What Is Miss USA For?

Will spectacles as inherently sexist as beauty pageants ever die? The Fashion Mailbag says, depressing as they can be, they’re probably not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Last year’s Miss USA, Kristen Dalton of South Carolina.

Want to talk fashion or style with Amy? Write her at amy.odell@buzzfeed.com.

The Internet tells me the Miss USA pageant will be on TV on Sunday. Why do we still bother with something as old-fashioned and culturally irrelevant as a beauty pageant? They say nothing about the current state of fashion/the world, are sexist, etc.

I hear you. The idea that a select group of genetically blessed women should diet, spray tan, gym like there’s no tomorrow, hairspray their heads until they become fire hazards, and then parade around in swimsuits and Caché’s finest with Kim Kardashian makeup and a sash as a representation of a state in our fine nation in order to win a silly title, crown, and scholarship money does rub the wrong way. As does knowing that Donald Trump owns the organization responsible for issuing this spectacle on televisions around the nation every year. It’s like a time capsule into decades past, when no one thought twice about the moral implications of objectifying women. It’s like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but more organized and with a lower photoshopping budget.

But they bother with it because people love this nonsense. Are you not entertained by beautiful women shimmying around in sparkly outfits, performing synchronized walking routines and answering generic questions with more generic-ness? With a musical performance interlude? (This year we will be treated to the musical stylings of Akon and Cobra Starship.)

These basic ideas — sparkles, cleavage, great legs, high heels, music, synchronized movement, light commentary — are what Las Vegas was founded on. They’re why people pay money to see concerts. Thus, Miss USA is not much different than a combination fashion show, Beyoncé concert, showgirl routine, and Today show broadcast, minus any hardcore talent. (Unlike the Miss America pageant, Miss USA contestants don’t have to exhibit a talent.) Do I wish it were different? Of course. I wish the contest allowed contestants to dress as individuals instead of one of 51 women who are distinguishable only by race, hair color, and a sash with a state name across their chest. I wish the contest had more to do with finding someone as smart and talented as she was poised and free of blemishes. I wish the question portion demanded more of the ladies’ intellect and less of their ability to stare blankly at the camera like stunned deer.

But the masses don’t want to watch someone take an SAT to prove their brains. That’s not good television. And why would the pageant bother trying to make the show smarter when millions of people watch it as is? Last year 6.6 million people tuned in. And millions are bound to watch again this year, not for the purpose of learning something, but for the purpose of tuning out from the world and, frankly, not having to think much.

If it makes you feel better, know that just like when Democrats watch Fox News, a lot of folks are just watching Miss USA to get angry, not because they support the pageant’s morals. If you want an anger warm-up, check out this bit from the FAQ on the Miss USA site:

CAN CONTESTANTS BE MARRIED?
No, contestants may not be married or pregnant. They must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled nor given birth to, or parented, a child. The titleholders are also required to remain single throughout their reign.

Yes, along with your crown, title, scholarship money, and GLORY you also win… 365 days of romantic solitude! Because what kind of role model and lust object is married or dates openly? Horny men and 8-year-old girls don’t deserve that kind of non-democratically elected Miss — not Mrs. — USA. No, they sure don’t.

But if you want to watch the pageant for for fun in addition to the fun of getting angry, here are some things that are generally highly entertaining about the whole thing:

• The choreographed walking around. You know when the contestants come out and swan about and stand and stare and everyone claps because YAY! Pretty girls in a row! That’s usually amusing because they have a routine that’s clearly been practiced a whole lot. A walking to and fro routine.

• The musical performance. Will Akon actually sing or just lip sync and rip his shirt off and gyrate his pre-greased ab muscles? Something to ponder during his five minutes.

• The evening gowns! Try to figure out which contestant is the sparkliest, has the highest slit, the most backless frock, most symmetrical cleavage, most unnecessary straps, etc.

• The “Glam Shots” available on the Miss USA site of all the contestants right now. Have a peruse through those — they even hired male extras to play gladiators wearing big hats with feathers.

And I guess that’s it. I really can’t think of a way to put a positive spin on the bathing suit portion.

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