Being a Beauty Queen Feminist

I am a beauty queen. I stood on stage in a sports bra and batted my eyelashes at the judges. I curtsied in a ball gown and 7 inch heels in vie for a crown made from crystals. I wore sets of fake eyelashes glued to my eyelids, I painted on Kylie Jenner’s lip kit in Koko K, I spent an hour curling my hair, and I placed 3rd in the state. I am a beauty queen in all the most obvious and conventional ways. However, perfect is not a reality. We all see people whether it's in passing, or two inches from each other’s face. We see because we are human and we have eyes, and ears, and mouths to taste other humans, and that is what humans do. 

On stage with women dressed up standing, posing, waiting for a fishbowl question. I was asked, “What are you thinking about?” I laughed and said, “I’m thinking about when I can take these shows off.” And the crowd laughed because I was serious. Beauty isn’t taken seriously. Femininity, makeup, hair, none of it is. I’m not taken seriously.

I read an article about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New York Times. The interviewer asked: “Why do you think things that are associated with femininity, like fashion and beauty, are not taken seriously?” Adichie’s response to this question got me thinking more. The question wasn’t “Do you think these things aren’t taken seriously?” It was “Why aren't they?” Asking why made it a statement. Femininity is not taken seriously. Fact. Adichie answered: “The things we traditionally think of as masculine are not things our culture dismisses as frivolous...It’s something that our culture takes quite seriously. I think it’s part of a larger picture of a world that simply doesn’t give women the same status that it gives men.” I like makeup. I get my hair done every couple weeks because I like to feel pretty. I might be an artist, I might be an esthetician, I might even be a psychiatrists. I might not be stuck up just because I feel pretty. And if I had a dollar for every time I was called intimidating or unapproachable my Jewish grandmother would be happy about all the money I’m saving. She was a feminist, and so am I. When men see me in black winged liner and full contour, I feel am an object. 

A bust in a museum, a Georgia O’Keeffe lily, a Marie Antoinette portraits in her undergarments before her beheading.

I might be all these things, but I feel I am not taken seriously enough, and that happens to be because I am them. So when I was on stage and was asked what an ad for myself to be Miss America would look like. I didn’t say any of the feminine things that define me. I could have said “I’d be wearing Better Than Sex Mascara and rhinestones all over, like the hand beaded Swarovski crystals on my figure skating dress.” Femininity. Instead I told them, “I’d be figure skating. Being active and promoting the healthy lifestyle I choose to live. I’d be shown being creative, and working with others. I would want something little girls can look up to, or anyone, and feel inspired, like hey, I can be like her.” 

I told them this because it is true, and it is seen as more respectable by our society, more inspiring, less frivolous, not as easily dismissed. Why? Because even though I stood on stage in a cocktail dress and batted my eyelashes at the judges, I skipped in my matching sports bra and leggings and winked at the judges, I wore sets of fake eyelashes, I painted on Kylie Jenner’s lip kit, the femininity of all this still isn’t enough to be taken seriously. But the masculinity of everything is. I am a feminist, but I still succumb to subconscious cultural cues to behave more like men, to gain respect like they have, and to be a beauty queen taken seriously.