Talents and Tiaras: A Counselor’s Views on the Miss America Controversy

Miss_America_2014_contestantsBy Sabrina Bartels – Kelley Johnson is beautiful. She is tall and thin, with long blonde hair and a dazzling smile. She wears swimsuits and ball gowns with confidence, and prances around in high heels with ease. Of course, what else would you expect from someone who is competing in the Miss America pageant?

But what really makes Kelley Johnson beautiful is more than just what she wears or how she looks. I believe that her true beauty shone through when she stood in front of the audience and chose to give a monologue about nursing for her talent portion of the competition.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the stir this created, most notably among some of the women on the popular morning show “The View.” They made snide comments about Johnson. They criticized her outfit (Johnson wore her nursing scrubs for her monologue) and wanted to know why she wore a “doctor’s stethoscope.” One of the hosts even went so far as to comment that “this wasn’t a talent” and then laughingly noted that this is why Johnson didn’t win.

This bothered me. It really did. Not that I am a huge fan of the Miss America pageant (I’m more likely to be watching football on Sunday nights), but I was shocked and angry that influential women in today’s society felt the need to criticize Johnson for having a very real, very unique talent. Sure, it was not violin playing, ballet, or opera singing, which is what you normally see during the competition. But being a nurse is truly a gift. It takes smarts, hard work, dedication, and a certain amount of patience and skill, just like any other talent. Trust me, not everyone can be a nurse (I know I couldn’t).

It also irked me because I think there is a certain perception about women who participate in the Miss America competition. Many of my students think that Miss America only needs to be beautiful to win. Being smart is optional and not something that always gets showcased. Usually, my students who want to be models feel that they can slack at school. I remember one of my girls saying, “Let’s get real, Mrs. Bartels. When do you see Tyra Banks or Kate Moss using algebra?” And I have to admit, I haven’t seen Tyra Banks trying to find a solution for y=2x on “America’s Next Top Model.” To have people say that nursing is not a talent almost seems to validate my students’ beliefs that beautiful people do not need to be smart.

I’m not saying that any of these people – supermodels or Miss America contestants – are dumb. But I do believe that is the perception.

As a counselor, I struggle with my female students when it comes to their perceptions of what society wants. I have incredibly smart girls who pretend to be dumb in class, just so they can attract a boy’s attention. They worry that if they appear smart, boys won’t like them. I see girls starving themselves to be skinnier or giving into demands to have sex so that boys will stay with them.

I want my girls to know that there is so much more to being a woman than being beautiful. I want them to be smart. I want them to be independent. I want them to know that they do not have to rely on others to make them happy. I want them to be confident when they choose their careers, and I want them to love whatever path they pursue.

I want them to be secure in the knowledge that they are amazingly beautiful and talented, whether they compete on Miss America, or compete in a courtroom. They don’t need to wear high heels or fancy gowns or a tiara to be a role model. They can be a woman who walks around a hospital in scrubs and tennis shoes, taking care of others and saving lives.

And let me tell you: To me, that is just as much of a talent as anything else.


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