Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921
The young goatherd Paris had no idea he’d start a war. All he wanted was the most beautiful mortal of his day–Helen of Troy. Beauty and equality do not go hand in hand. It’s not enough to be one of the beauties or to admire one of the beauties. We must crown one as supreme.
Juno, Venus and Minerva quarreled amongst themselves over who was most lovely. They bribed a goatherd to settle things. But beauty is unsettling. It’s fleeting and it makes us wonder about fairness. Beauty captivates us even when we think we should know better. Shouldn’t we love even second-rate art? Beauty shows us the most pleasing sights, yet leaves us sometimes feeling resentful and inadequate.
Way back in the mists of time beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations. P.T. Barnum in 1854 saw another way to capitalize on humanity’s beauty cravings. After successful dog, chicken and baby beauty contests he stepped it up with the first American beauty contest. People were outraged at the idea of virtuous young women being ogled and judged. Barnum scratched his head. Beauty should be celebrated as one of the finer things in life. We all secretly judge and make friends first on their attractiveness. We look at masterpieces in the high falutin’ museums because those nudes take our breath away. Who are we kidding?
She even had a beautiful dog!
Barnum never gave up. He changed the rules ever so slightly. Okay, no women standing there getting uncomfortable. Send me your daguerreotypes and a little bit about what you do as a beautiful person. If you win you get a fancy portrait done of yourself instead of the promised dowry for the old contest. Seems pretty girls like selfies. The contest was a grand success at combining low-brow and high-brow entertainment for the masses.
I know some of you will cry, “How snobby of you to delineate between high and low! Children’s drawings and Renoir are just the same!” “Beautiful women should not be objectified!” No one puts a gun to the beauty’s head (do they?).
I get it. Ugly people can lurk within their beautiful bodies, but let’s not pretend we aren’t mesmerized by symmetry and smooth skin. In the interest of being nice and democratic let’s not embrace mediocrity as a badge of honor. I’ve never entered a beauty contest and I’m well past my prime, but I don’t hate beautiful people. I don’t automatically love them either. I just like to look at them.
Margaret rocking the stockings.
The first Bathing Beauty Pageant took place at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in 1880 as an advertizing gimmick.
“The modern beauty pageant’s origin is traceable to the “Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” in 1921, which was held to entice summer tourists to stay in town past Labor Day. Local newsman Herb Test created history by offering to title the girl who won “Miss America.” Out of the eight competitors for the title, Margaret Gorman, who represented the nation’s capital as Miss Washington D.C., was declared the beauty queen, winning the first-ever Miss America title.” theloc.gov