Rethinking beauty pageants?

Loren Galler Rabinowitz skates with David Mitchell, completing the Yankee Polka, at the 2004 Four Continents Championships in Hamilton, Ontario.

Courtesy of Vesperholly/Wikimedia Commons.

I’ll admit it–the first (and usually only) thing I think of when someone mentions the Miss America competition is the movie Miss Congeniality and a group of starving, not particularly bright, but beautiful women. But after reading this article about Loren Galler Rabinowitz in The Forward I’ve begun to rethink that reaction. Rabinowitz is a former competitive ice skater, Harvard graduate, classically trained pianist, poet (she wrote a book of poems for her senior thesis under the tutelage of Jorie Graham), and Miss Massachusetts 2010. She’s also Jewish. At first I was surprised that someone so smart and talented would want to enter a beauty pageant, but after reading about the positive effect being Miss Massachusetts has had on her life, I realized that maybe I should rethink my stance on beauty pageants.

She decided to enter the pageant world after graduating from Harvard in the hopes of earning a scholarship for medical school. She won $8,000 after winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, and is currently competing for the $50,000 that Miss America receives–certainly nothing to scoff at. After winning Miss Massachusetts, she spent the year coaching young ice skaters, tutoring children in math and writing, and using her position as Miss Massachusetts to raise awareness of issues at charity events. She’s been promoting the Children’s Miracle Network, which raises money for children’s medical treatment across the globe, as well as trying to work against childhood hunger. Wearing her tiara has the power to make people listen to what she has to say, and I respect her for using that power to say a lot of important things.

Impressed by Rabinowitz, I was curious about what one actually does to become Miss Massachusetts. According to the Miss Massachusetts website, contestants are judged based on an interview (to judge her “poise, charm, self-confidence and her ability to communicate,” as well as the “substance” of her answers), a swimsuit competition (for “beauty of face, figure, physical fitness, and the confidence”) and and an evening gown competition (for “overall appearance, self-confidence, sense of style and the beauty she brings to the gown of her choice”). I found this list to be pretty disappointing–after getting so excited about Rabinowitz and her achievements, I was surprised to see something like “beauty of face” on the list of judging points. Rabinowitz is beautiful, as are her former competitors, but there is clearly so much more to her than simply her beauty, and I find it sad that two out of the three judgment categories are physical judgments. It verges on demeaning, if you ask me.

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I really love this post. I think the thing that gets me is that at its core, no matter what good things the contestants do (& so many of them do wonderful things!), this is still a *beauty* pageant, not a lots-of-good-things pageant. An "ugly" or "fat" (in quotations because those words are so subjective & societal) woman who did all the same things Rabinowitz & her competitors do could never win this pageant & use that tiara & its national platform to make people listen to her very worthy messages because, no matter her other achievements, her looks do not meet pageant standards.

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How to cite this page

From the Rib. "Rethinking beauty pageants?." 11 January 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <>.