Miss America


Julia Webster, Staff Writer

She walks down the aisle with grace, poise, and beauty. Her hips sway slightly as she takes her place among the other contestants. 52 beautiful women stand on the stage wearing gorgeous dresses and bright smiles. But only one will leave with the crown and a $50,000 scholarship. And on September 11th, Miss Savvy Shields from Arkansas took the title of Miss America 2017 on the platform “Eat Better, Live Better.”

The date made the performance particularly touching as Betty Cantrell, the previous Miss America from Georgia, paid tribute to the victims and survivors of 9/11 by singing Katy Perry’s inspirational song “Rise,” and Miss Maryland Hannah Brewer sang Lee Greenwood’s classic and patriotic song “God Bless the USA.”

This year the Miss America Pageant was held at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, maintaining the tradition of holding the pageant where it began. It all started with an innocuous “beauty contest” thought up by local businessmen in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourist season. Originally, bathing suits were the only division, but as the popularity of the contest grew, other sections were added. The additional categories were evening gowns, a talent show, private interviews, and on-stage interviews. The evening gowns exhibit the contestant’s physical beauty and health, while the talent show displays their individuality. Inner beauty and personality are shown through the private interviews and the on-stage interviews demonstrate how the women act under pressure. Together, all of the areas portray each candidate’s whole self.

Although the pageant started out as a “beauty contest,” it has since grown to be the biggest scholarship provider, and promoter of education for women. It is much more than a battle of beauty. Many people condescendingly look at Miss America as an organization that reduces women to objects instead of humans with emotions, but they are simply only looking at the surface. Miss America contestants donate tens of thousands of hours of their time to community service projects and bring awareness to current issues, and have raised over $13 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals since 2007, according to their official website. It’s more than a crown, it’s a movement that arms women with the power to change the world.

When the nineteenth amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote, Miss America served as a powerful spokesman for women. It was uncommon for women to have a voice, but Miss America provided an outlet for them to finally speak out against limited women’s education, and the gender inequality of the workforce. The organization also stood as a supporter of the Civil Rights movement and helped with HIV/AID’s awareness at a controversial time.

Not only is Miss America as a whole influential, many of their contestants are bringing about change with their platforms, determination, and perseverance. The 2014 winner of Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, exemplifies her platform, “Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers,” by being a section leader at Kansas Army National Guard Medical Department. In 2013, Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman, became the first contestant diagnosed with autism. She has worked hard over the past ten years to overcome her chronic shyness and speech impediments. Her platform, “Normal is just a dryer setting-Living with autism,” has helped her build awareness about autism and encourages people to reach for their dreams. Also in 2013, Nicole Kelly won Miss Iowa, and with her missing left forearm, made history as the first pageant winner missing a limb. Her platform, “Overcoming Disabilities,” brings focus to VSA, a program that enables people with special needs to get involved in the arts.

Miss America is so much more than a simple beauty contest. Its contestants volunteer thousands of hours in community service and each platform brings awareness to issues in our nation. Throughout its history, Miss America has been a pillar of women’s rights, empowerment and leadership. And the latest winner, Savvy Shields, is no different. So keep singing the theme song as you see our New Miss America walk across the stage.