Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 138- On beauty

Dear Mr. President,

Our new Miss USA is sparking some unfortunate (if completely unsurprising) ignorance from the far right fringe. I generally (and equally unsurprisingly) don't like beauty pageants. I think they're absurd rituals focusing far too much on a person's physical characteristics and encouraging unrealistic images of the perfect female. I say this, of course, because I will never win any beauty pageants (not even for bloggers) and because that is out of my control, entirely. Also, because many of the most beautiful women I know have a difficult time being taken seriously as the intellectuals and professionals that they are. I think when we glorify the kind of superficial qualities that it takes to win a pageant we perpetuate the idea that those qualities are all that women who look that way have. Still, I find the grounds on which these right-wing bloggers (and the FOX senior beauty pageant analyst who takes them seriously) object to Miss Fakih offensive. To cite her race and her religion as the "PC" or "affirmative action" rationale for her winning is both stupid (even I can concede that, whatever else she may be, Miss Fakih is obviously an exceedingly beautiful woman,) and degrading. It implies that she is less "qualified" for this (exceedingly subjective) honor than her white, Christian, runners-up.

I don't know very much about Miss Fakih, aside from her being beautiful and from Michigan. She may be very bright, she may be rather stupid. I don't think her being Miss America tells us anything conclusive about her personal merit or intelligence. Gretchen Carlson, herself a former Miss America, certainly isn't a stupid woman, even if she does a convincing job playing one on TV. If I have to be represented by a pageant winner, I think that Rima Fakih is just as representative of me and the rest of America as any previous winners; that the history of Miss USA winners is growing more diverse reflects our own growing diversity, well. There will likely be many, many white, Christian winners in years to come, just as there will likely be Miss Americas representing other racial, religious and ethnic minorities. If people are really going to get upset every time the winner's background doesn't match up with their idea of what "American" looks or sounds or acts like, I suppose that's their prerogative.

For me, this debate recalls the sentiments of people who thought you weren't "American" enough to represent us as President. Be these the crazy people who think you were born in Kenya, the crazy people who think you're a Muslim usurper, or the crazy people who think you're against the flag and/or pledge of allegiance and/or Christianity, they all seem to imply that there's an American class of citizens who are more American than others, and that you (and Miss Fakih, and Elena Kagan,) don't belong in it. I'm all for free speech, so I absolutely believe they have a right to say all of this, and whatever other crazy, offensive stuff they can think of, but I don't think that organizations aiming to be taken seriously a news sources ought to cover it as anything other than what it is; racism, plain and simple. There's some strange contradiction in a kind of hatred based largely on physical appearances being directed at the winner of a competition based on the same thing, but I'm not sure it's enough to make either the people or the pageant consider changing their ways.

Respectfully yours,


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