Miss USA's sexpot hypocrisy

The beauty pageant won't stand for contestants in racy pictures -- unless it commissions the photos itself

Published May 10, 2010 9:40PM (EDT)

Miss Illinois, Ashley Bradarich, in a glamor shot pose for Miss USA
Miss Illinois, Ashley Bradarich, in a glamor shot pose for Miss USA

It seems of late that behind every wholesome, all-American beauty queen, there's an impressive array of embarrassing, scantily clad pictures. So this year, Miss USA appears to have come up with a genius way of heading scandal off at the pass: by releasing a spank-worthy collection of its contestants in lingerie.

On Miss USA's Web page and the NBC site for Sunday's pageant, visitors can browse an array of "glam shots" featuring very little clothing and the biggest hair outside a Mötley Crüe reunion. After all, what better way to say that you're an "international organization that advances and supports opportunities for young women" than fishnets, push-up bras and posing facedown on a bed? USA! USA!

There's no harm in a little cheesecake, even if does make the kerfuffle over Carrie Prejean's underwear shots last year look pretty ludicrous. And hey, if the only way to get people to watch your dinosaur of a competition is to turn it into the Victoria's Secret fashion show, godspeed.

But as an outraged, humorless feminist, I have to ask: Who was the stylist on this thing? Because it looks like at least half those poor girls had to wear the same bra, shoes, white shirt and stockings. Their hair and makeup are all nearly identical, and photographer Fadil Berisha confined the ladies to standard-issue sexy poses. No wonder the photos are called their "glam" shots -- they look like they were taken at the mall. And just to drive home the studio portrait feel, visitors can order "professional prints" of any or all of the 51 stunningly interchangeable images -- from wallet sizes to mugs to cardboard cutouts. Maybe Miss North Dakota's parents would like a magnet of their baby girl romping on a bed in just a man's shirt, I don't know.

Miss USA has always played the role of free-spirited younger sibling to the staid Miss America; a swimsuit manufacturer started the pageant. California’s pageant director, Keith Lewis, told Fox News that the look reflects Miss USA's stature as participant in the Miss Universe realm, and a more global "acceptance of sexier looks." And any event that has Donald Trump's name attached to it probably isn't exactly aspiring to good taste. But there's something about this particular attention-getting ploy that just seems sad and half-assed, like a bunch of kids having to share one pair of high heels. The fact that NBC invites us to join in the search for "the most beautiful woamn in America!" (sic) kind of says it all, lame-wise. And as anyone who knows from "America's Top Model" can attest: If you want hot women to compete with each other, it's a bad idea to make them all look alike.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Beauty Pageants