I realized Saturday evening that I’ve been going about this Miss America thing all wrong. I used to think it was my duty as a female newspaper columnist and former sullen adolescent to blast the Miss America Organization for all the right reasons. I wanted to talk about beauty standards and eating disorders, stereotypes and illusions, including wry summaries such as “OK, we’ll give you a scholarship, but first we’re going to parade you around in stage makeup and high heels and a swimsuit and if you fail out of that round, there’s no way you’re making it to the finals. But seriously, um, education and betterment of the world are the most important things. Really.”

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty, Neurotica

These complaints are starting to sound hollow, even to me; nobody with half a brain or a functional pair of eyes ever doubted that good looks mattered to Miss America judges at least as much as brainpower. Everyone has heard these arguments before; they’re exactly what you’d expect to hear from any smug college student with a far-reaching forum at her disposal.

I don’t want to write that column again. Because on a very basic level, it’s not my social conscience or my cynicism that make me despise the Miss America Organization and its pageantry; it’s jealousy. I’m jealous of the contestants. I no longer care if people look at me and think, “she’s smart,” “she’s funny,” blah, blah, blah, things I once naively considered important. No, I want heads to turn when I walk into a room, to be ogled, hollered at, idolized and crowned queen. Dress me up. Powder my nose. Direct me to the nearest pedestal and I’ll hop right up in my diamond-studded four-inch heels and sizzling red evening gown. Ta-da.

This is what the Miss America Pageant does to me. My priorities get all out of whack. When host Wayne Brady blithely remarks that the contestants are very anxious to get through the night because none of them have eaten since June, I almost laugh. Pretty dresses mean more to me than platforms, besides which the word “platforms” makes me think of clunky shoes and not political agendas. Thirty seconds seems like a perfectly reasonable amount of time in which to answer a complicated question about solutions to economic inequality or youth violence. Too much, in fact. I’m bored. Is it time for the talent competition yet?

I’m not a very interesting person for those three hours. I certainly wouldn’t want to talk to me. Graduate school? What? I’m not thinking that far ahead; I can’t see past my soft stomach and utilitarian wardrobe. Starting tomorrow, I’m running six miles a day and eating nothing but string cheese. At this rate, I should be ready for my bikini sometime in early 2004. Forget the scholarship money; I’ll pay my own damn way through school if I have to sell my spleen on the black market. All I want is a tiny waist, a dozen roses and a tiara. Is that so much to ask?

And my IQ continues to plummet. When it’s all over, Miss Illinois and I burst into tears for very different reasons. She cries because she’s superwoman; she is talented and smart and drop dead gorgeous and now she’s got a $75,000 scholarship to show for it. She’s been through hell and now she can finally go home and eat that prime rib and chocolate cake. I cry because I can’t take three steps in four-inch heels and because I have just decided this is a bigger problem than the pile of untouched homework spilling over the edge of my desk.

I’m supposed to know better than this. I have talked the talk and worn the cargo pants, but I still turn green at the very mention of Miss America. I want to be beautiful, too. Not beautiful like brilliant with a great personality; beautiful like her. I want to breeze through complex social issues in 30 seconds or less so I can go sing and dance and eat cake.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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