as dishonest, immoral or indecent and from conducting themselves in any manner that is inconsistent with the standards and dignity of the Miss America Program," a statement from the Miss America Organization said.

I have to work on this. The Miss America program may have standards of a sort—all show business does, including strip joints-- but dignity? Here is a multi-million dollar commercial enterprise, issuing in a prime-time television program which focuses on the exploitation of the sexual characteristics of beautiful young women. You don’t have fifty women, many of whom are professionals, put on swimwear for the purpose of parading their beauty in front of millions of strangers, and then stand on your dignity.

Let’s personalize it a bit. Let’s suppose you’re invited to the home of a friend. He asks if you have met his daughter, a graduate student at M.I.T., who happens to be home visiting You acknowledge that you have not. He goes to the stairs and hollers, “Honey, would you put on your bathing suit and come down here to meet a friend of mine?” If Honey appears as requested, you will assume that she has no sense of personal dignity. On the basis of his request, you have already decided that her father is a jerk, if not a creep.

The living room scenario isn’t parallel with the pageant, which is the point The Miss America contestants, probably without exception, would not accept such a request from their fathers. After the guest leaves, the Dad who tried it would probably be in for the unhappiest fifteen minutes of his life.

The Miss America pageant is a game of dress-up for adults. It is show business from beginning to end. Its standards are those of show business. Performance and illusion matter; forget dignity. The pageant has bought cleavage and bare thighs, not topless full-frontal nudity. That is a show-business standard, not a moral distinction. Those gifted young women retain their dignity because they are in a production. They are pretending. In front of Daddy’s guest there would be no illusion, only immodest display.

One may disapprove of college students living together for sexual purposes, and still feel sorry for Miss North Carolina. She resigned because a former boy friend had once taken a surprise picture when she was changing her clothes, and was now threatening to release it Her indiscretion does not seem to be that she slept with the guy—I don’t see how the Pageant may insist, in this moral climate, that contestants be virgins--but that there was tangible evidence that she had; her big mistake seems to have been that she changed her clothes.

In another life, in another world almost, at a nickel Coke machine I bought a coke in a paper cup for a girl who, four years later, became Miss America. When I knew her she wore her hair plainly, and wore glasses with thick plastic frames. She was gifted, smart, pretty enough, and nice enough to let a nerdy kid like me buy her a coke. She certainly didn’t have to look any different to be herself.

But to be Miss America, she had to lay aside her glasses and change her hair style. When I saw her on television, I recognized her name and her performance. I didn’t recognize her.

If Miss America were about dignity, she could have kept her glasses on.

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