Does it though? (Screenshot via ABC News)
This week, the internet is abuzz over the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who is the first Indian American to win the pageant. The winner's circle included two other Asian Americans: Miss California Crystal Lee as first runner-up, and Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh as fourth runner-up. It was an historic night, no doubt, but as an Asian American woman, the win comes with a lot of mixed feelings.
Most of those feelings are confusion and surprise. Ratings for Miss America, and thus, the 93-year-old pageant's relevance, have been on a steady decline for years now. I personally can't name a single Miss America since Vanessa Williams was stripped of the crown. While Davuluri and Lee both made history within the Miss America pageant, I'm reluctant to see this as a significant step forward for Asian Americans in general. I know, haters gonna hate, but hear me out.
It's hard not to see this as a bone thrown from an institution that has actively perpetuated and upheld Eurocentric standards of beauty for as long as its been in existence. Yes, what a wonderful thing to finally be validated by a system that exists to objectify women's bodies, a system that should have been killed with fire long ago. I'm sure this has nothing to do with ratings or breathing life into this dying institution.
First, it came out just days before the pageant that Davuluri was caught on tape fat-shaming other beauty queens, somewhat counterintuitive to her confession of having struggled with bulimia in the past. This may be par for the course when it comes to beauty pagent behavior, but having read about this earlier in the week, it was hard for me to position Davuluri as a champion for change in the pageant circuit.
Davuluri took a hard stance on diversity, which is great, but that this needs to be a thing on the 93rd anniversary of the pageant reminds us of the obvious: "real" Americans hate diversity. Perhaps the most shared post on this win has been Buzzfeed's obligatory round-up of racist tweets. While many were disgusted, there isn't much to expect from folks who take beauty pageants seriously, and the backlash came as a surprise to no one. What's the point in continuing these tweet-shaming round-ups except to remind us that crappy people exist and to make ourselves feel better that we're not one of them?
And ironically, but again unsurprising to many of us API's, some have pointed out that Davuluri is actually too Indian to even be Miss India or Miss Indian America. I can only speak for my experience as a Filipino American, but shadism is a very real thing that still exists in our community.
In general, the net gain on this win feels like close to zero. We learn, once again, that Americans are still racist and misogynistic. One more person gets a "First Asian American To..." title, essentially we are validated by the white male patriarchy just a little bit more, but the sun rises once again and little else changes.