Com­men­tary: For­mer Miss Amer­ica con­tes­tant: Girls like me don’t be­long any­more

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE -

I’ve been around half- naked women most of my life. I fig­ure skated (skimpy cos­tumes), I was a dancer (the best bod­ies on the planet), and I’m a pageant girl (hello, swim­suit com­pe­ti­tion). I don’t flinch, I don’t point fin­gers, and I don’t clutch my pearls.

This week, Miss Amer­ica’s chair­woman, Gretchen Carl­son, an­nounced that the Miss Amer­ica pageant will no longer in­volve swim­suit or evening gown com­pe­ti­tions. Peo­ple have been ar­gu­ing for years over the va­lid­ity of a com­pe­ti­tion that awards schol­ar­ships for T-and-A. Fem­i­nists say there is no place for it in to­day’s so­ci­ety. Peo­ple who have never been in a pageant say that the women are be­ing ex­ploited by walk­ing down a run­way in a swim­suit and high heels. And women who are sup­posed to be sup­port­ive of other women’s choices, find it all de­grad­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing.

I say, walk a mile in my high heels and biki­nis. I’d like to say two other words to them, but I don’t like con­fronta­tion or get­ting beat up.

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I have ad­mired the con­tes­tants — oh, ex­cuse me, “can­di­dates” — that have strut­ted their stuff on that fa­mous run­way. Whether they won or not, I mar­veled at their tal­ents, their abil­ity to think on their feet, and, yes, their bod­ies. They mo­ti­vated me to be­come a bet­ter all-round com­peti­tor. Never did I think I’d get to be one of them, but I worked my butt off, lit­er­ally, to get there.

I won my first swim­suit com­pe­ti­tion at my sec­ond pageant. And when I won it at Miss Penn­syl­va­nia in 1985, I was at my all-time peak of phys­i­cal fit­ness. I can tell you that I worked out ev­ery sin­gle day lead­ing up to that pageant. Of course I prac­ticed my tal­ent and went over cur­rent events ques­tions in my head, but it was the swim­suit com­pe­ti­tion where I busted my be­hind. And to this day, if any­one asks me — no one ever does, but still — the thing I am most proud of dur­ing that time is that stupid tro­phy. Be­cause I earned it.

Some women are ge­net­i­cally pre­dis­posed to hav­ing a great body — I’m talk­ing to you, Elle MacPher­son — and some aren’t. But whether you are short, tall, thick or thin, the dis­cern­ing eye can tell if you are in shape or not. When I judge a pageant, I don’t au­to­mat­i­cally award points to the girl who has the long­est legs or the big­gest breasts. I score on fit­ness. I want to see that you have put in ef­fort. It ain’t easy to step away from the plate, go to the gym, and count your macros. And I want to see it.

I’m dis­ap­pointed that Miss Amer­ica has nixed the swim­suit com­pe­ti­tion. I like look­ing at pretty girls, and I be­lieve pretty girls can be smart, tal­ented, and rel­e­vant. Why does Miss Amer­ica have to change its stan­dards to please peo­ple who are never go­ing to like the pageant any­way? Why can’t it be called a pageant? When did that be­come a dirty word?

With this change, is it say­ing that I’m not good enough? That my swim­suit win negates ev­ery­thing else on that bal­lot where I scored? I guess I’m not smart or tal­ented be­cause I have a tro­phy. Girls like me don’t be­long any­more.

I will al­ways be proud of my in­volve­ment, my tro­phy, my ti­tle. I’m lucky that I com­peted dur­ing the hey­day of the pageant. Su­san Akin, Miss Amer­ica 1986, prob­a­bly wouldn’t win to­day be­cause she was a bomb­shell. She was the girl I stared at all week, wish­ing I looked like her. She’s what a Miss Amer­ica should look like.

Lea Schi­azza was Miss Penn­syl­va­nia 1985 and is a grad­u­ate of Tem­ple Univer­sity, where her swim­suit schol­ar­ships helped to pay her tu­ition. She wrote this for the Phil­a­del­phia Inquirer.

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