There She Goes, Miss America
You've come a long way baby. High, firm boobs. Taut, smooth skin. No matter how accomplished you become, these are the things that make up the ideal woman in the land of the free. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons just released its 2001 stats to show that youth-inducing nips, tucks, sucks and filler-ups have tripled in the past decade. Since the Federal Drug Administration's recent blessing of Botox to "treat frown lines," Botox parties are all the rage. You can now sip champagne and get poison injected into your face to achieve that smooth, paralyzed look. "Just like Snow White," as one repeat customer cooed.
Still, the most dramatic gains reported for cosmetic procedures lie in the quest for bigger tits, with a swelling of 533 percent. Seems despite the political, economic and social doors opened for women over the years, desirability is still the inescapable female measurement of success. In a 1968 press release titled, No More Miss America!, The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol topped ten protest points. The Women Libbers wrote, "Miss America and Playboy's centerfold are sisters over the skin," calling the poised, primped and programmed contestants "The Living Bra."
To protest such an inflated ideal of womanhood, they tossed more comatose bras into a Freedom Trash Can outside of the annual pageant, along with other "symbols of oppression" like Cosmopolitan magazines, high heels and razors. Though nothing went up in smoke due to an unattainable fire permit, feminists made history as man-hating, hairy-legged bra burners with sensible shoes and no sense of humor. But you have to laugh at the irony in "No More Miss America" nearing reality more than three decades later. Shortly after recent reports of Miss America's financial and internal woes, the Federal Communications Commission cleared last fall's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show of violating TV's prime time indecency standards. Goodbye Miss America, hello Miss Victoria! With the flesh fest greenlit for next year, the "mindless-boob-girly symbol" is alive and shakin'.
Miss America's career may not have sagged and wrinkled, but the 81-year-old dame just can't stand firm next to the new meat on the block. Victoria's Secret has apparently found the winning concoction: non-stop, abundant flesh that is firm, glistening, spilling out of lace, leather and silk. So what if the annual "fashion show" is simply a shameless and saucy lingerie commercial? The hour aims to titillate and it does. Without pretense of moral purpose (Is that a nipple I see?) for parading fig-leafed nymphs, Victoria's Secret promoted their ABC broadcast as "the sexiest night on TV."
Miss America organizers, however, forever defend themselves as a scholarship program, and not, I repeat, not a beauty pageant. Call it what you will, but it has always been about physical allure for the sake of commercial arousal. Miss America was born in 1921 as a "bather's revue" to drum up post-summer business on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Launched with the arrival of an 80-year-old "King Neptune" and entourage of twenty cuties and twenty black male "slaves," the beauty contest climaxed with the crowning of a 16-year-old and wrapping her in the American flag. From day one, organizers had to package Miss America as preserving the cultural mores of the day.
As an official said of the first nubile beauty queen, "She represents the type of womanhood America needs -- strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests."
To deflect criticism of moral corruption, then sexism, the pageant evolved with talent time, scholarships, current events and social causes, and downplayed the bathing suit competition as a display of athleticism and health. To stay culturally relevant and economically viable, organizers laced the historic call for T&A with the scent of virtue. But keeping allure, yet pure, with a commercial foundation isn't easy.
Miss America president Robert M. Renneisen Jr. recently resigned after battling his board and state directors over how to dust off his charge for new millennial consumers. Arbiters of the pageant's tainted purity had also pushed Renneisen's predecessor out early after he proposed welcoming contestants who were divorced or had an abortion. The nail in Renneisen's coffin was his push to license Miss America slot machines to save the sinking treasure chest.
"We want this pageant to be about role models, and we want to attract the leadership of tomorrow," said the president of the National Association of Miss America State Pageants to the New York Times. "Whether or not you think Miss America should be on a slot machine, I don't think the leadership of tomorrow is going to be hanging around in casinos."
She may not be on a slot machine, but Miss America is still a puffed-up excuse to parade the "Living Bra" for ogling consumption. But it looks to be outdone by its successor Victoria's Secret, whose marketing cornerstone is selling sexy to horny boyfriends, husbands and bouncy wannabes. A divorced 29-year-old mother of a toddler and faithful subscriber to Victoria's Secret catalog said she bought new boobs to look good in the advertised bras she so loved.
"I want to feel sexy," she said to justify her surgery as an act of empowerment.
Miss America debuted a year after women won the right to vote. Today women, such as Condoleezza Rice, have infiltrated the White House as top advisors. Yet it's Miss Victoria -- busty, tanned and titillating -- who reveals what kind of woman still makes the world go round.
Lara Riscol is writing Ten Sex Myths That Screw America, a book she began while completing a master's degree in contemporary issues and public policy at the University of Denver.