When I think of "Miss America" and "body positivity," they generally seem mutually exclusive. Most of us know there's usually not an overwhelming amount of body positivity in the average pageant, after all. That being said, the 2016 Miss America event turned out to be a pretty good catalyst to talk about pageants and body image in a way that's accessible for the majority of us.
Going into the pageant, I was already a little skeptical: The contestants were looking like a pretty homogeneous-looking group. I had a hard time imagining that an organization typically associated with such a narrow definition of beauty was going to be very good at making women — or viewers of any gender — feel good about themselves. I mean, a portion of the competition is literally about being rated on how bodies look in bathing suits using a points system. Yikes, right?
Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of comments about contestants' bodies. I mean, the pageant still leaves much to be desired when it comes to visible diversity and a wide range of body types. However, it was a refreshing change to at least not have the body talk be a total body-shaming train wreck.
These were the best moments for body positivity at the 2016 Miss America pageant.
1. The Vanessa Williams Apology
Vanessa Williams was the first African American Miss America ever crowned back in 1983, but after nude photos that she was allegedly told would never be published were printed in Penthouse Magazine, Williams resigned from her designation in 1984.
Instead of seeing Williams as the victim, however, she was essentially slut shamed by the organization. This year, she received an official apology and had her crown reinstated. Not only that, but the judging panel featured Danica McKellar, who posed for Maxim. Personally, I like the direction this is taking in regards to a more sex and body positive competition.
2. When Miss Colorado Knew The Most Important Thing About Style
During the evening gown portion of the competition, the Misses were asked to speak about their personal style. Most cited celebrity styles or fashion bloggers on Instagram as sources for sartorial ideas, but Kelley Johnson won me over with her answer of, "I'm authentically Kelley and that's how I want to stay." Personal style is best when it's just that — personal.
3. When Miss America 2015 Shouted Out "Real" Beauty
OK: Everyone on stage did look pretty similar in terms of their hair and makeup, so I took this with a grain of salt. Hearing the reigning Miss America say, "The real you is the most beautiful you," felt really positive. Despite the fake lashes and cans of hairspray, these are real women who have full lives and dreams.
It's easy to diminish the beauty of these women — or the women themselves — as being superficial or fake, but they proved themselves to be accomplished, driven, and talented. There's nothing phony about that.