submitted by Rachel Kodweis
A few weeks ago I worked as an usher for the Miss NY Teen USA and the Miss NY USA Beauty Pageant at Purchase College. It was over the course of one full weekend. The whole shindig was sponsored by Donald Trump, and televised live. There were forty teen contestants, and one-hundred-and-fifty adult contestants. It was so boring. For some reason I thought it would be entertaining but it was just a bunch of dolled up ladies walking from point A to point B, and then back again. The audience was an odd array ranging from wealthy aristocrats in fur to large families to prepubescent school girls to macho alpha-males. There was loud, monotonous music playing at all times, and everyone screamed for each applicant as if it was a rock concert. Audience members had banners and noise makers, cowbells, blow horns, and posters with women’s faces on them. It was a zoo. I worked for nearly twelve hours each day including preliminaries, finals, the VIP staff after-party, and the clean-up. During the after-party, one of the producers approached me and suggested that I apply to be a contestant in the next pageant. I laughed and said that it “wasn’t my type of thing.”
In all reality, I dislike the idea of beauty pageants. Why are they specifically for women? Why can’t they have Intellectual Pageants? Or Literary Pageants? They parade women about in skimpy bikinis and tightly clad evening wear, and rate them on their appearance. How is that a solid basis of character? What do six-pack-abs have to do with having good judgment, or a charitable heart, or a compassionate disposition? The women that submit themselves to that are subconsciously, or consciously, capitalizing off of their bodies. A size ten woman isn’t less qualified to represent New York State purely because she doesn’t feel the need to put her gifts on display. I just don’t get it. When a woman is crowned Miss NY USA, her job is to then work with charities, represent our state, and to make public appearances. Shouldn’t the judges be examining the contestants’ education, their volunteer work, and their public relation skills –rather than their measurements? Instead here are some of “fun facts” listed on the Miss NY USA application page:
- “It is one of the BEST ways to force yourself into the best shape of your life!”
- “90% of the girls were not in bikini shape when they interviewed and yet looked amazing on stage the big day.”
- “Many times the girl that wins raises enough sponsor money to prevent having to work all year.”
- “This year girls will get the advantage of using a new website that will revolutionize the way contestants raise money with ease because as you know…’beauty is expensive’!”
- “We make stars out of college girls, waitresses, teenagers working at fast food restaurants, secretaries, and many other professions.”
- “There will be over $300,000 in prizes and scholarships.
Not a whole lot on their application page about the joys of helping others, or about maintaining a professional reputation for women and our entire state.
I worked security backstage on the night of finals. A lot of the contestants that I interacted with were very rude and confrontational. One contestant’s mother was furious that she couldn’t go backstage without a VIP pass, and went so far as to verbally attack me with quips about how trivial my job was. I realize that there were probably quite a few kind contenders who were grossly overshadowed by the imprint of their adversaries. Somehow it seems like the pageant was more about the dresses and the jewelry and the cash prize than it was about being a good person and helping others.
The entire event, in and of itself, is contributing to the degradation of women. Why aren’t there Man Pageants? Why don’t they get onstage in their Speedos and tuxes, and smile and wave like a princess? These pageants ask that their applicants take off of work to exercise, find the perfect outfit, and to train how to walk and pose in all the right ways. All of that time, effort and money to walk across a stage in a bikini and heels; to be judged by a handful of biased opinions of what is considered “attractive.”
I suppose I should have been flattered by the idea that a Trump funded pageant employee found me pretty enough to compete. But I felt like saying: “Now why would I want to do that when I have a perfectly good brain and much better things to do?”
Rachel Kodweis is a New York based actor. She has several commercials running and has made acclaim as a regular radio persona with WBKX FM. She graduated with a BFA degree in Acting, and has been trained in Commedia dell’Arte, physical theatre, as well as aspects of mime. She holds dual certification in Unarmed and Armed Combat (Rapier & Dagger). Rachel prefers cherry red converse to heels, and loves independence and empowerment. She is sometimes referred to as “The Human Sponge,” and she is currently writing a book.