If you’re old enough to remember that the road to minority empowerment started with self-esteem, big Afro hair styles and phrases like “Black is beautiful,” then tell me where we are after Sunday’s Miss America Pageant?
When the dark-skinned South-Asian beauty, Nina Davuluri, was crowned Miss America 2013, did we get to a new place in diversity where we have changed the standards of mainstream beauty in America?
Or did all we do is create a new stereotype of what is acceptable as “beautiful”?
In other words, can you really be beautiful — in that Miss America way — without a westernized sense of beauty?
It’s taken awhile before Miss America reflected the true beauty of America.
Consider that, since the pageant began in 1921, the first Black Miss America came in 1984, when Vanessa Williams and Suzette Charles finished first and second. But Williams’ reign was cut short when photos of her and another woman appeared in Penthouse Magazine. It gave Charles the opportunity to be the second African-American Miss America, all in one year.
Two in one year, even in infamy, is more Miss Americas than there’s been for Hispanic Americans.
There has never been a Latina Miss America, ever.
Maybe the pageant was hoping to cover Hispanics in 2001 with Angela Baraquio. But the Miss Hawaii was a Filipino American, and the very first Asian-American to be Miss America.
That makes 2013 quite a diversity milestone — to see three Asian-Americans in the top five, with the winner Davuluri, first runner-up Crystal Lee from San Francisco, and Minnesota’s Rebecca Yeh.
It came down to Davuluri and Lee, and the question segment always is a big deal. Lee got a question on Syria, somewhat easier since war has been delayed and averted. Lee, knowing no one would take her seriously, simply answered with her preference for the United Nations to step in.
It was Davuluri’s question that was more interesting. She was asked what she thought of CBS personality Julie Chen’s choice to use plastic surgery to make her eyes look less Asian.
Davuluri said she was against plastic surgery, a strong vote for natural beauty. And yet she said she understood its use. She finished off her answer saying: “I wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks. Be confident in who you are.”
The feel good answer. And most political. I wish it were the case, though if you’ve seen the pictures of the old Chen, you’d probably say she wouldn’t have a chance at being Miss America like the surgically improved Chen.
In the end, what do we have?
The pageant is just more institutional sexism on parade. We’ve diversified a negative and super-served a portion of the audience with Asian fetishes.
And it’s all justified when we hear Davuluri praise the pageant and how it’s provided her with $50,000 in scholarships.
Good for her, now what about the rest of society?