Scholarship program. Talent competition. Fitness contest. A beauty pageant by any other name is still a beauty pageant, but most have colorful euphemisms to disguise what they really are.
The Miss USA Pageant, however, has no such pseudonym. Co-owned by real estate tycoon Donald Trump and omitting the talent competition from its itinerary, the Miss USA competition admits what it is, plain and simple -- a beauty contest.
One would think that a participant in the pageant would beg to differ, would insist that there's more required to take part in it than a pretty face and a fit body, but the current Miss Oklahoma USA, Tulsa native Caitlin Simmons, who will participate this Friday, March 23, in the Miss USA Pageant, agrees that, yep, it's really just a beauty contest.
Simmons, 21, was crowned Miss Oklahoma USA in December of last year and had never competed in a beauty pageant until two years prior, during her senior year at Jenks High School. An athlete all her life, she decided to quit playing soccer because she knew it wasn't something she wanted to pursue in college. But she needed something else to keep her motivated, she said.
"I wanted to do something that would challenge me, that would give me something to work for," she said during a recent telephone interview. "Some girls do pageants to get their bodies in shape; for others, it's so they can work on their people skills. For me, it was both."
But why beauty pageants? Why not any other activity? To be honest, she said, she didn't get the idea to enter a beauty pageant until her younger sister received a brochure about the Miss Teen USA competition in the mail.
"I thought, that sounds like fun. I sent my picture in and that was that," Simmons said.
She didn't place in her first pageant, when she competed to be Miss Teen Oklahoma USA. Her second time around, she competed in Miss Oklahoma USA and made the top 15. Third time's a charm, though, and she was crowned Miss Oklahoma USA.
Since her victory, she hasn't had much time to do many public appearances as Miss Oklahoma USA because she's been preparing for the big pageant in Los Angeles this week. (You can see her on the Explore Tulsa Channel, at www.exploretulsachannel.com.) She moved to Kansas City to be closer to her pageant directors, who also direct the Miss USA representatives from Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.
Before the move, she was attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and before that, she spent a year at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant.
She decided to take some time off from college, though, when she realized attending school full-time didn't leave her much time for preparing for the upcoming pageant.
You might remember (the mainstream media made it hard to forget) the controversy and hullabaloo that seemed to follow the current Miss USA, Tara Conner, wherever she went. Not too long after being crowned, the former Miss Kentucky USA was nearly dethroned after allegations of underage alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity surfaced. She was accused of drinking underage and abusing cocaine, which a drug test verified was true, and she publicly locked lips with 18-year-old Miss Teen USA Katie Blair.
Trump decided not to dethrone the pageant queen at a press conference on December 16 last year, determining to give her a second chance, provided she enter a drug rehabilitation program, which she did.
Before she earned the title Miss USA, Conner worked as a model and a waitress, while studying for a degree in Business Administration from Somerset Community College. She was a featured model on an HDNet Series called Bikini Destinations in 2004.
When asked about the cloud of controversy surrounding Conner and, thusly, the Miss USA Pageant, Simmons said she didn't have much of a comment, insisting she didn't know all of the details about the situation.
"I only know what I've heard," she said. "Donald made his decision based on inside information. I feel wrong going against anything he said. She shouldn't have done what she did, but I stand by his decision."
Underage drinking and illegal drug use are, admittedly, not activities that should be excusable for anyone, but one has to wonder if there isn't a double standard when it comes to celebrities or folks who live in the lime-light, especially young, beautiful, title-holding girl folks.
Are the public and the media harsher in their criticism when examining the activities of famous people? And are those activities, when found to be wrong, detrimental or illegal, more or less punishable or condonable?
If it's true that nearly everyone at some point goes through a wild phase, experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sexuality, is it less excusable when that person is a celebrity? Shouldn't everyone be treated equally, regardless of the title she holds?
Simmons says no.
"As a title holder, you represent your state and/or your country," Simmons said, "as a role model teens and women. People are going to criticize someone in the public eye more, and I think that's fair because we sign a contract that says 'I won't do this. I'll live this way for a year, no ifs ands or buts."
Her contract as Miss Oklahoma USA states that Simmons will not drink alcohol while she is underage or while she is wearing her sash and crown.
"It's not like you're not allowed to have a glass of wine once in a while -- you just can't drink while you're wearing the crown," she explained. "Tara was underage when she was drinking, and she was partying, which you're not allowed to do. For her, it wasn't just a glass of wine at night; it was a lifestyle."
Simmons said that, if crowned Miss USA, Tulsa and Oklahoma wouldn't have to worry about her embarrassing us.
"I do feel like I live a life where I wouldn't mind being in the public eye. I make mistakes, but I don't do anything that I would be ashamed of," she said.
Some Social Consciousness
As part of its mission, representatives for the Miss USA Pageant are spokeswomen for breast and ovarian cancer, unlike the Miss America pageant, in which they are allowed to choose their own platforms. But other than the assigned crusade of breast and ovarian cancer, what issues are important to Miss Oklahoma USA?
"Above all, I want to glorify God," she said. "I want to be a light in a dark place. And I want to be a role model. My heart goes out to girls who have [body] image issues."
Wouldn't it be sort of difficult for a beauty queen to understand the plight of the ugly duckling? Scientists, doctors and special advocates all agree that having unrealistic goals, i.e. seeing beauty queens and super models as having the ideal body type, is a major contributor to the torment of low self-esteem, causing body image and self worth issues and, sometimes, serious eating disorders.
"Hello? I'm a girl, too," was Simmons' retort. "Don't you think I have insecurities? What everyone needs to know is that the girls in magazines are not perfect. They have access to airbrushing and lots of makeup. People are different. It's so hard to look at a girl in a magazine and say, 'I want to look like her.'
"I know I'm never going to look like anyone else. You have to work with what you have. Anyone can be her best, but it's hard work. If I ate anything I wanted, I wouldn't look the way I do. And I won't forever."
Simmons stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which, she said, is one of the major points of the pageant. Girls are judged based on the discipline they show in their appearance and their lifestyle. The pageant's categories are swimsuit, evening gown and one-on-one personal interviews. The judges are looking for a girl who shows inner strength, ambition and personality, Simmons said.
And one who looks great in a bikini. In recent years, the importance of the interview pageant has been significantly reduced. From 1975 to 2000, all contestants who made the initial cut were tested in the interview, but since 2001, only the final question has remained, so only a handful of girls are actually required to speak during the competition.
But Simmons still insists she understands what it's like to have a negative self image. Her sister battled a dangerous bout with an eating disorder that landed her in rehab. She experienced her sister's struggle and struggled with her, and she said she wants to do everything she can to help other girls struggling with the same issues.
Simmons has been living in Kansas City since being crowned Miss Oklahoma USA, practicing modeling, conducting mock interviews, working out and getting plenty of rest. If she wins Miss USA, she'll move to New York City and live in a penthouse in Trump Tower with Miss Teen USA.
"If I don't win, I don't know yet what I'll do," she said. "I definitely want to get my degree at some point, but there's no telling what opportunities will come out of this. If something pops out at me, I'll do it, no matter what it is."
This Miss USA Pageant will be aired at 8pm this Friday on NBC (Channel 9, locally).
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