Until recently, I'd pictured Vanessa Williams, the first African American Miss America, (and the first reigning Miss America to receive death threats and racist hate mail) who was stripped of her crown when some soft core porn shots of her and another woman surfaced. I always thought it was lame that she'd had to step down, and was pleased when she went on to build a successful acting and singing career. She was recognized by the Campaign for Human Rights as an advocate for gay rights in 2008 when she received their "Ally for Equity" award. There's a great interview with her here.
If I thought a little more on the subject, I'd picture that poor little JonBenét Ramsey, the six year old beauty pageant contestant who was found murdered in her home. She'd be turning 19 this August if that unsolved slaying had never taken place. It makes me sad to think of this small child who looked so unsettlingly grown up in her makeup and hair coming to such a tragic end. Some time, let's talk about how our culture encourages girls to look super sexy at an obscenely young age. I want to focus on something else here.
Of course, we learned during the recent presidential election that She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was a beauty queen.
Her interviews with Katie Couric and others reminded me of the hilarious sentence mangling perpetrated by Lauren Caitlin Upton, the South Carolina contestant in the 2007 Miss Teen USA competition. Poor Miss South Carolina. Who among us doesn't wonder if we wouldn't crack under similar circumstances and ramble nonsensically for our allotted time? I may laugh at the video of her much-parodied moment of fame, but I do have great sympathy for her as well. It's one of those is-your-anti-perspirant-up-to-the-challenge times I wouldn't wish on myself or my child. Still, these parodies are pretty funny. I'm only human. I can feel bad for her but I nonetheless laugh. I even laugh at the Tube map created by some smart aleck as a sort of geographic diagram of her convoluted answer: Watch the video first or it makes no sense. Wait. That implies it makes sense after you watch the video. Which it doesn't. Because her answer makes no sense.
The most recent American beauty pageant did NOT have me laughing. I was extremely disappointed by the remarks of Carrie Prejean, Miss California, when she was asked her opinion on gay marriage. Politico.com's Andy Barr reported:
Prejean’s beauty contest saga began Sunday when competition judge and openly gay blogger Perez Hilton asked her if she supports gay marriage.I wonder if she justifies her boob job or her topless photos as ways of expressing her passion for the Lord.
“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she responded during the televised event. “No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
She’s also now prominently featured on the website of San Diego Christian College — the school she attended before taking the semester off to prepare for the pageant. The college was founded in 1970 by conservative pastor Tim LaHaye, author of the popular Christian book series “Left Behind.”
In a write-up of the controversy, the website highlights a quote from Prejean in which she said, “I knew there were secular judges, but I felt I needed to express my passion for the Lord.”
Perhaps she misinterpreted the meaning of Psalm 119:32:
I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.
Or tried to enact Ezekiel 16:7:
I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field: and thou didst increase and grow great, and advancedst, and camest to woman's ornament: thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair grew: and thou wast naked, and full of confusion.
I could quote some more passages, but I'm not trying to be hurtful. And that is the precisely the point of why I object to what she said. It is hurtful. Bigotry is hurtful. I don't really care one way or the other about what she did with her body. I think implants into healthy breasts are stupid, but I've always assumed that some surgical shenanigans went on with beauty contest participants. And as I mentioned before, I don't think a nekkid shot of a contestant should force her to give up her tiara. The whole virginal mystique of beauty queens is a little fake, don't you think?
When someone says "that's not how I was raised" it is akin to throwing down a gauntlet. It's a condemnation of how someone else lives their life. The words may seem innocuous in and of themselves, but there is a world of meaning there. A little time passes. She's able to consider the fallout from her comments, comments which were made while in a high pressure situation.
In case we misunderstood her, this high profile young woman declares that she's "expressing" her "passion for the Lord" by speaking out against gay marriage. She touts her biblical correctness. And she becomes the spokesmodel for NOM, an organization which has now distanced itself from her, in part because the Miss Universe Organization informed them that NOM's use of pageant footage in a "defense of traditional marriage" ad violates the pageant's copyright.
I could talk about the hypocrisy of what she is saying and doing. I could talk about what I think true Christian values of love look like, or what the Golden Rule means to me or a zillion other things. If I could ask Prejean a question, it would be “What do you think about homophobic bullying that causes young people to take their lives?” or "Do you realize that you're contributing to a climate of intolerance, to a culture of hatred and bigotry?"
Come with me on a quick trip in the Wayback Machine. Remember another beauty queen, way back in 1959? Second runner up in the Miss America contest, Miss Oklahoma Anita Bryant gained notoriety in the 1970's as an anti-gay activist.
Website nndb.com notes: "I don't hate the homosexuals," she wrote in a fundraising letter. "But as a mother, I must protect my children from their evil influence."
Thanks for that clarification, Anita.
Bryant's profile continues "...her marriage ended in divorce -- which left Bryant "shunned as a sinner" by many of the judgmental people who had joined her campaign against equal rights for gays."
This gives me hope that there is a just God.
I suppose I'm guilty of some prejudice myself. It's easy to lump all beauty queens together and dismiss them as women who conduct themselves differently than the way I was raised. But....well, that's not the way I was raised. And more importantly, it's not the way I'm raising my children. I point to the hypocrisy and stupidity in some people, sure, but I also work hard to avoid stereotyping or judging.
Except where there is hatred and prejudice. Then I judge pretty harshly.
I try to keep an open mind about beautiful women and not immediately assume they are airheads. I try to remember that Vanessa Williams was a beauty queen. And that her actions are beautiful. I'll bet there are plenty more young women who share her values, whose churches don't preach hate. It's just that the news is so full of the "opposite" these days.
And I don't think supporting hate is why this crown was worn.