There She Is, a new documentary short that follows two best friends competing in the 2011 American Beauties Plus Pageant, is an interesting glimpse into the world of pageants for large ladies. These women work on their evening wear looks, interview skills, and stage presence just like the Miss America crew, but you'll never see them in front of a national audience.
And why not? Miss America doesn't specify weight restrictions on their website — that I could find — so I'm guessing the written rule that a contestant must "Be in reasonably good health to meet the job requirements" translates to NO FAT CHICKS. I mean, as far as I know the job requirements for Miss America are mainly standing around a lot, but perhaps she also needs to successfully wear a Cheerio as a tube top. What do I know?
I'm conflicted about all of this.
On one hand, it's heartening to see women of different shapes and sizes representing publicly — especially bigger women. Yes, all women are real women, but the fact is, larger women are almost entirely erased from the media — and when they are shown, it's almost never in a way that isn't directly related to their size. So yes, seeing fat women strutting their stuff in pageants is inspiring. Hell, seeing a gorgeous fat woman in a beautiful dress with her makeup done is enough to get me teary eyed.
On the other hand, it's sad that these women are clearly spending more money than they'll ever earn to walk down a pint-size catwalk in a Holiday Inn Express' "ballroom". Let's be real, the American Beauties Plus Pageant has more in common with Toddlers in Tiaras than it does with Miss America. It reminded me of Tracie's piece on entering her daughter in a baby pageant — which, while hilarious, was also reallllly fucking depressing from a "I weep for humanity" perspective.
And yes, I know you can chalk up the amount of money to entertainment budget for many, but it's annoying that thin women get fucking television specials, and fat women are doing sashays while the audience picks at their Blue Plate specials.*
And while it's true that many women of all sizes will sink more money into their pageant careers than they'll ever make back, at least the girls in the straight-sized competitions have a chance of winning something significant. Miss America walks home with $50,000, and the winner of the American Beauties Plus Pageant? She gets a crown, banner, and sceptor. Woo? Whether or not you think all pageants are wack, that's a shitty disparity.
Then, there's the question of representation — why should the average American woman be forced into a plus-sized competition? And even if you want to argue that a size 20-22 is far above average, I can also argue that a size 2-4 is far below — so why are they the only ones who get stage time and scholarship opportunities?
As of 2002, 75 young women have won the title of Miss America. Averaging all the winners' vital statistics, the composite winner is 20 years and 3 months old; her average weight is just over 121 pounds; her height is 5 feet, 6-1/2 inches.
However, according to the CDC, the average American woman is 5 foot 4, 167 pounds, and has a 37-inch waist.
There's that famous 'murikan disconnect — between what the real America is and what we'd like to pretend the real America is. Entertainment lives in a sanitized version of the United States, one where almost everyone is an able-bodied thin white person, and it's just not true. We're a country of astonishing, exciting diversity, but you'd never guess it when you turn on the television, flip through a magazine, or watch a beauty pageant. Well, almost any beauty pageant.
*Not exactly true, as I love hyperbole, but you get the idea.