I was browsing the Huffington Post and stumbled upon an op-ed by a Harvard post-doc, Hilary Levey Friedman, called “There She Goes: A Trailblazing Feminist Beauty Queen.” She wrote this around International Women’s Day, a day of celebrating female trail blazers, to introduce us to another advocate for women: Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943.
What’s so great about Bartel?  First of all, she refused to pose for pics in bathing suits, considering it demeaning, and second and more importantly, she was instrumental in turning Miss USA and Miss America into the largest sources of scholarship funds for women!
What’s more feminist than that?
While I have issues with the way pageants are designed (see my post, Miss USA: Beauties or Buffoons? (May 17, 2010)), I think beauty pageants have their place.  They are rooted in our past and were once one of the few ways women could reach beyond her economic strata.  My issue with them now is that they play into the cultural stereo-type that beautiful women, especially those who compete in the world of beauty, are vapid and stupid, rather than ambitious, clever and hard-working.  Beauty contests, like other competitions, offer people with special gifts — in this case beauty — the ability to compete for recognition and prizes.  And if winning means you have the chance to better your lot in life — then by all means, go for it!

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