The politics of beauty pageants
By Jesika Brooks
Even if Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, isn't elected, she'll remain a queen.
In 1984, Palin competed in the Miss Wasilla pageant — and won. That same year, she vied for Miss Alaska and was awarded both third place and the title of Miss Congeniality. Pageants, like other competitive activities, have their own politics. But could those political skills transfer from the stage to the Oval Office?
Gay Berry, owner of Crowns Across America, produces the Miss South Carolina Princess and Prince pageants, among others. Her pageants are designed specifically to boost self-esteem. Contestants are judged on their own merits instead of through comparison with others. Judges rate contestants on a scale, considering each individual’s beauty. In that sense, Berry produces nothing but winners — just what Palin wants to be.
Berry doesn't believe that pageants were a factor in Palin's decision to enter politics. Instead, she thinks that Palin might have used pageant involvement as a "springboard."
"Anything that you do that's going to make you feel good and self-confident in the skill that you've learned is going to advance you in life," she said. "It's going to keep you going."
Richelle Braun, president of Eagle Solutions Corporation and director of Eagle U, knows all about self-confidence. Eagle U holds “success seminars” on college campuses for teens and young adults. Eagle U was created in 1992 by a man named Walter Hailey. Its seminars teach people techniques to be successful in life.
Although not focused solely on pageants, Eagle Solutions Corporation's efforts have shaped the abilities of many young pageant participants. Pageant contestants attend Eagle U seminars to gain skills in poise and leadership. Eagle U also holds seminars tailored specifically to pageantry. On Dec. 27-31, it will run a “Mental Toughness for Pageantry” session in Dallas.
"Sarah Palin should not be stereotyped as a 'beauty queen,' but should be considered as a candidate based upon her history and her ability to lead," said Braun.
Denise Clark, state director of the Miss Black South Carolina USA Developmental program, believes pageants can teach contestants invaluable leadership skills. Her pageant's participants learn to stay composed under pressure and to articulate their thoughts. Contestants are required to attend workshops on etiquette and public speaking.
Clark believes that Palin's involvement in pageantry led her into politics by allowing her to further her education. "A pageant gave her the opportunity to further her education, and she did not take that opportunity for granted."
According to The New York Times, “[a]n old program shows that Ms. Palin most likely won $1,075 in scholarship money and gift certificates.” During the campaign Palin has commented very little, if at all, on her pageant experience.
Palin traveled far and wide for her higher education, attending colleges in Hawaii (then Hawai'i Pacific College), Idaho (North Idaho College and the University of Idaho), and Alaska (Matanuska-Susitna College). She graduated from the University of Idaho in spring 1987 with a degree in journalism. North Idaho College recently awarded her its 2008-2009 Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award.
Clark sees a specific similarity between pageantry and politics. “Scholarship pageants give participants an opportunity to spread their platforms (any causes or concerns that may affect the participant, her state, community, and nation)," she wrote in an e-mail.
"When you're a confident person you can pretty much do anything," said Berry.
Brooks is an English major and art minor at Columbia College. Graphic design and linguistics are two of her passions.