I read a post today, Lessons from Miss America, by a young woman, Sarah Delia, a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  She is an English and History major and programming director for the campus radio station WXJM. 

She had interviewed Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008 and discovered that her stereotype of a “beauty queen”  did not hold true.  Sarah realized that her mindset – judging Kirsten by preconceived  notions of pageant participants – “was about as unfeminist as you could get.”  Sarah was and is not alone in her misinformed perceptions.  But now, meeting a flesh and blood woman who has dreams, has faced down difficult issues and who is not full of herself, Sarah has come to see that there is so much more to the women who become Miss America than just a pretty face.

Like Sarah, I didn’t know what to expect when I started out interviewing twenty-two former Miss Americas for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas.  I found, just as she did, that these women turn out to be not just pretty, but pretty smart.  In person, they shatter the “it’s only a beauty contest” perception with their intelligence, thoughfulness, poise and eloquence.

 

Many people don’t see beyond the swimsuit competition.  They think that you can’t be beautiful and smart.  This complicated mix of beauty and brains has always been a contradiction in American society, which often dismisses the possibility of being both.

 

 

In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the Miss America Organization had a liberal feminist agenda years before Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, promoting higher education for women starting in the 1940s when women in aprons were more the norm than women in business suits.

 

I applaud Sarah for being willing to admit her own now debunked stereotype of who these women really are.  Kirsten isn’t an anomaly.  Her down to earth and gracious demeanor is representative of all the women I talked with.  My interviews like hers, turned into deeply felt conversations between two women.  Then I became a fan too.

 

 

 

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