Miss America: Reflection Of Culture

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(Miss America 2006, Jennifer Berry).

In a country like the United States, where change is inevitable and popular opinion shifts more often than the ebb and flow of an ocean tide, very few things remain consistent. Why? Simply put, people’s expectations change. There are, however, certain things which survive these changes. Unknown to some, the Miss America Pageant is one of them.

“The Miss America Pageant has been broadcast since 1954,� says author and university professor Elwood Watson “In fact, it’s the fourth longest-running live event in television history -- which is significant considering the shifting view of gender roles throughout the 20th century.�

Watson’s interest in the dynamics surrounding the pageant led him to co-edit a book of essays, "There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant� (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). More than just an examination of the pageant itself, Watson says the book leads readers through an insightful exploration of the role of modern women in American culture.

“On the outside, women have changed substantially over the course of time,� says the author, Watson. “Much of that change is due to the pressures that modern culture places upon them. What we see, however, is that there is an inherent link between women of different generations -- one which goes beyond cultural expectations. Much of that is represented in the Miss America Pageant.�

Many educated professionals like Watson state that a large percentage of individuals fail to understand the pageant’s true intentions when judging the importance of the Miss America contest. Although some call it nothing more than a beauty contest, the Miss America Organization is quick to point out that the majority of their contestants use the pageant as a way to earn college scholarships, promote opportunities for young women, and increase community involvement.

In 2000, for example, Miss America contestants around the country collectively participated in 12,384 community service projects, dedicating a total of 571,177 community service hours and raising millions of dollars for worthy causes. Even more extraordinary is that fact that in 2005, the Miss America Organization provided more than $45 million worth of cash and scholarships to young women through the country.

“Most of these young women believe in more than just beauty,� states Watson. “Many of them are earning college or postgraduate degrees, give back to their communities, and work very hard at life in general.�

In 2006, the Miss America Pageant moved out of Atlantic City, NJ for the first time in its 85-year history, finding a new home in Las Vegas. While the change was significant, Watson believes it only signifies the adaptive nature of the pageant. “There are way too many similarities among generation after generation of women for the Miss America Pageant to stop anytime soon,� says Watson. "Miss America represents a lot of qualities that women seek -- simply put, the pageant will always be there as long as there are little girls that want to be Miss America.�

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