Miss America: Brown Girl on the Bridge to Nowhere


Aya de Leon

When Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America in 1983, I was fifteen. As a young woman of African heritage, I was supposed to feel validated, but I didn’t.  Williams’ wide blue eyes, sandy hair, and middle America girl-next-door looks didn’t do anything to validate my sense of my beauty as a Black girl.  She challenged the racial category of the winner, but not the aesthetics of the beauty standards.

Sunday, as many in the nation watched Nina Davuluri crowned as the first South Asian Miss America, I had that usual ambivalence about brown women breaking into sexist institutions.

Beauty pageants embody so many pressures on women that I think are negative and damaging.  Women being judged based on their appearance in evening gowns and in bathing suits.  I love the “talent” and “interview” portions, as they give the pretense that this is not first and foremost about appearance.  If those parts…

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