This week a colleague sent me a link to a People magazine article about a contestant in the Miss America pageant, saying that she thought it would make a great blog topic. I was a little (okay a lot) surprised and couldn’t believe I’d ever use my Ask Ajna blog to comment about a People magazine article, much less the Miss America pageant, neither of which I had viewed in many years. I was already working on my blog topic from the Women’s Empowerment Principle, Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
What was I supposed to say about Miss Kansas and her trek to the Miss America pageant? I’ve been a critic of the pageant since I saw feminists protesting in Atlantic City in 1968 and realized at 12 years of age that I didn’t need to want to be Miss America. I don’t think I’ve watch since. The only thing I’ve heard about any pageant is when a starving, dehydrated, nervous Miss NameTheState, messes up during the big question and answer portion of the show and everyone gets snarky about how stupid the poor woman is. No, I had no intention of blogging about this woman.
However, I did click on the link.
The title did not urge me to read further. Miss America’s Sgt. Theresa Vail Is First Contestant to Expose Tattoos didn’t seem like a great topic for Ask Ajna. Okay, the Miss America pageant would allow Sgt. Vail to compete in the swimsuit competition without covering up her tattoos. I rolled my eyes and wondered what kind of tattoos she had – a rose on the right shoulder? A cute little kitty on her wrist? I soon discovered that the tattoos where actually the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and the Serenity Prayer running down her right side. The Serenity Prayer? I kept reading.
Sgt..Theresa Vail (Miss Kansas) has a few more unusual attributes to contribute to the pageant. She:
- Is only the second military contestant to compete in the competition
- Is an expert M16 marksman, a bow hunter, a skydiver, a boxer and a mechanic
- Wanted to use her archery skills for her first talent competition, but was told two days before the competition that projectile objects were not allowed, so she pulled up a You Tube video of Luciano Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” and learned it well enough to win the pageant. (Note: I just want to say here that that is remarkable. I’ve sung professionally and learning something like that in two days while not impossible, requires enormous focus. Of course, Theresa had sung previously – soprano in her high school choir.)
- Speaks Chinese
- Is a chemistry major AND a Chinese major
In the People article Sgt. Vail says, “Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos? My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can’t do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all.” Who is this Miss Kansas?
She explains her tattoo of the Serenity Prayer was driven by being bullied as a kid, bullied so badly she thought about suicide. Her father helped her find her strength through outdoor sports and now Vail says, “I want to help them (young girls) develop confidence, to let them know that they have what it takes to accomplish anything they want to accomplish. I know many young girls look at beauty candidates and think, ‘What a perfect life they have.’ But I want them to know that I haven’t led a perfect life. And that beauty comes from the inside.”
Okay, maybe I have been stereotyping beauty contestants. Maybe the people at the Miss America pageant are more inclusionary than I have been. Maybe I am writing a blog about both the “Tattoo” contestant and woman’s empowerment.
The Women’s Empowerment Principles ask for equal opportunity, inclusion, and nondiscrimination. Who would have thought it could be demonstrated by Miss Kansas? We all stereotype people and we need to be aware of our prejudices to ensure we don’t violate the principles we are asking our companies to do. If we have hiring responsibilities, we need to make sure we consider hiring the best candidate, regardless of some stereotypes we hold. I can’t say that I will read People magazine any more often than before or that I will watch the Miss America pageant in the future, but I may watch it this year. I need to see Miss Kansas’s tattoos.
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