Beauty Pageants: What You Should Do Instead

I usually don't pay attention to beauty pageants anymore. My reasons for hating them are pretty obvious and I've written about them here before. They blatantly objectify women. If they're boosting "self-esteem," as pageant promoting talking heads often claim they do, then it seems to me that said confidence is mostly based on being held up as a figure of immense beauty in a global society where beauty is valued above all else. And while confidence is great, that's a pretty shallow and transparent thing to feel confident about. And I get that a woman should be able to do whatever the hell she wants (within reason) and that entering a beauty pageant is a choice, but if we cut the shit the "ugh" factor here is a little too intense to ignore.

But this past weekend, I did pay attention. Why? The new Miss America, Teresa Scanlan, is my age (17). This probably shouldn't catch my attention as much as it does, considering that in this day and age beauty queens are practically bred in the womb (not quite, but I'm sure somebody's working on making that happen). But it got me thinking: I'm 17 and I know quite a few 17-year-olds. We all lambast beauty pageants, whether or not our motivation in doing so is strictly "feminist.

It basically comes down to this: none of us can figure out why beauty pageants are relevant anymore. And especially when looking at this 17-year-old who clearly has dedicated her life to competing in such pageants, we're all wondering why she chose pageants rather than activities like the ones we do.

Even if you take beauty completely out of the equation, and look at  pageants as a scholarship program based on an individual's talents in the areas of public speaking, physical fitness and health (heh), the development of a "talent," and raising awareness about an issue near and dear to your heart, there are about several thousand better options than entering the archaic practice of beauty pageants. Don't believe me? Here are a few FBomb approved options (all of which could probably end up in some sort of scholarship).

Public Speaking

Join Speech and Debate. I don't know if every high school is as crazy about this club as mine is - we have multiple coaches and it's generally a cult, including literally car loads of tupperware bins full of preparative literature based on the topic the student will be debating. But from what I understand it's an intense commitment that demands the development of time management skills and responsibility from its participants. Also, rather than asking questions like "Who is your role model?" or "Puppies v. Kittens - DEBATE!" (too far?), speech and debate focuses on topics like, "In the United States, should juveniles charged with violent felonies be treated as adults in the criminal justice system?" and "Should the United States federal government substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey?" So, you know, important stuff that requires deep thought and research. Also, you get the benefit of being part of a team! So much better.

Physical Fitness

Join a sports team. I joined my school's tennis team my freshman year and continued with it through junior year and while I bitched about it a lot at the time (in addition to the time commitment, my general adverse attitude towards moving became a problem after a while) I have to admit it was a great experience. Working towards a goal athletically is so much different than working towards one academically, and as an academic person I found it really interesting to experience the intensity of physically pushing myself in practice and in the midst of a match. And not to hit the "team" thing over the head, but being on a team is a really valuable experience. In addition to being lazy, I'm mostly a misanthrope (I'm really painting a charming picture of myself, aren't I?) and being on a team taught me how to work with other people, which really translates to many different parts of my life. And while learning how to be independent and achieving personal goals is also great, I can only imagine what participating in pageants - where you are constantly judged as an individual and pitted against other girls - does to you over time.


It seems like most beauty contestants' talents are music related (like this admittedly badass talent), so I say learn an instrument or form a band. Join a music school like School of Rock or go to camp at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls! Learn more about the Riot Grrrl Movement for badass female role models / references. Or, if you want a super awesome talent that I could only dream about having, join a Robotics Team like Rock 'N Roll Robots and create a robot that can take over the world. That'd be sweet.

Raising Awareness

I could literally offer suggestions under this category for years, but even just in looking at my own high school's roster of clubs, I'd offer up joining clubs (or better yet creating one if your school doesn't have one) like Amnesty International or The Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). There are probably a lot of awesome organizations in your area, as well. For example, in my community there's this organization called Gen Eff that trains local high school students to raise awareness amongst their peers about their health care rights and encourages them to take an active role in the politics of health care. There's also a local organization called Expect Respect, which is devoted to raising awareness about teen dating violence through a play performed by students in high schools around the area.

So, you see, that's why when beauty pageants offer up all of these reasons for why their pageants are still relevant and valuable, I just can't help but scoff. There are so many more feminist-friendly options that are actually more competent at providing these opportunities and benefits for kids. So who knows - if Teresa Scanlan could do it all over again maybe she'd make the exact same choice and become Miss America at 17 again. But I know for damn sure that there are better options for the majority of us.

More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Education, Feminism, Girls, Health, International, LGBTQIA, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Title IX, Gender bias, Social media, Women's history, Sexism, News, Television, Sexualized violence, Music



Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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