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Fake Boobs, Donald Trump and Miss USA: Why Do Trashy Beauty Pageants Still Exist?

The latest tabloid controversy over the Miss USA pageant yet again begs the question: Why is anyone taking this stuff seriously?

If you haven't heard of Carrie Prejean by now, well, consider yourself lucky.

The 21-year-old beauty queen made a name for herself at this year's Miss USA pageant when she uttered a barely decipherable three sentences in response to a question about gay marriage. Through a uranium smile, she voiced her support for "opposite marriage" -- now an Urban Dictionary entry meaning marriage between a man and a woman -- because that's what her family believes in ("no offense to anybody!").

So there you have it: a pageant finalist invoked a bigoted viewpoint in a pageant-vacuous response. Is it really such a shock that Prejean, a cog in a system where it's common practice for fathers to steer their glitzed-up daughters across a stage in what amounts to a scored debutante ball, echoed what she was "raised to believe" during her 15-second reply?

Apparently so. A media shit storm as lowbrow as a rhinestone-covered evening gown ensued, starting with Perez Hilton, the blogger who asked Miss California the question, running home to his Web cam and posting a video calling Prejean a "dumb bitch" (later during a TV interview Hilton noted he should have used the "c-word"), a response for which Entertainment Weekly anointed him "an unlikely hero."

Partially nude photos of the beauty queen were surreptitiously released to the media, prompting a tearful press conference on Prejean's part and speculation over whether Trump would let her keep her title. (There was a hyped-up press conference for that, too.)

Under the guise of responding to the controversy, Keith Olbermann and Michael Musto devoted an entire segment on MSNBC to misogynistic quips about Prejean's "performance-enhanced" body, Musto at one point nonsensically saying that the pageant must have paid "to cut off her penis."

Meanwhile, Prejean, finding new support in far-right Christian groups, told an interviewer that God was whispering in her ear that night. She was booked to host Fox & Friends for a day.

The weirdest twist of all came when the Miss California Organization leaked the news that the organization itself had paid the bill on Prejean's pre-pageant breast implants. According to Samhita Mukhopadhyay at, the revelation showed "that pageants aren't about highlighting women as they are or for their talents, but for their physical appearance and to make spectacle of a specific type of femininity."

The organization's admittance that it funneled money into the exterior "enhancement" of Prejean kept the ongoing controversy firmly in the spotlight -- at the expense of sacrificing any legitimacy its official criteria of promoting "savvy, goal-oriented, and aware" women may have afforded it.

In 1984, Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, was dethroned over nude photographs. But in 2009, Miss California USA officials were all too happy to fan the flames of tabloid controversy.

Which begs the question --  why is anyone taking this stuff seriously? And why, oh why, are we awarding political relevance to a contest that profits by showcasing women in bikinis and high heels in the first place?

The argument that pageants are outdated at best, sexist at worst, is nothing new. It has surfaced repeatedly over the past few decades, most notably at the 1968 Miss America Pageant, where the first large-scale protest of the event was staged outside the Atlantic City Convention Center. (The much-loved conservative myth of the rabid bra-burning feminist got its legs at this gathering when women tossed aprons and bras into a large bin as a symbolic disavowal of traditional femininity. None were actually lit on fire.)

The reasons for protesting Miss America as an institution were obvious: Public unrest with the Vietnam War was beginning to surface, and Miss America was on tour with the USO. The sexual revolution was under way, and the Miss America contest continued to perpetuate the virtues of an antiquated feminine ideal and a narrowly defined beauty standard.