The future of Miss America

Whether future beauty queen or future scholars — or both -— Miss Oregon Princesses strut their stuff.

A couple of Saturdays ago, June 30, which would have been, were she alive, my mother’s 96th birthday, we happened to be in downtown Seaside just as the Miss Oregon parade was starting. Normally, I’m not much of a parade person, but this was different. That night 24 young ladies from all over the state would be competing for the title of Miss Oregon, the winner going on to compete for the crown of Miss America 2019 in Atlantic City on Sunday, Sept. 9. Along with a couple of hundred tourists and bystanders and people rooting for their own favorites, I shouted encouragement to the amazing young women competing for the Miss Oregon title from the sidewalks on Broadway, yelling extra loud and waving at Haylie Moon, Miss Clatsop County, who hails from Cannon Beach and Hannah Garhofer, Miss Lane County, a Seaside native.

The Miss America contest and pageant is a sentimental trip down memory lane for me. I grew up in Atlantic City, and when I was a kid, as a family, we went to convention hall to watch it live onstage. The night before the big show, which is nationally televised, contestants from all 50 states participated in a parade on the Atlantic City boardwalk. They wore evening gowns and tiaras and rode perched behind the back seat of Cadillac convertibles. (In Seaside, they ride in Corvettes). I always enjoy the parade more than the actual show because you can get really close to the contestants.

On June 30, at the Seaside Convention Center, Taylor Ballard, 25, holder of the Miss Northwest Wonderland crown and from Portland, won the title of Miss Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science degree in communication and her platform issue is Confidence Under Construction. Her talent is dance. Kennedy Hjelte, of Tualatin, who competed as Three Rivers Outstanding Teen, won the title of Miss Oregon’s Outstanding Teen. She will also progress to Atlantic City.

Unsurprisingly, the 24 young women in Seaside competing for the title of Miss Oregon did a portion of the competition wearing a swimsuit. Perhaps by next year, that element of the contest will be eliminated, as several months ago, the Miss America corporation announced they were dropping the swimsuit competition from the program after making the decision to rebrand the competition around scholarship.

The swimsuit competition has always sat poorly with me.

What bothered me, even as a child, were the remarks people made, even my own mother, about the competitor’s bodies. (For some reason, during the evening gown competition, the remarks were all about the dress and whether or not it worked.) “She’s got no breasts,” my mother might say. Or, “Lucky she’s wearing heels — will you get a load of those stumpy legs.” Every remark passed about the contestant was a body judgment. My mother, God bless her, saw nothing wrong with that. What a dreadful message, I think to send the tiny girls and young teens, currently pageant princesses, growing up in pageant culture.

Taylor Ballard told the Oregon contest judges her platform of confidence and positive body image is particularly relevant. I think she’s on point. I applaud her success in Seaside, seizing the Miss Oregon crown. And I am personally delighted she won’t have to compete in a swimsuit in Atlantic City on Sept. 9.

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