Beauty Contests and Cancer

Miss America contestant plans double mastectomy after competition

The above headline hit me hard. To see a beautiful woman, fearful of cancer, planning a double mastectomy AFTER the competition only reinforced my healthy distrust of beauty contests. The take away message seemed that having a double mastectomy would ruin your chances of winning a beauty contest.  Of course they couldn’t discriminate against someone with breast cancer genes, but perhaps there was some obscure rule about reconstructed breasts via “natural” breasts or a prohibition against prosthetic breasts.  I didn’t know for sure,  but in my quick view of her world, this young lady didn’t dare get a mastectomy until after she had been judged with her breasts intact. My prejudice against these contests demanded that I find the facts.

I surfed the Miss America site to get some insight into what was, and wasn’t considered beautiful by pageant officials. At first glance, their requirements looked fairly innocuous:

To compete you must

  • Be between the ages of 17 and 24.
  • Be a United States citizen.
  • Meet residency requirements for competing in a certain town or state.
  • Meet character criteria as set forth by the Miss America Organization.
  • Be in reasonably good health to meet the job requirements.
  • Be able to meet the time commitment and job responsibilities as set forth by the local program in which you compete. (source)

So perhaps putting off the mastectomy was driven more by the need to be “in reasonably good health to meet job requirements” than needing breasts to compete. Certainly surgery, a hospitalization, and recovery would impact the contestant’s availability.  My suspicion that there was more to the pageant requirements was driven by the lack of a weight and height requirement in the rules.  Since the armed forces and other positions, such as smoke jumpers, must meet  height and weight requirements, I thought  Miss American might.  I dug a little further, went to the New Hampshire web page, and found more requirements for contestants:

(Q) A contestant must be and always have been a female.

(R) Contestants must not now be and never have been married.

(S) Contestants are not now pregnant, and have never been pregnant. She is not the adoptive parent of any child.

(T) Contestants must be of good moral character and never been involved at any time in any act of moral turpitude.

(U) Other than minor or petty offenses, contestants must never have been convicted of any criminal offense and there are no criminal charges presently pending against the contestant.

(V) Contestants must never have performed any act or engaged in any activity or employment that is or could reasonably be characterized as dishonest, immoral, or indecent.

(W) Contestants must be in good health, and can, to best of their knowledge, participate fully and without limitation in any Program activities. Contestants must not use or consume any illegal controlled dangerous substances or abuse the use of alcohol or other dangerous substances.  (source)

Whoa! We’ve all heard of contestants being stripped of their titles due to moral turpitude clauses, legal violations, and drug and alcohol abuse.  I can understand those, but to ask contestants to certify that they “are not now pregnant and have never been pregnant”?  Obviously the pageant is against abortion, adoption, and single parenthood (because they’ve nixed marriage, too).  Is this to impart an air of virginity and chastity to the contestants or to preclude unsightly stretch marks?  Why not disqualify them if they’ve had a sexually transmitted disease as it is as much an indicator of sexual activity as pregnancy.

Still, no clause stating a contestant can’t have plastic surgery. Miss Universe/Miss USA rules come right out and say they don’t prohibit plastic surgery because of the difficulty in enforcing the rule.  Though I suppose they could require contestants to sign a blanket medical release and go trolling through their medical records and health insurance bills looking for surgery. You know, if it’s that important to the pageant.

And then I started thinking of how important the pageant must be to women willing to sign off on the requirements because if  the Miss America pageant was  a job interview, the questions on marital status and pregnancy would be against the law. To the women who enter these, putting aside marriage, children, and college parties to be a contestant is likely considered a reasonable trade off. I don’t understand their desire to participate in a beauty pageant, but it’s a decision I don’t get to make. It’s theirs, as is either having or delaying cancer risk reduction surgery to pursue a dream.

When all is said and done, I wish Miss America contestant Allyn Rose  the best of luck in the pageant and in her decisions regarding her genetic risk of cancer. I’ll never be a fan of pageants, but as long as women enter and people watch, they’ll go on.

Colonel Russell Frasz, 89th Airlift Wing vice ...

Colonel Russell Frasz, 89th Airlift Wing vice commander, poses with the 51 Miss America 2004 contestants and Miss America 2003 on the Andrews flight line as part of their tour of Andrews AFB, Md. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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