Miss America and tattoo culture
The Miss America contest is nearly upon us again. Already?! I know, time just flies. In addition to giving Barack Obama a run for his money in how to say a lot of politically correct words that end up meaning nothing, this year’s beauty pageant will also take a bold step toward advocating tattoo culture.
This weekend, Theresa Vail, AKA, Miss Kansas, will become the first contestant in the pageant’s 92-year history to show some tats.
“My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers,” Vail told People magazine. “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.”
Vail’s self-imposed vocation is admirable, but her avenue to fulfill it rather puzzling and somewhat contradictory. Vail encourages young women to be “true to themselves,” yet she buys into the concept of pageantry whose entire basis is superficiality.
“A lot of people think you need to be a ‘pageant Barbie,’” said pageant coach Valerie Hayes, “and what I love about Miss Kansas is she’s showing people: No, it’s about competing at your personal best, not about trying to conform to a certain image.”
Anyone who has seen a photograph of Vail will see “a certain image” in spades: dyed hair (her eyebrows are ten shades darker than her head), loads of makeup, (those lashes are not found in nature), and a figure that would make any Ken Doll’s head turn.
Vail, apart from her tattoos, which are visible only during the swimsuit competition portion of the contest, is a stereotype of a stereotype as far as image goes. Outside of the Barbie Doll appearance, however, Miss Kansas boasts an eclectic background which includes a knack for archery and the Chinese language, as well as a membership in the Kansas Army National Guard’s Medical Detachment.
Why doesn’t Vail highlight her interesting and remarkable accomplishments, instead of her body art? By making her tattoos her selling point, she is absolutely buying into the whole “image” thing in which she claims she places no value.
Vail’s tattoos aren’t even bad, as far as tats go. On her shoulder is the insignia of the U.S. Army Dental Corps, and on her right side is the Serenity Prayer.
How does Vail manage to read the side tattoo, or look at the ink on her back? No one knows. Maybe the tattoos are there to be seen primarily by the public? Wouldn’t this mean that her image defines her? Or at least is a useful tool to inform others of what she’s all about? Or, since Vail chose to have her tattoos etched on body parts usually covered by clothing, does this mean she wasn’t all that keen to have everyone know her as the tattoo girl?
Vail is making a name for herself by standing out for her unique quality of being the only tattooed beauty queen, and at the same time she is her own undoing. She wants to eradicate the notion that tattoos mark a person as someone “different.” She wants to make people aware that “1 in 5 Americans have at least 1 tattoo.” Does she want to be known for her tattoos or have people not notice them because they are a common thing these days and don’t define her? What’s the point of getting them, then?
The Miss America pageant will probably never exhibit a contestant who is obese. Why? Because image standards are, for the most part, a good thing. They exist because a healthy body and attractive appearance, apart from boosting ratings, are desirable and worth maintaining. Miss Kansas can pretend as though image is of little importance, but she must realize as much, if not more, than anybody, how much weight it carries.
Vail’s message is mixed, to say the least. Let’s judge her answers as Mario Lopez might:
“Be true to yourself.”
I suppose this is meant to encourage people to be true to their moral guidelines, faith, beliefs, etc. This is vague but harmless enough as long as your creed doesn’t come from the Church of Satan or the Democratic Party or something.
General human instinct tells us there are lots of things we should fear in order to stay alive- riding in any taxi cab, standing close to ledges, people who look like Richard Simmons, the dark. What we should also fear, though, is not being accepted in society. There’s a reason kids get made fun of when they do something dorky. Peer pressure (highly under-rated culture-forming device) teaches them not to do it again. If people were meaner to each other we wouldn’t have to put up with so much awfulness in the world.
It’s clear that the rising dominance of political correctness and the decline of culture are directly related. If people were a little less deterred from walking up to weirdos on the street and telling them their Google glasses are ridiculous or their Spandex “pants” look awful, the world would be a better place. (How else are they going to learn?) So we should actually be very fearful. Of the dangerous world and of the danger of not fitting in at the cool table.
“Accept me for who I am.”
This message is a stale one. She wants women to feel empowered for being themselves. Why would you want to be just yourself? Sounds like mediocrity to me. My platform would be: Don’t be who you are. Be better than you are, and try to be better than everyone else, too. Oh, and world peace.
Teresa Mull is the managing editor of Human Events.