What I Say to Miss America, And Anyone Who Still Thinks Women’s Beauty Is Only Bikini-Deep
Racist rants broke lose on Twitter this past weekend after people discovered that Nina Davuluri, the new Miss America, is a terrorist. I mean a Muslim. I mean an Arab. I mean not American. Okay, so she's a chemistry major born in Syracuse but you wouldn't know that from looking at her because, well: RACISM! As soon as people didn't see a blond, blued-eyed young woman win the crown, they fell off their chairs and then got right back on them to tweet-binge their bigotry.
I wouldn't give any credence to a few trolls, mostly because that's what they want. Whether they are angry about an interracial couple in a Cheerios commercial or an 11-year-old Mexican-American cutie pants singing the national anthem, they will always be lurking around the dusty corners of the internet, waiting to offend.
What I am concerned about is the insidious way racism seeps into all aspects of American culture. I'm worried about women of color growing up in a world where they're told they will be more beautiful/attractive/acceptable if they look "more white." I'm disgusted to live in a society that lightens the tone of bad-ass celebrities like Beyoncé or Gabby Sidibe on magazine covers and that gets away with persistently whitewashing beauty.
The consequences go beyond the imagination and lead to stories like reporter Julie Chen's, who was advised by those above her at a local news station in Ohio to undergo eyelid surgery to look more white. She was told she would not make it unless she got rid of her "Asian eyes." Yes, this actually happened.
The fact that women are shamed for not looking white enough is profoundly disturbing and speaks to how systematic racism is in our society. This should spark a conversation about the ubiquity of white supremacy and how we should combat it.
Meanwhile, the weekend's Twitter rage doesn't just point to the inherent lack of diversity in beauty pageants, it also highlights another serious issue about Miss America: it still exists.
Why is that in 2013, the largest benefactor of scholarships for women in America judges its recipients based on how hot they look in a bikini? Sure, the organization has made it financially possible for thousands of women to get an education, but why aren't we more worried about the fact that a company that rewards 1950s-stereotypes about women is responsible for sending them to college? How does a woman's ability to parade in evening wear have to do with how much she is deserving of a scholarship? It would be ludicrous to televise men strutting their stuff on stage in speedos for college money, right? Why is it any different for women?
One of the most offensive statements about this year's pageant winner came from Fox New host Todd Starnes who tweeted that the winner didn't represent real "American values." What are these precious American values anyways? Whiteness? Ranking and valuing women primarily for their looks? We shouldn't preserve xenophobia and sexism, we should make every effort to disrupt them. These values shouldn't make us proud to be American, they should provoke us to change.
The backlash against Nina Davuluri reminds us that we are far from living in a post-racial society. We should be outraged about the racism that pervades our definitions of beauty and membership in American society. But our outrage shouldn't stop there. As writer Kelly Sue DeConnick put it perfectly on Twitter: "Which is more vile? That we have a Miss America pageant at all? Or the wildly racist & ignorant reaction to the winner?" The answer is both. We need to question why this relic of female oppression still exists at all, and alarmed that it continues to reproduce narratives that are damaging to women and girls.
If women are to be equal members of society, they need to be treated that way. All girls should grow up knowing that their brains matter. And all girls should grow up knowing that they are beautiful, both inside and out.
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