Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

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More than tradition

Q: Last week, Caressa Cameron, a 22-year-old student from Virginia, was crowned Miss America, a pageant that once epitomized a certain kind of beauty, talent and promise. Is this kind of contest completely outdated, or does it offer a legitimate path to success for the young women who compete?


Since 1921, the Miss America Pageant has been part of a tradition in this country. While the contestants are judged on beauty, they will not win if they are not also poised, articulate and positive. It has been interesting to watch how our society's idea of beauty has changed -- and indeed, how our society itself has changed -- as we see which young women win the yearly contest.

Why do we continue the pageant? Is it, in the immortal words of Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof": "Tradition, tradition! Tradition! Tradition, tradition! Tradition!"

I don't think so. The pageant satisfies a need we have in this country for positive role models and for entertainment. These young ladies serve as ambassadors for the nation at special events. And, it has become customary for each Miss America to choose a cause, so most winners do some good during their one-year reign.

The pageant also benefits the contestants. In the past, young women have used this venue as a way to win scholarships or launch careers in modeling or acting. Also, a thriving pageant industry has evolved that grooms women from the time they are little girls to compete.

But as its waning audience suggests, the Miss America pageant is becoming outmoded in an era when women are measured by their achievements rather than their looks. Many of us will tune in to the last 15 minutes or so to see if our state's representative becomes the winner. But will the pageant, as it is structured, attract enough viewers to continue?

That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I hope they make sure not to compete with Monday Night Football!

By Jan Scruggs  |  February 8, 2010; 12:57 PM ET  | Category:  Pageants' relevance Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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