The unexpected childhood obsession of a feminist

Photo by Cristal Montanez.

Here's a funny thing to think about: I used to watch beauty pageants. A lot.

My whole family did. From Miss America to Miss Universe and beyond, we would gather around the television. It was a big deal. The kids stayed up past our bedtimes so we could see who won. We picked favourites and commented on their choices of clothes and talent. We cared.

It was fun to judge the contestants. It was like a fashion show, but with stakes.

My favourite portion was the talent, there was always at least one ballerina in the group, but I loved picking apart their choices in evening wear and swimsuits. If they wore a one-piece, or demonstrated any misguided attempt at being overly modest, they were out. They couldn't show too much skin, either. This was perhaps an early lesson in the fine line between madonna and whore all women must tread.

Later in life, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and The Bachelor would fill that void of watching strangers as they compete in slightly-degrading contests to achieve an often-unrelated end goal. But we didn't have reality shows yet, so we watched, judged, criticized, and picked favourites among young women who were modelling swimsuits in order to go to college.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the childhood of a person who would later go on to be dubbed the "most feminist person" that some of her friends have met.

I guess you could say that I needed to learn what madonna/whore stereotypes were before I could call my friends out for perpetuating them, but that might be giving Miss America (and my younger self) too much credit. I did not think critically about anything except how the contestants looked in their evening wear.

Perhaps this can be a comfort to all my friends who are concerned about raising their children with feminist values: even girls with the most internalized misogyny can grow up to be full-fledged feminist killjoys.


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