Poor Miss California. No one ever told her the rules, and now she may lose her tiara. The Miss USA pageant is, in fact, confusing: Young college-age ladies (who may not be married or pregnant) parade in bathing suits for the nation's titillation, ostensibly to win scholarships and the opportunity to do things for charity (or whatever.)
If the competition uses them for ratings—the original 1952 competition was started as a product promotion—the women use it right back: They want to win money for school, get famous, or “grow their brand.” They're just as mercenary as the contest's owner, Donald Trump, who famously told told an ex-wife to “never ever look a day over 28.” (Contestants themselves are not allowed to be a day over 26. Coincidence?)
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The question-and-answer segment of the competition is basically a joke, a chance for those watching to feel smart and self-satisfied as a bevy of women used to trading on their looks stumble and silently scream as they're confronted with lite versions of public-policy questions. That's what got Miss California Carrie Prejean in trouble: blithely revealing herself to be anti-gay marriage during the proceedings.
Her remarks (“no offense, that's just how I was raised!”) caused a minor scandal—that is, until the next minor scandal arose, concerning a partially nude underwear photo of Prejean taken when she was a minor.
It's frankly surprising to see actual body parts underneath the ball gown—it would have made more sense to find smooth plastic lumps, like the sexless anatomy of a Barbie doll.
Pageant contestants' sexuality is kept in hock—or on ice—for the duration of the competition and its requisite duties. For example, Miss USA is expected to remain single for the year after she wins the crown. That's why the vaguely risque photos of Prejean pose such a problem: The competition wants to maintain a neutered, controlled vision of female sexuality among its contestant/concubines.
In viewing said photo—cute hair, she used to be a brunette!—it's frankly surprising to see actual body parts underneath the ball gown—it would have made more sense to find smooth plastic lumps, like the sexless anatomy of a Barbie doll.
The existence of the picture means that the pageant has lost control over Prejean's sexuality. Even worse, Prejean herself is shown as complicit in capitalizing on it—making money off her looks, either through modeling or, perhaps, the many opportunities that come from having breast implants. Strangely, the Miss California organization actually paid for those before she was to compete in the Miss USA competition.
That the organization behind Miss California sponsored the surgery seems strangely, uncomfortably paternal, like a Beverly Hills dad ponying up the cash for his daughter's 18th-birthday gift of implants. But perhaps the paternal aspect of the pageant's actions aren't so bizarre after all.
Here's the thing: Women—nice women—aren't supposed to be in control of their own bodies. The woman who is complicit in exploiting her own sexuality is crossing a hard line from giggly good girl into, well, a stripper, slut, hooker, or whore—members of a sexual sub-class of women that are kept separate from the rest of the society in order to avoid contaminating the others.
It's OK to go on television and let America ogle the swimsuit competition in the name of charity. But cutting out the paternal middleman of Daddy Trump and the Miss USA machine? Not civilized. It's not in the rules. No, not the 12-page contract of Miss California rules that Carrie Prejean violated with her past nude-posing, or the no-accepting-a-date-after-Wednesday rules, but the rules.
Is Miss California really the one without any clothes here?