Remember Tara Conner?
Last December, the reigning Miss U.S.A. became tabloid fodder when it was revealed that she had spent most of her reign gallivanting about New York City, binge drinking, snorting cocaine and engaging in numerous sexual trysts, all the while skipping out on scheduled appearances and other pageant obligations.
When Conner’s indiscretions became public, Miss U.S.A. co-owner Donald Trump’s initial reaction was to say, "You’re fired!" But, after talking with Conner, Trump insisted that while the wayward beauty queen had made some "very, very bad choices," she was "a good person" who deserved "a second chance." A teary-eyed Conner pledged not to "let him down," and contritely declared that she’d be entering that last refuge of the disgraced celebrity: addiction rehab.
Contrast the compassionate treatment of Conne r with that shown to Sara Lawrence, who was recently forced to make a very difficult decision after becoming pregnant during her reign as Miss Jamaica World.
Mickey Haughton-James, Miss Jamaica World’s franchise holder, was rather less understanding than Trump, scolding Lawrence, who she said had "made an error of judgment and is now facing up to the consequences…" Haughton-James also said Lawrence would have to give up her tiara because "…her actions could potentially harm the tradition that is the Miss Jamaica World pageant and past and future winners."
Lawrence was offered an alternative, however, that would have allowed her to retain her title: Have an abortion.
Haughton-James alluded to this option when she told Ms. Lawrence that keeping her crown and carrying the baby to term were "incompatible." She also stated that aborting the child was a path most other girls would choose.
It is not surprising that the Miss World pageant would be less than
elated about the prospect of being represented by an unmarried pregnant woman. Beauty pageant contestants are, after all, marketed as role models for young girls, and as women possessing that rare combination of beauty, intelligence, poise and virtue. The Miss World Pageant, for instance, promotes itself: "as not solely about beautiful young women but a pageant [that] assist[s] and promotes the growth and development of the individual’s skills, self-esteem and provides a greater sense of worth for the nation’s young women."
It is for this reason that most pageants historically barred women who had ever been pregnant from competing.
In recent years, however, many pageants have amended their rules about pregnancy. Today, most beauty competitions, including Miss World, merely exclude women who have ever given birth.
All this means young pageant hopefuls who become pregnant have an implicit, and significant, incentive to abort.
It also begs the question: Does Miss World really believe that urging young women to abort unplanned pregnancies helps "promote the growth and development of the individual’s skills, self-esteem and provide a greater sense of worth for the nation’s young women"?
Of course, the pageant world often undercuts its own mission when it comes to sexual issues. Consider Erika Harold, Miss America 2003. Harold was ordered by Miss America officials not to speak publicly about sexual abstinence, a cause that she had been advocating among teenage girls in her home state of Illinois.
The pageant suggested that she change her platform to one more
"pertinent" to a national audience. Perhaps they would have preferred that she had talked about world peace ("If we all gave up just one meal a day, we could feed the entire world!") or a "sexier" topic, like the imminent threat of global warming.
But in a time when, according to research by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 83% of television programs directed at adolescents contain sexual content, one can’t help but imagine how inspiring it would have been to have seen a beautiful, articulate young woman sharing the message of sexual purity to millions of impressionable young girls.
Instead, the pageant world-rather than embracing a young woman who wanted to address a specific problem with candor-chose to sweep the pertinent issue of personal sexual ethics under the proverbial rug.
There is a silver lining to Sara Lawrence’s sad tale. She recently
decided against having an abortion and will step down as Miss Jamaica World. Lawrence came to the decision after, as she put it, "having taken a deeply personal decision to face up to my responsibilities as one who expects to become a mother later this year."
Ms. Lawrence also stated, with the poise that any beauty competition should be proud of, "I believe that it is my moral obligation to do what I believe to be ethically correct and will follow what I believe to be right."
In the end, against the implicit advice of pageant promoters and the prevailing values of the popular culture, Lawrence rejected fame and fortune and instead followed her conscience and chose life.
Beauty pageant winners often wax philosophical when discussing what they hope to accomplish as goodwill ambassadors for their state and country. But what Miss Lawrence will accomplish on the day she first holds her baby will far surpass any public relations campaign pageant directors could have imagined.
And, as Americans prepare to give thanks for the unique love only
mothers can bestow, Miss Lawrence has already demonstrated that true love, and true beauty, begins with doing what’s right.