Although there are plenty of alternative beauty pageants out there, they arguably incite nowhere near the same about of publicity as events like Miss America 2016. Unfortunately, Miss America has suffered from criticism surrounding the lack of diversity in its competition, even after Nina Davuluri was crowned the first Indian American Miss America in 2013. This all raises another diversity question: Can Miss America contestants have tattoos?
Considering the pageant should be seeking to improve its inclusivity, it doesn't seem at all strange to wonder whether that inclusivity will ultimately apply to all types of bodies. When you consider that, according to NBC, approximately 40 percent of Americans sport a tattoo compared to a mere 21 percent only 16 years ago, the question of ink-related body mods seems all the more timely.
As can be found in the eligibility requirements on the Miss America website, the rules on body modifications are as follows:
Contestant agrees that no tattoos are to be visible. Tattoos are to be covered up with makeup. No pierced tongues or body parts are to be visible except for pierced earrings. National Titleholder also agrees with this rule.
However, this rules doesn't seem to be taken too seriously. In the running for Miss America 2014, Miss Kansas Theresa Vail proudly showed off two large tattoos during the swimsuit portion of the show. One was the insignia of the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder while the other was the Serenity Prayer on her right side.
Whilst she was the first contestant ever to reveal her tattoos, in an interview with People Magazine she bravely supported her decision to stand her ground and not cover her ink with makeup. "My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all," she said.
Although Theresa Vail was the first contestant to proudly display her ink, Vail told the Star Ledger that she definitely wasn't the first tattooed contestant. “It’s 2013. Half the girls have tattoos, they’re just choosing to cover them," she noted.
Vail's body positive message is about owning her body and being true to herself, and it's an inspiring one to send to the public. Although the pageant arguably promotes impossible beauty standards and suffers from critiques of sexism, it's often forgotten that the contestants are actual people, too. As shown by the talent portion and the scholarship prizes, these are women who are intelligent as well as beautiful — regardless of how many tattoos they have.
Hopefully one day another contestant will step forward and proudly display her ink. What would be even better, of course, is if the competition would rethink its stance on body modifications moving forward.