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