2. Learning from the Best in the Universe

January 2015

One day when I was snorting through NFL spoofs on my Facebook feed, my cousin posted a status saying “Go Miss Jamaica! Watching the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.” Immediately I closed my laptop, grabbed a notepad and switched on NBC. In order to become a good pageant queen I must study. I need to learn to walk and talk like these ladies because let’s face it some guy might think the cat hair on my shirt is cute, but could I blow the whiskers off of Donald Trump’s mane?

by Hana Omiya

by Hana Omiya

It’s time to get to work. Let me first make it clear that Miss Universe is not affiliated with Miss America (the series that I would enter). Miss America is an organization that claims to be the largest provider of scholarships for women in the world. Miss Universe is a part of the Miss USA competition series which aims to select “global ambassadors” and sell you Pantene Pro V at the same time. But I still watched it, took some notes, and came out a little confused.

First why is this show is called “Miss Universe?” I can see E.T. calling from home, pointing her angry, glowing finger in the air: Unless this beauty pageant represents a diverse array of martians and homo sapiens, or this is the 4th installment of Men in Black, the human ego needs to curb itself. What’s wrong with Miss Earth? Too crunchy? Maybe so, but Zoe Saldana *ahem* Neytiri is mad she didn’t get her nomination.

By the time I sat down in front of the TV, I had missed most of the circus called “the National Costume Contest” but I got to see Miss Canada’s 18th Century France inspired court gown. She walked down the stage flaunting hockey sticks like a peacock’s tail and I was doubly amazed at the scoreboard she balanced on her neck. If anyone asks, the Canadian team was winning 20-14 in the 3rd period, and I would love to award those 2 penalties to Miss Canada and her team for posting the most unrealistic score for a hockey game I have ever seen.

More importantly, what does flashy glitter and a blinding amount of sequins have to do with being a “global ambassador?” It’s a distraction. Costumes are a product of design teams therefore the judges are judging something that is even more exterior to her “beauty” and far removed from her character while critiquing a flattened, simplistic collage of her culture.

This begs the question “What are we judging here?” As I watched the swimsuit portion of the pageant, I couldn’t believe how perfect all of their bodies were. Flawless, no-real-woman-wakes-up-like-this perfection.

And yet I still felt the desire to nitpick. I felt the urge to find a woman’s faults. When the host praised Miss Australia’s abs I nearly choked. “What abs?” I hardly saw a ripple of strength in her stomach … I had to stop because I realized how quickly I switched from admiration to critique.

During the show, former Miss Universe winners said that the Q&A section really decides who makes the best ambassador, but to me the question section was a bumbling mess. I know that the Miss Universe/Miss USA contestants always get crap for sounding like empty-headed bimbos, but I would like to stress that these pageants do not allow these girls to sound intelligent.

They might very well be smart. But when you are asking Miss America, “In 30 seconds what would you like to say to ISIS?” of course the answer is going to come out stuttering “love, harmony, and world peace.” Obama doesn’t know what to do about ISIS. And hell: Girl had one minute to talk about CHI hairspray and that’s the most I heard out of her for the whole pageant. So can she get a little bit more time to say something that’s not off of a script?

It was doubly unfair for the contestants whose English was poor and needed male translators to speak for them (sniff the irony). No wonder their answers came out awkward and it was clear that this portion of the contest is not an even playing field. With the contest structured in this fashion, you are setting these girls up for failure, and we either applaud them for at least putting a cogent sentence together or we smash them for giving dumb answers. Thus we end up with ex-pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdeck asking:

“What can women learn from men?”

Miss Colombia: “I believe there are still men that believe in equality. I believe that that is what women could learn from men.”

A provocative question needing a thoughtful answer that never came, leaving me unsatisfied and my palm to my forehead. Miss Colombia, I don’t really blame you for it.

But it doesn’t matter because you won! You beat out crowd favorite Miss Jamaica who walked full of pride in her short hair and spoke so confidently in front of the judges. Much of the Twitter-sphere thought that Jamaica had it in the bag. Miss Jamaica smiled as if it were all a joke—that no matter what she did that night, I bet she knew the outcome was predetermined.

If I were to take the advice of judge and Miami Marins Outfeilder Giancarlo Stanton, the key to winning pageants is to “be yourself.” But how can do that when all of this seemed so crafted, staged and scripted? I imagine world leaders sitting around a round table with Donald Trump pursing his lips. And with that imaginary kiss of death, I turned off my television floating in the nebula of Miss Universe.

PS: I was chatting with my deaf aunt via Facebook Messenger throughout this and we cheered for Miss Jamaica. While we talked, I found out that my aunt was the 1st runner up the for Miss Black Deaf New York Pageant in 1990. For the costume portion she dressed as a tennis player because she loved playing tennis, and for her talent, she performed a poem she wrote using sign language. That’s fascinating to me. How does poetry work through sign language and how do we judge a good ASL poem from a bad one? She claims that she should have went to nationals but maybe she answered one of the questions wrong. Haha, that’s my aunt everybody! So proud.