Jun
18

THE BAPTIST WOMAN WHO SAVED THE MISS AMERICA BEAUTY PAGEANT

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Wife: “How would you describe me?”
Husband: “ABCDEFGHIJK.”
Wife: “What does that mean?”
Husband: “Adorable, beautiful, cute, delightful,

elegant, fashionable, gorgeous, and hot.”
Wife: “Aw, thank you, but what about IJK?”
Husband: “I’m just kidding!”

When it comes to women and beauty, did you know it was a born-again, Bible-believing, Baptist lady who saved the Miss America Beauty Pageant!  Here’s how:

The year was 1921 and businessmen in Atlantic City, New Jersey, were looking for a way to extend the summer tourist season beyond the months of June, July and August.  So they came up with the idea of a “Fall Frolic” with the highlight of the city-wide festival being a parade of women in bathing suits and high heels walking down the famed wooden boardwalk as judges voted on the most beautiful.  Surrounding cities were invited to hold a local beauty contest to select their most attractive girl to enter.  The winner would be bestowed with the title of “Miss America” and given as a prize – a fur coat and some jewelry.  Newspapers were encouraged to send their best photographer and to put the winner’s picture on the front page of the Sunday edition.  And so on Saturday, September 25, 1921, 10,000 people lined the ocean-side boardwalk and the Miss America Beauty Pageant was born.  The event was a huge success and over the next ten years began to expand across the country.  But not everyone was happy about it.  Led by the Baptists, church groups called for Christians and others to steer clear of Atlantic City, especially its bathing suit contest.  The Southern Baptist Convention even passed a resolution that stated in part, “Whereas beauty contests and especially bathing suit revues tend to lower a true and genuine respect for womanhood … we, the (SBC), do deplore and condemn all such contests.”  The Methodists also chimed in with, “We are persuaded that the moral effect on young women entrants and the male reaction to it is, in general, not a wholesome one.”  And the outcry worked.  City officials withdrew permission for the event and over the next five years there was no Miss America.

But in a stroke of genius, event organizers won Christians over to their side by hiring one of their own to reboot and remake the contest.  In 1937, Atlantic City businessmen hired Lenora Slaughter, the wife of a deacon at a Southern Baptist Church in the heart of the Bible-belt.  Mrs. Slaughter was a born promoter and upon arriving in Atlantic City, she would eventually do the following fifteen makeovers: One, she changed the name of the venue from beauty contest to beauty pageant.  Two, she dropped the term bathing suit and replaced it with swimming suit.  Three, she emphasized the contestants athleticism over their sensuality.  Four, she added both a talent and a question-and-answer competition.  Five, she replaced the prize of a fur coat and jewelry with college scholarships.  Six, she banned contestants from visiting any bars or nightclubs.  Seven, she established curfews.  Eight, she required each young lady to have a woman chaperone.  Nine, she forbade the girls from speaking to young men out in public.  Ten, she required a morals-qualifying questionnaire to be filled out.  Eleven, she had each girl choose  a favourite charity. Twelve, she introduced the evening gown attire for the award presentation.  Thirteen, she moved the venue from outside on the boardwalk to inside the convention center.  Fourteen, she forbade married women from entering, limiting it to single girls age 18-28.  And fifteen, she sent the winner on a year-long travel tour of the country in support of her charity and in promotion of the pageant.

And it worked.  With Slaughter’s reforms, Christians began to feel increasingly at home with the event – she even invited some of them to serve as hostesses, judges and  board members.  In time, many who once opposed the pageant were now among its most fiercest allies. Yes, some Christians continued to be against what they viewed as a spectacle, but gradually their voices were marginalized.  The beauty pageant itself came to be seen as a preserver and protector of American womanhood, even an antidote to feminism (all in keeping with Christian values of promoting femininity and not usurping male authority).

(Note – Lenora Slaughter would remain at the helm of the Miss America Beauty Pageant for the rest of her life (40 years) and is credited with singlehandedly transforming it from a local resort-town event to a national institution, watched by tens of millions on television.  As Bess Myerson, probably the most celebrated Miss America put it, “She picked up the pageant by its bathing suit straps and put it into an evening gown.”  And Mrs. Slaughter died a multi-millionaire, from pageant royalties she received.)

The relationship between Christianity and the pageant was formalized when Miss America 1965, Vonda Kay Van Dyke, became the first Miss America to speak openly about her faith.  Up until that time, Miss America Beauty Pageant contestants signed a contract agreeing not to talk about religion or politics, but when emcee Burt Parks asked Van Dyke whether her Bible served as her good-luck charm, Van Dyke seized the opportunity: “I do not consider my Bible a good-luck charm. It is the most important book I own.”  And after receiving positive response from the public, pageant officials decided to change the rules to allow for open religious expression – of which future Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal winners would take advantage, testifying to their selection as God’s will.

Some Christian contestants even made the claim that competing in the swimsuit competition offered them a way to demonstrate that they had taken seriously the Bible’s command to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20).   Others asserted that choosing a one-piece swimsuit over a bikini provided them with a platform from which to advocate for modesty.  (Most saw no need to say anything at all.)  But even those Christian competitors who felt compelled to explain their participation believed the swimsuit portion built character more than it threatened it.  They absorbed the language of health-and-fitness used by the pageant and made it their own.  The swimsuit competition was not an exercise in objectification, but an opportunity to showcase the bodies that God had given them (and for which they worked so tirelessly).  As one Christian contestant put it, “The possibility of achieving perfection arrested me and clarified for me the admonition in the Gospel of Matthew, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Today, none of this matters anymore.  For the new Miss America Beauty Pageant leadership has announced that starting with the upcoming 2018  competition, no longer will beauty be judged on the outside, but only on the inside (i.e., the famed swimsuit and evening gown are both being discontinued).  As Gretchen Carlson (the former Fox News anchor who won the Miss America title in 1990 and is now the organization’s new chairperson) put it, “We are no longer a pageant but a competition.  Each candidate, regardless of their physical appearance, will be judged solely on their goals and achievements in life and how they will use their talent, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.  Starting in September, women will not be judged on what they’re wearing, but by what comes out of their mouth.  Miss America is proud to be evolving as an organization and to be joining the women’s empowerment movement.”

The bottom line?  Those who oppose the Miss America Beauty Pageant’s decision to drop the increasingly scantily-clad swimsuits and more and more plunging evening gown neck-lines are blaming the feminists for the change.  Nobody is  pointing any finger at the Christians (who used to be known for trumpeting such values as modesty, inner beauty, and the dignity of women).  One thing is for sure, there is no question where God stands on the matter.  In His detailed description of the ideal woman in Proverbs 31, not one time does He mention her physical appearance (height or weight), except to strongly suggest that she would not likely be the winner chosen at a beauty pageant.

Favour (a shapely body) is deceitful, and beauty (a gorgeous face) is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands; let her own works praise her in the gates.