The Miss California USA organization paid for Miss California Carrie Prejean's new breasts to allow her to compete "in the best possible confidence." Who knew self esteem came in a plastic bag of silicone?
Basically, the head of the organization admitted on television last week that, in some way, every single breast displayed for the perusal of the judges or the audience is augmented in some way the (as yet) average woman or bra could not achieve and would not regularly attempt. Keith Lewis told CBS's Maggie Rodriguez:
"You use chicken cutlets," he said. "You use tape. You use anything that you can to enhance the line. There's lots of tricks of the trade."
And, if that doesn't work, you apparently either beg the organization to buy you the implants or pressure your beauty queen into getting them!
One question that struck me was: where did the organizers get the money to buy Miss California's silicone? Well, not that their financials are exactly public, but it appears that each participant in the pageant system has to pay her own way — and it's expensive enough that, like in fashion magazines and pricey restaurants, they don't tell you the cost before you sign up. And since the California pageant isn't televised, the organization likely gets its money partly from the national, from corporate and personal sponsorships to the organization, and from corporate and personal sponsorships given to the individual contestants. That means, of course, that all the Miss California contestants and their sponsors and the corporate sponsors of this year's pageant paid for Carrie Prejean's new breasts. How many of those people do you think feel their money was well-spent? I mean, it's not even like there's a scholarship or anything.
I mean, for fuck's sake, there's not even a talent competition: it's who looks good in a dress, a bikini and can answer a question without sounding like a complete idiot. As Karry Howley at The XX Factor puts it:
I find both sides of this exchange deeply bizarre, perhaps because I lack the imaginative capacity to envision a swimsuit competition not premised on a certain conception of the female body. What are they going evaluate? Perkiness? Gait? The actual swimsuit?
It's certainly not got the veneer of evaluating one's baton-twirling.
The fact that Carrie Prejean got breast implants is not newsworthy to me. The fact that the California Pageant Association paid for them, well that is. Not because it is scandalous, but because it shows that pageants aren't about highlighting women as they are or for their talents, but for their physical appearance and to make spectacle of a specific type of femininity.
Pageants only make sense because of binary gender roles that cater to mainstream understandings of femininity. They are a fetishized spectacle of femininity to the point where it is even OK if they are artificially constructed as long as they are pushing a normative ideal of what a "real woman" is.
This is, I think, a key point. You can go to Prejean's gallery and see pictures of her as Miss La Jolla and then Miss California and she is — white, heteronormative, slim, blonde, fake-tan standards aside — a fairly attractive woman. And yet she risked her life and her appearance for what can best be described as marginally larger breasts — ones that, in 10 years (when she's about my age), she'll have to go under the knife again to replace or remove. And it's a decision that the pageant organization not only endorsed but funded — unlike the organization sponsoring Miss Virginia, Tara Wheeler, who refused to allow her to shave her head for a children's cancer charity. Apparently, a bald and legitimately charitably-minded beauty queen is an anathema, but one with two bags of silicone shoved under her chest muscles at risk to her life, health and future nursing prospects is upholding the ideal of Californian womanhood. They ought to put that shit in those California tourism commercials.
The Beauty of Chicken Cutlets [New York Times]
Solutions for Flat-Chested Beauty Queens [The XX Factor]
Breast Implants, Heteronormativity and Why Miss California is a Feminist Nightmare [Feministing]