Brains vs. Beauty: Which Will Be Crowned?

Since 1921, the Miss America pageant has captured the attention of the nation annually. Over the last 96 years the pageant has created controversy and skepticism of the overall motives associated with the Miss America brand. However, what you might not know is that as a non-profit organization, Miss America provides over $40 million each year in scholarships to the over 12,000 young women who compete in state and local competitions all over the nation. Despite these scholastic contributions, Miss America and its contestants are under constant scrutiny for their focus on the female body, image, beauty and talent, allowing little room for the public to see the organizations intended image.

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If you tuned in to the 2015 Miss America pageant on Sunday, September 14, you’d have been delighted with over 50 Tony Bowls evening gowns, 16 Catalina designer swimsuits, 8 well-rehearsed talents, but only 5 20-second interview question answers. Throughout the competition scores are calculated as follows: Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit 15%, Evening Wear 20%, Talent 35%, Private Interview 25% and On-Stage Question 5%. Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to understand how so many viewers have become skeptical of the pageants true aims. These facts leave us asking: How can an organization that claims to be founded on improving women’s education host a pageant that is primarily scored on superficial beauty?

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Although the pageant judges hold private interviews prior to the televised competition, these are not seen by the public. With the overwhelming majority of the televised pageant focused on the physical appearance and selected talent of each contestant it is hard for us, as viewers, to believe that the final decision is based on intellect. Because we do not see the private interviews and are only shown the 20-second On-Stage interview portion, there is minimal emphasis on the contestant’s ability to share her ideas on current events/issues cognitively and knowledgeably.

As popularity of the Miss America pageant has grown, the organization seems to be straying from its original platform concept. While the pageant has always had a beauty portion, the increased focus on the importance of beauty and the “ideal” female body have created negative backlash toward the brand. Looking at Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) we can see that the cultural obsession with “how a woman should look” has changed the outputs of the organization. As the organization has evolved to basing so much of the final score on lifestyle, fitness, talent, and beauty its current image goes against what Miss America claims to stand for. The organization has adapted its structure over the years to meet the demands of what viewers want to see. While the televised pageant remains popular, drawing over 7 million viewers, the numbers were down 15 percent from last year’s pageant making accelerated skepticism clear. Despite this drop in ratings and increase in negative feedback, Miss America is sure to remain a valued tradition in American culture.

-Angelica DiPaolo, Morganne McIntyre, Anderson McNaull, Madeline O’Connor, Rachel White