On July 30, 18-year-old Karlie Hay of Texas became the new Miss Teen USA. As with any institution that has suffered from the ownership of Donald Trump, alleged billionaire and confirmed boss of the Oompa-Loompa mob family, the competition and its outcome were not without scandal. Prior to the crowning of Karlie Hay, the Miss Teen USA twitter account tweeted out this picture of the top five remaining contestants:
If you're anything like me, the thought of participating in a pageant normally makes you want to wash your brain out with bleach, but if I had these girls' God-given good looks I'd probably want to cash in, too! However, that's not the issue many have taken with this photograph.
Yes, these young women are beautiful--so beautiful, in fact, that it is hard to tell them apart. Somehow, a giant organization, probably operated by hundreds of different people, managed to have only white, blonde-haired women in its top five contestants. Not even a white-skinned brunette could break into this group (As a natural ginger myself, I wouldn't have stood a chance). It wasn't long before the activists, comedians, and laypeople of Twitter chimed in with their mostly negative reactions. To make things worse, once Hay was coronated, it did not take long for the Internet's finest detectives to find and screenshot numerous tweets in which Hay uses the n-word to address her (also white) friends the way some would use the word "dude" to do the same. Now, this is not exactly surprising coming from a white person who has lived most of their life in Texas, but when one is eligible for a public position, even one as trivial and unimportant as Miss Teen USA, you would think one would take extra care to clean out one's social media accounts of anything that looks bad far before embarking upon the competition. Hay seems to have missed the memo both on racial sensitivity and positive self-branding.
The lack of diversity in the top ranks of the competition as well as the overt racism from the winner highlight problems that many people have with the Miss Universe Organization. I think that even if diversity issues were addressed, the Miss Universe pageants, especially Miss Teen USA, would nonetheless be backwards, silly and useless events that do nothing to help young women. It may sound like a noble cause to work to ensure that contestants are judged fairly regardless of race, and it is. However, I think it is a bit strange to passionately advocate so more young women can be judged solely based on their appearances. Sure, there's a "personality interview" but does anyone really believe that these girls were picked for their unique and exciting personalities? If they were, there wouldn't also be a need for an evening wear portion as well as the infamous swimsuit round. For Miss Teen USA specifically, this round has been replaced by an "activewear" competition, in order to avoid sexualizing the contestants. That's a step in the right direction, I guess, but even though the new activewear looks (consisting of a sports bra and leggings) are less revealing, they still demonstrate nothing but cookie-cutter body types. As someone who is not traditionally beautiful (and in fact was made fun of for my appearance growing up), seeing a line up of skinny, perfectly made-up girls with hourglass figures being lauded for their looks is not exactly comforting. I also think that teaching these types of girls that winning the genetic lottery means they don't have to work hard or have a personality is dangerous. Beauty pageants are a big part of the reason that the conventionally attractive are often rewarded for having knowledge or personality traits that more average people are not even acknowledged for.
As much as I understand and applaud the movement to diversify the Miss Teen USA pageant, I still believe that we would be better off without it altogether. Regardless of the diversity of its contestants, beauty pageants do nothing more than encourage a culture in which young women are rewarded for natural beauty and punished for being anything less than gorgeous.