Monday, December 19, 2011

American Beauty

Growing up in the '70s, the Miss America pageant was a family tradition. Early in each broadcast, we'd each select the woman
we thought most likely to win, then cheer for her as the pageant progressed, celebrating when she was among the finalists, earning bragging rights if she won.

Looking back, I was most enthralled with the on-stage questions asked, the answers seemingly unrehearsed. In a contest where the vast majority of time seemed focused on evening gown and swimsuit competitions, my heart centered on the words.

In a fuzzy decade-long collage, pasted onstage interviews, I am left with an answer articulated as most important for humanity: world peace. At some point the embittered young woman me begins to mock the stereotyped and simplistic answer.

Life experience has taught her not to hope.

Wisconsin's own Terry Meeuwsen won the title of Miss America 1973, wearing a much-publicized American POW bracelet.

Colorado's Rebecca King, Miss America 1974, shocked the nation when she admitted she entered for the scholarship money. Rebecca received nationwide publicity during her tenure for her pro-choice stance while a country was torn over the Roe vs. Wade issue. She became the first Miss America to use her scholarship funds to attend and graduate from law school.

Rebecca crowned 21-year-old doctoral candidate Shirley Cothran of Texas as Miss America 1975... Shirley was quoted in The New York Times as saying "I respect what they are doing, and hope [NOW] can respect me for what I'm doing. Until I get married I prefer 'Miss' Cothran rather than 'Ms'."

—Miss America Review more

I watched my final Miss America pageant more than 30 years ago. The bitter young me who wanted to hate the "Miss" and applaud the "Ms" now simply admires the woman from Wisconsin with the inner strength to wear the POW bracelet, speak to what really matters: humanity, world peace.

In visiting the strip clubs, we are blessed to share friendship with women of inner beauty and undeniable strength, women who defy the lies our "Christian" culture attaches to people who would work "there" – women who possess a radiance within, compassion in sisterhood with the Miss America from Wisconsin.

Vanessa Williams, a Miss American 1984, is high on my list of American heroines. Today I embrace seven others:
  • the woman who refused to change her name, a Jewish spokesperson for cooperative existence
  • the woman who relied on fellow contestants to cue her onto and across the stage, trusting her competition because being deaf from childhood, she couldn't hear the verbal cues nor read the lips of the MC on the dark stage
  • the woman with juvenile diabetes who competed and won with support hose over the insulin pump strapped to her leg
  • the woman who played by pageant rules to win, then embraced her own integrity announcing she was an opera singer not a pin-up, and refusing to wear a swimsuit again
  • the woman who attempted suicide then wrote her memoir, wanting her story to be a glimmer of hope to others
  • the woman prone to panic attacks, working on behalf of victims of incest, as someone who survived
  • the woman who concealed a dark secret at the time of her reign, she had been raped by an acquaintance.
I applaud all women of strength, the unexpected treasures of humanity who turn against the violence and openly embrace life, women who work toward and hope for world peace.


People Magazine's American Beauties: 80 Years 16 Oct 2000 Vol 54 No 16
TMJ4's Miss America: Terri Meeuwsen by Carole Meekins

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