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Web Letters | The Nation

Miss America, 2013

I want to thank Ms. Mukhopahyay for addressing the recent Miss America pageant and its winner, Ms. Nina Duvulari, with an insightful observation that has not been pursued by others reporting on the event. Yes, many of the responses to Ms. Davualari’s win was saddening to hear and many reported their own outrage and wrote to emphasize the “great” strides the pageant has made over the years, but your article was the only one I have read so far that spoke of the underlying truth about Miss America. I would like to share my own personal experience, hopefully for your enjoyment.

In 1963, at age 20, I was encouraged to participate in my hometown, Elgin, Illinois (a medium-sized town northwest of Chicago), Miss America pageant. At the time, the national organization the Jaycees encouraged its local branch to hold contests with each local winner then going on to the state contest and these state winners to the “big” finale’. I was working at the time and also enrolled at the local community college. The local pageants promised college scholarships for the top three winners. These were small in terms of college costs.

I was not interested in the least. (1.) I thought the whole affair was demeaning of women, objectifying,and downright stupid and that (2) I was not beautiful or lovely. (Appearing on a stage in a swimsuit? Puuulease!) (3) I had no talent for the “talent” part of the pageant.

But my cousin’s husband who was in charge that year needed contestants. He very well knew my opinion, but he was unrelenting, a born salesman. I agreed to participate, and was very open about the fact I was going to join as satire. It is interesting that for the “talent” portion of the pageant I chose to sing the song, “All American Girl” from the then Broadway hit, “Stop the World I Want to Get Off”. Check it out sometime, it is delightful. I donned a blond wig, Marilyn Monroe–style. At the time I was a brown-haired, medium-sized, little-breasted witnit, considered funny by many, and difficult by others.

Throughout the week of meeting the other contestants and practicing for the big night, I constantly mocked myself, the pageant, the whole load of b.s. we were enduring. The other girls were so nice about my caustic remarks and thought I was a “hoot”, mainly because I helped to alleviate their jittery nerves. It was OK to laugh at me.I found the interviews with the judges were a real joke. They went totally silent when I revealed I had no formal or professional training in anything, yet I was going to sing and attempt some comedy. Many of the girls left their interviews in tears. I was appalled at the power the so-called judges had over them.

To shorten this letter, I made it to the final four out of eighteen.. That was then the proverbial light when off in my head. Holy #*&*&! What if I went on to win and was then obliged to go to the state pageant?? Thank goodness, I did not win. I did come in third, and my favorite, Miss Congeniality. My fellow contestants got the final laugh. I hope you enjoyed my reminiscence. Again, thank you for your article.

Mary Schmitz Busse

Greenville, SS

Sep 20 2013 - 6:40pm

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