"There she is… Miss America" is a familiar song to every generation and a symbol of the trials and trails of this historic beauty contest. With the title of first beauty pageant, it is the oldest and in some opinion, the best, of all that has followed in its footsteps.
Miss America History
Although there have been many changes and critics over the years, the Miss America beauty pageant has held ground. It all started in 1921 within the popular tourist resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey. City leaders of the time were antsy to extend the money-making summer season past Labor Day. It was then when the concept of a later September beauty pageant was born. The first take featured a variety of events including the infamous beauty contest on the beach. The media added to the frenzy by titling the winner, Miss America, a sixteen year old Margaret Gorman from Washington D.C.
The first years were tough. The concept of glorifying a woman's flesh was received with harsh criticism. After struggling, the whole idea was actually completely thrown out in 1928.
After this hiatus, they once again gave the pageant another try in 1933. A contest year plagued by troubles, it was destined to fail. With a collapse of Miss New York State on stage and an overslept judge delaying the final coronation by hours, once again the pageant was swept under the carpet.
Determined to resolve the issues, the Miss America organization hired new leadership and created a structure and system still mostly used today. In 1935, they tried again with the goal of becoming a national institution. With talent contests as well as the standard swimsuit trials, the pageant had finally found its true roots.
Set upon a secure foundation, the pageant continued to grow and would never again lose its footing. As the years went by, the contest evolved to satisfy cultural changes and societal pressure. In the 1940s, a scholarship program began and evening gowns were introduced, elevating this basic beauty contest to a new level in competition.
The greatest break in Miss America success came with the introduction of television. Now millions of viewers across the states and beyond could enjoy this amazing event that had certainly outgrown the original tourist attraction founded in Atlanta City.
1960s to 1970s
The women's rights movement began to gain power and the beauty pageant was an obvious target. Although the critics' voices were loud and persistent, the institution held fast and strong.
1980s to 1990s
Evolving from this flux of women's issues, the pageant began to show signs of change. A more variety of women had begun to receive the crown, with the most famous Vanessa Williams. Holding the title of first African-American winner, she held the crown for ten months before a scandal brought her down.
The 1990s also brought out a stronger focus of social issues through a new platform concept. Two new categories were announced, an essay on a social issue and the onstage impromptu interview. Both created a charitable platform for each individual contestant.
Beauty Pageant of Today
Up until the year 2006, the Miss America contest had always been held in Atlantic City during September. For the first time in its 85 years of existence, this all changed. Certainly another stage in this pageant's lifecycle, it is now currently held in Las Vegas during January.
Although the location may be different, the basic concepts of this original beauty pageant have remained. With standards for beauty, talent, education, and worldly concern, the Miss America contest is the top tier of over 2,000 preliminary competitions from Hawaii to New England. With 52 states represented, Miss America is the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for women. In 2006, they distributed over $45 million dollars alone.
What exactly is outstanding beauty and how can one woman represent all? Using Miss America as a model allows society to answer this question. The panel of judges is hand-selected as distinguished representatives of their fields and represents some of the best from entertainment to business. The winner is then chosen from four main categories:
- Public Speaking
- Evening Gown Presence
- Swimsuit Physical Health
Putting wealth aside, this beauty contest is free to any who qualify. It takes hard work and dedication to prove worthy of the title. Money or prestige can't buy their way to this celebrityhood.
Still doubtful? Watch the next Miss America presentation and judge for yourself. Do these women possess true beauty and not something simply packaged for Hollywood? It is for you to decide.