Melody Maxwell – Christians and the Miss America competition – UPDATE

(Miss America 2011 – Teresa Scanlan. Source of picture, HERE)

A recent opinion article with the title above, on the Associated Baptist Press website, reminded me of my intention, that I keep postponing, to write some day about another famous pageant participant, Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Until I have time to do that, I submit to your judgment the following text and I invite you to discuss the opinions expressed below by Melody Maxwell.

* * *

On Jan. 15, evangelical Christian Teresa Scanlan was crowned Miss America 2011. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experience a few months ago attending the Miss Alabama pageant, a preliminary competition to Miss America.

I was surprised to discover that the Miss Alabama pageant was held on the campus of a Baptist university. Apparently contestants participated in a devotional time each day they were together. And multiple ads in the pageant’s program book included Bible verses and words of support from contestants’ churches.

However, I had a difficult time reconciling these Christian messages with the themes implicitly — and sometimes explicitly — promoted by the pageant itself.

Pageant organizers spoke enthusiastically of “the potential of young women.” A surprising number of the contestants aspired to work as lawyers, doctors, professors. Without fail, these young women appeared confident and well-spoken.

Yet the same women also seemed to have no hesitation in strutting across the stage in skimpy bikinis and then in evening gowns — allowing hundreds of spectators not to admire their integrity or intellect, but instead to gawk at their external beauty. In a sense, this spectacle reminded me of the way slaves were paraded in front of potential buyers in antebellum years, allowing the slave owners to judge everything from their muscle tone to the condition of their teeth. Unlike slaves, though, the Miss Alabama contestants willingly subjected themselves to such an exercise.

To me, the Miss Alabama and Miss America competitions represent a disturbing model of womanhood — one that I had hoped had died out years ago. To be successful, these pageants imply, young women should be not only effective communicators and aspiring leaders, but also graceful dancers and singers, elegant dressers and, above all, objects of great physical beauty and desirability.

At one point in the Miss Alabama pageant, every contestant confidently stated her name and her vocational goals. Then each one shifted her hips in a flirtatious, suggestive manner, charming the crowd with her moves. Professionalism juxtaposed with sex allure: is this really the message we want to teach our young women?

Perhaps I was naïve to believe that our culture had moved beyond Southern belle stereotypes to promoting personal character, intelligence, and respect of all persons, no matter their outward appearance. Maybe I should be more pleased than disturbed that the Miss America program provides a greater amount of scholarship money to women than does any other organization in the world. However, I cannot reconcile the apparent priorities of pageant contestants with my own values of modesty, gender equality, and love of neighbor.

I continue to be troubled by the Christian ethos I perceived at the Miss Alabama pageant — a symptom, in my mind, of the unthinking amalgamation of Christianity and culture that too often occurs in the United States. Unfortunately, Christian supporters of not only the Miss Alabama competition but also of Miss America appear to prize the same attributes in women that their less religious counterparts do. For these pageant enthusiasts, at least, physical attractiveness takes center stage.

* * *

Her-meneutics, the Christianity Today blog for women, deals with this topic too, concentrating on the choice between the one piece and two piece swimsuit in that Miss America competition. The article adds new sides to this uncomfortable conversation in Evangelical circles: beauty, modesty, but also Evangelical values vs. Mormon values, etc. Interested? Take a look at the link above.

From this article we also find out that Scanlan has a blog. And it also gives us the link to a video clip from the pegeant, that you may see below:

* * *

What do you think? To what extent do you agree or disagree with Ms. Maxwell and why?

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

14 thoughts on “Melody Maxwell – Christians and the Miss America competition – UPDATE”

  1. Mrs. (or ms.) Maxwell may have some valid points but she’s a lousy writer.

    ” of the unthinking amalgamation of Christianity and culture that too often occurs in the United States.”

    So it is apparent that she uses the word culture to designate mob behavior. I wonder what word she actually uses for culture.

    As for the substance of her objections, I believe that first: she should refrain from judging, and second she should apply the American wisdom that if you set expectations low enough you can never be disappointed.

    We’re talking about the Christian “culture” that gave us TBN and all the glorious kitsch that gets to be associated in the minds of young Americans with Christianity.

    That Christian girls parade in bikinis should be the least of her concerns.


    1. Now, that’s a consistent, I would even say edgy, reaction. And, as those who know me might expect, I agree with most of it, although I have some sympathy for Ms. Maxwell’s scruples.
      (A propos, cum se spune in engeza ‘pudibonderie’? Ma tem ca nu prea exista corespondent pentru a defini ‘pudoarea exagerata’ in limbajul victorian – poate ca in acel context expresia este redundanta.)


      1. Actually, in American English , I would translate “pudibonderie” as puritanical 🙂 Maye not the most exact translation, but it gets the message across. Prude is the other plausible word.

        N-as suspecta-o pe doamna de pudibonderie, din simplu motiv ca si pe mine m-ar enerva foarte serios sa le vad domnisoarele astea (era sa le zic fufe) facand parada de “Christianity”.

        Noroc ca eu n-am timp sa observ chestiile astea (miss nu stiu care), altfel e unul din exercitiile alea spirituale unde trebuie sa-ti amintesti ca “Hristos a venit in lume sa-i mantuiasca pe pacatosi, dintre care eu sunt cel dintai”. Cam greu, dar cu multa practica, tragem nadejde…


      2. In ce priveste traducerea, nu am eu mar simpatie pentru puritani (din prcina de Calvinism si moralism excesiv), dar cred ca ‘puritanical’ acopera numai partial semantica termenului francez originar.
        Vorba unui amic filolog, culturile sunt esentialente intraductibile. Nu lucram decit cu aproximari.


  2. “Prudishness” is the English word

    I would unashamedly put the label “hypocritical” (nothing to do with critical) on the article. Had a man written these I would have called for aggravating circumstances.

    My opinion has then a hint of mysoginistic flavour and I believe that Christian values are acting as a smoke screen for an amalgam of frustrations here.


  3. faina chestia. ar trebui ca sa se impuna credinciosilor sa se casatoreasca cu cele mai urite fete, sa faca abstractie de “frumusetea exterioara” for the sake of the interior one! vorba aia: spre slava domnului! sa vedem atunci cine o fi mai credincios si cine nu…


  4. am voie sa spun ca sunt de acord cu autoarea articolului?
    ii intreb pe fratii care o critica: s-ar simti confortabil ca fiica sau sotia lor sa apara la un astfel de concurs? fiind crestini!


    1. Sigur ca e voie. Opiniile sunt la liber. Sper insa ca nu incercati sa-i demonizati pe cei care gindesc altfel.
      Iata, sa vedem ce raspuns cei vizati.
      Pina atunci, retineti ca discutia de aici nu este doar despre miss-uri, ci vizeaza un palier mai profund al problemei. Nu va blocati, deci la acest nivel.


  5. ceea ce nu imi doresc este ipocrizia insa in zilele noastre exista in egala masura pericolul,cum spunea cineva, sa avem o minte atat de deschisa incat sa ne pierdem creierii! cred ca orice exagerare este gresita indiferent de sensul in care ea merge!


  6. Ca să mai îndulcesc puțin comentariul meu anteriori:
    sunt de acord în principiu cu ideea din articol respectiv condamnarea dublului standard evidențiat foarte bine în descrierea doamnei, nu sunt de acord cu exagerările cărora le-am găsit ca și cauză frustrarea.
    În context accentul pus pe prezența fizică este perfect îndreptățit (nu e vorba de un concurs de cunoștințe pe teme teologice).
    Autoarea ar fi putut vorbi de nivelul calitativ al evenimentului raportat la standardele mediului și ar fi avut dreptate sau nu.
    Altfel pare să încerce să condamne genul ăsta de activitate ca fiind complet necreștinesc, caz în care era mai bine să fi concluzionat ca atare. Așa aveam un punct de vedere direct exprimat nu doar sugerat.

    La urma urmei concursurile de frumusețe pot fi o capcană pentru fetele în creștere pentru așteptările pe care le presupun că le-ar avea lumea de la o femeie frumoasă.
    Mai periculoase și cu efect mult mai grav le au concursurile de frumusețe morală democratic răspândite în bisericile evanghelice. Să vezi acolo dublu-standard 🙂


    1. Concursusile astea de Miss Fatarnicia nu par sa deranjeze insa pe nimeni. Probabil pentru ca ‘pudibonderia morala’ nu este de obicei in dotarea evanghelicilor.


  7. Acum am vazut articolul acesta si ma mira putin absenta vocilor feminine in comentarii. Sunt femeie, sunt casatorita si mai mult decat orice, sunt fiica iubita a lui Hristos. Amestecuri intre “crestinism” (“bisericism” poate ar fi mai corect) si lucruri cum ar fi concursurile de frumusete ar trebui sa ne socheze, sa ne intristeze si sa ne arate ca deja nu ne mai rusinam de ceea ce nu este pe placul lui Dumnezeu.

    Salile acestea in care femeile se perinda pentru a-si arata frumusetea exterioara seamana tare mult cu targurile de vite. Iar cei care privesc (si freamata) din sala seamana cu interesatii cumparatori care cauta animalele la dinti in special. E trist.

    Poate ar trebui sa specific aici ca ceea ce am scris, nu are de-a face cu sindromul fetei urate care vorbeste impulsiv despre calitati pe care nu le are. Cred ca sunt o femeie frumoasa (intrebati-l pe sotul meu 🙂 ).


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