Miss USA keeps her crown

And we read up on pageant qualifications, just for fun.

Published December 19, 2006 8:45PM (EST)

Breaking news: Tara Conner, the new Miss USA currently under fire for alleged drug use, underage drinking and excessive partying, is getting a second chance. Donald Trump -- who co-owns both the Miss USA and the Miss Universe contests -- is allowing Conner to keep her tiara, provided she goes into rehab.

I can't say I have too much sympathy for Conner, who has tested positive for cocaine and has been repeatedly seen partying in Manhattan clubs in a way that, according to FoxNews.com, "makes Paris Hilton look like a baby." I'd agree with critics that Conner isn't doing a good job of being a role model for American girls.

But then again, it's sort of silly that she's supposed to be a role model to begin with, considering the main reason she has been given that responsibility is that she looks good in a bikini (that, and the talent competition -- I always forget the talent competition). Miss USA, after all, originated as "a local 'bathing beauty' competition spearheaded by Catalina Swimwear in Long Beach," Calif., according to the official Web site.

There's not much new to say about the general ridiculousness of pageants, particularly Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe, which offer money and scholarships to young women in return for their showing a little T&A. But that doesn't mean I can't hate them. In doing a little research about these pageants, I stumbled across some guidelines for regional competitions that made me want to track down their authors and recite a quote from Jon Stewart's "Crossfire" appearance, when he berated hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. "Stop," I want to say to them. "Stop, stop, stop hurting America."

Take, for example, the 2007 guidelines for the Miss University of Georgia competition (PDF; a "scholarship program" that's a preliminary pageant for the Miss America Pageant Organization. The Miss USA pageant's entrance criteria are harder to come by, as it seems the organization will only give out application forms after they've received prospective contestants' contact information, height, weight and photo, though forms vary by state). According to the cover letter, the Miss America program provided more than $40 million in cash and tuition-based scholarships to young women in 2005. Fine and good. But check out some of the requirements:

"A contestant must be a female and shall always have been a female.
A contestant must be single and never been married or had her marriage annulled.
A contestant must not be and never have been pregnant."

Thank God! I mean, who wants to think of divorced women with stretch marks (let alone a past abortion) as representatives of America? Not I. Let's keep our attention on what's important: "A contestant should possess poise, personality, intelligence, and charm and must possess and display talent. This talent [is] to be presented in not more than two minutes."

Speaking of which: Talent "may consist of singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, dramatic reading, art display or talk. Other talent may be considered provided said talent has been specifically approved in writing by the Miss Georgia Pageant." However, a contestant's talent may not involve fire batons, sword and/or knife twirling, bow and arrow skills, or anything involving live animals. Those are all considered "no-nos" and are forbidden. Nor can you "remove articles of clothing while presenting your talent." So much for "Little Miss Sunshine."

None of this is particularly surprising to anyone who has been caught, mouth agape and mesmerized, at the sight of any of these pageants on TV. But it's still pretty amazing to see the guidelines written down on paper -- they're enough to make me want to encourage Conner to tell contest authorities where to shove their fire batons.

But I guess the bottom line is this: Most role models in my life have been people whom I don't particularly want to imagine in swimwear. Forget about Conner; let's work on making more of those.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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