Tattooed Beauty Queens
Yesterday, the Miss America pageant crowned its first beauty queen of Indian descent, which led to an onslaught of racist tweets by those who take beauty pageants seriously. "America's Choice," as decided by an online vote, was not the winner, but instead, a pretty blonde from Kansas who represented "American Values": she's a sergeant in the National Guard, she's a hunter who can skin a deer herself, and she's tattooed.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail strutted across the stage with a large-scale rib tattoo of the serenity prayer, which she says she used to recite when bullied as a child. Her tattoos were a big part of her platform, which centered around "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers." She told ABC News:
"What I really want is just to inspire people by showing my tattoos," she said. "That's a bold move! And it's risky, it could very well cost me the crown. And if it does, I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself. And I can only hope that it inspires them to do the same."She didn't win the crown, but she won a lot media attention for being the first Miss America contestant to openly display her tattoos. Or at least that what the headlines touted.
But Teresa Vail was not the first tattooed beauty queen. It was Betty Broadbent, shown above on the cover of the first edition of Margo Mifflin's "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo" (a must-have book). This cover photo captures the iconic circus attraction as she made history competing in the first televised beauty pageant at the 1937 World's Fair. As Margot Mifflin notes, "She knew that as a tattooed contestant she didn't stand a chance of winning, but she gladly reaped the free publicity." The same could be said for Miss Kansas.
I'm not a fan of beauty contests. Despite the fact that Miss Kansas has a degree in chemistry and speaks Chinese, she still had to put on stilettos and a bikini to put forth her "empowerment" platform. But I am a fan of those working in some way to stir a little trouble, to change up beauty ideals. So good on Miss Kansas for following in Betty Broadbent's high heels.