By AKANKSHA SAH
On September 14, 22 year-old Miss New York Kira Kazantsev was crowned Miss America 2015. The third winner in a row to come from New York, Kazantsev stepped up to take the place of Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, the first Indian American to be crowned Miss America.
As most people in the spotlight usually are, Kazantsev has been analyzed and critiqued by people across the country, and her performance at the competition has been met with both admiration and ridicule. Perhaps more important than the controversy surrounding Kazantev’s coronation, however, is the controversy surrounding Miss America as a whole. Although the competition has its supporters and fans, there are also many people who do not approve of it, saying that it objectifies its contestants. Miss America defends itself passionately, claiming that the criticism arises from incomplete knowledge and confusion with other, similarly named competitions, namely the Miss USA competition.
Miss America states that many people, understandably, are unaware of the differences between Miss America and Miss USA; “USA” and “America” are used interchangeably to refer to our country, so the competitions can be mistaken for being the same thing. However, there are a couple of key differences between the two.
To start with, Miss USA is a beauty pageant, while Miss America is a competition that judges its contestants in many aspects, including, but not solely focusing on, beauty. Both are split up into events, of which they share the following: swimsuit, evening gown, interview, and question-answering. Miss America, though, takes the competition further by including a talent section and requiring each contestant to have a platform, which she will represent and advocate throughout her term, should she win the competition.
Along with advocating change through public speaking, Miss America contestants get scholarships. Note the word “contestants,” as Miss America provides almost every contestant in the competition, including some of those at the state level, with scholarships. Since it was started in 1921, Miss America has always maintained its purpose – to provide young women with scholarships to encourage education and the pursuit of careers in whatever paths they feel passionate about, regardless of financial difficulties. In this spirit, Miss America also charges nothing to its contestants to enter the competition, providing everyone with a fair chance at the crown. Since its founding, the organization has become the largest provider of women’s scholarships in the world, awarding over 40 million dollars in scholarships every year. When asked how she felt about Miss America’s goal of empowering women through financial aid, Nandita Ravikumar (So.) replied, “I think that the scholarships are for a good cause, considering that nowadays more contestants are enrolled in prestigious colleges or have high intellectuals aims for the future.” Miss USA, on the other hand, was started by Catalina Swimsuits in 1952 as a promotional tool. While it also provides some scholarships, the main “prize” received by its winners is the chance to compete in Miss Universe, a competition created by the same company.
People across the country are involved in the discussion about Miss America versus Miss USA, multiple positions and opinions emerging on social media.
Supporting Miss America’s cause, @makhondlovu tweeted:
“#MissUSA and #MissAmerica. They are not the same. America is largely scored on talent, while USA is about beauty!”
After reading about the differences between the two competitions, however, many people get the impression that the differences also apply to the contestants. A former contestant in both competitions, MacKenzie Green, speaks out against this stereotyping, tweeting:
“Not every #MissAmerica girl is a genius, and not every #MissUSA girl is a dumb blonde… I speak from experience in both systems… I graduated w/ honors among other accolades.”
As a whole, beauty pageants are a subject that naturally stir up a good deal of controversy, the Miss America versus Miss USA issue being only one among many. Some people think that Miss America has a good cause, while others believe that the scholarships are simply a way to justify and disguise another beauty pageant. While positions on the subject vary greatly, one fact remains: Miss America and Miss USA are completely separate competitions, and, while they may have their similarities, they also have significant differences. Whether one competition has more merits than the other remains open for individuals to decide for themselves, but each competition continues to have a significant fan base, many of whom watch and appreciate both competitions. In the end, it is important to recognize and keep in mind that, regardless of which competition women are competing in, it is not warranted to judge them based off of stereotypes surrounding it, as each competitor has her own strong personality and goal for herself.