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What's Wrong With Beauty Pageants?

A List of Feminist Concerns


A Miss America protest

Demonstrators on the Atlantic City boardwalk protest a Miss America pageant during the 1960s.

Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images

The famous Miss America protest of 1968 drew nationwide attention to women's liberation. Activists on the Atlantic City boardwalk outside the pageant threw items representing the constraints of femininity into a freedom trash can and protested the objectification of women.

Led by New York Radical Women, the demonstrators offered up ten points of protest. So, in the words of Robin Morgan and other NYRW feminists, what's wrong with beauty pageants?

  1. The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol
    Society forced women to take seriously the most ludicrous beauty standards. Beauty contests paraded the women and judged them like animal specimens at a 4-H county fair.
  2. Racism With Roses
    In 1968, the Miss America pageant had never had a black finalist.
  3. Miss America as Military Death Mascot
    The use of the pageant winner as a "cheerleader" for the military's operations abroad was akin to exploiting her as a "mascot for murder," NYRW said.
  4. The Consumer Con-Game
    The entrenched corporate power structure of the U.S. benefited from idealized images of women, including when Miss America endorsed their products.
  5. Competition Rigged and Unrigged
    The contest reinforced the hyper-competitive message of supremacy that prevailed in U.S. society. "Win or you're worthless," the protesters called it.
  6. The Woman as Pop Culture Obsolescent Theme
    The obsession with youth and beauty tried to make women look younger than they were and soon enough rejected even previous winners as they dared to age normally.
  7. The Unbeatable Madonna-Whore Combination
    The Miss America contest paid lip service to wholesome images of womanhood while parading women's bodies in bathing suits. Feminists criticized the insistence that women be both sexual and innocent, and rejected the characterization of women as either up on a pure, motherly pedestal or down in the lustful gutter.
  8. The Irrelevant Crown on the Throne of Mediocrity
    The women's liberation movement criticized institutions that silenced women's political voices. In later years, Miss America contestants would speak out more on social and political issues.
  9. Miss America as Dream Equivalent To---?
    Why were all little boys told they could grow up to become the president, while girls were told they could aspire to be Miss America?
  10. Miss America as Big Sister Watching You
    The relentless emphasis on physical beauty was a kind of enslaving thought control.


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