The weather is starting to get colder. A deadly virus is colliding with the back-to-school season. The Miss America organization is once again trying to apply a sheen of wholesomeness and relevance to a hundred-year-old beauty pageant.
“Miss America is pivoting their mission to define women’s wellness as being based on optimal health, rather than physical appearance,” according to a recent press release.
Quite a sentence. I have read it many times, and I am not exactly sure whether the Miss America organization is trying to suggest that it has always in its heart been a “wellness” brand (hey, anything can be these days), or that it is, as a side project, now launching a broader critique against a wellness industry that purports to center actual well-being but instead focuses on, say, the glowy-ness of one’s epidermis. Nonetheless, the general theme of the announcement is clear: Miss America is trying to shift its priority away from physical appearance and toward health. Or at least trying to seem to be doing that.
What exactly would an “optimal health” pageant look like? Maybe the contestants will have their blood pressure taken on stage and announce the last time they had a pap smear. Maybe they’ll get their eyes examined and discuss the results with an accredited ophthalmologist. Or it could be more fun-health, like phys-ed focused: Maybe they’ll do a sprint down the aisles, and then clear a few hurdles while clad in evening gowns, like some kind of sparkly mini-Olympics. The high jump is exciting, but have you ever seen anyone do it in heels? It would take a very healthy person to do that. The pageant axed the swimsuit portion of the competition in 2018, but it seems perfectly reasonable to bring some elements of it back in a new swimming portion.
And surely mental health—bodily health’s cooler and more popular younger sibling—will also count as health in the Miss America health framework. Contestants could be required to exude calm in a stressful situation, like interacting with a live alligator or watching the news. Perhaps several of the women will show off talents like setting boundaries, meditating, or the ability to find a therapist who takes their insurance.
Truthfully, we could probably use a Miss America pageant that is really and truly focused on health right now—given that we’re in a pandemic, maybe the organization could pivot its mission statement to trying to get the vaccination rate up as the December air date of the pageant approaches, or explaining the harms of ingesting farm-supply store ivermectin. A long shot in terms of changing people’s minds, but hey, it’s a crisis. In any case, the press release offers a hint of what kind of “health” the organization will be focusing on, at least at first—Miss America is partnering with a supplement company. To which I say: Supplements, unless specifically recommended for you by your doctor, don’t generally do much at all.