Last night, on HuffPost Live, a few former Miss America and Miss USA winners inappropriately discussed the bodies of the finalists in Sunday night’s Miss USA Pageant. It would be appropriate to blast the beauty ideal or the pressure the women are under or the pageant for objectifying women, but they seemed to focus on the contestants bodies in a critical and thin shaming way.
Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund has struggled with an anorexia herself and even has her own foundation called Kirsten Haglund Foundation that she can use as a platform to raise awareness about eating disorders. Instead of discussing the damaging pressure these women are under, she decided to say:
“The girls, I thought, were much too thin… if you would have tested their BMIs that they probably would have been much too thin. And that’s the standard in the modeling industry and the fashion industry as well.”
Well, yes to that last part, sort of. It’s not a secret or even up for debate that those industries have extremely narrow standards of what bodies are acceptable. The first part though, “much too thin”–much too thin for what? For you and what you think is ok and attractive.
Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo shared a similar view:
“I was a little shocked too, sitting in the audience and seeing ribcages showing, protruding from these girls’ skins. I was like, ‘Wow, these girls…’”
Real nice, Castillo! You didn’t like the look of their bodies? Castillo apparently teaches classes in “Pageantology” and encourages her clients to be themselves and maintain a healthy weight. Do girls with bones “protruding from [their] skins” not have the same right to your body-positive message?
She followed the previous statement up with this rhetorical move I like to call the brag n’ shame:
“I realize that 10 years ago, when I was Miss USA, I was a lot thinner too, only because I was younger and active. I was an athlete. I wasn’t that thin. And I agree that it’s going in a way where girls are just super thin,”
Oh, so 10 years ago, when you were Miss USA, the girls were actually hot and not bony skeletons scaring viewers? Got it. It’s ok to recognize that standards have changed and are even damaging in some ways, but positioning the standard you complied with as superior to the current one is problematic. The Huffington Post has a gallery of beauty pageant contestants throughout history, it shows how the physical standards have shifted–but they still existed in the past, just differently. The issue isn’t that pageant participants have gotten thinner, it’s that there are rigid standards at all. Castillo’s athletic figure from her day in the sun could be as unhealthy to attain as any other.
I’m sure these former beauty queens thought they were being kind and saying the right thing. Their concern is troubling–because they’re criticizing these other women and they think they’re being nice while they’re at it. Sure, the ex winners know the crushing pressure the new contestants are under from experience, but they aren’t their doctors and if they were, “too thin” isn’t really a legitimate diagnosis–it’s just a rude judgment.