October 9, 2010

A Deaf Ear to Beauty Pageants

Love em’ or hate em’, pageants have a way of creeping in (and taking over) at least some small part of our notions about society. From the smallest, hometown, cornfed beauty pageant, to the grand mas of pageantry with the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants, pageants represent and put to challenge all our notions of beauty, talent, poise, social status, societal values and virtues, intellegence, and fashion. As a rule, the role of the beauty pageant has always been the same; the parading around of young women who symbolized their nations’ virtues and other abstract ideas. While pageantry typically fell in line with May Day festivities in Europe, the first modern American pageant was, in fact, staged by none other and famous American showman, entertainer, and businessman, P.T. Barnum in 1854, but his beauty contest was publicly protested and quickly shut down. Barnum substituted daguerreotypes, which was the first publicly announced photographic process, for judging. The practice quickly took hold as newspapers adopted the new medium and began holding photo beauty contests for many decades to come. In 1880, the first “Bathing Beauty Pageant” took palce as part of a summer festival to promote business and tourism in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

But beauty pageants back in the day were solely for superficial purposes. They were trivial and really meant only to judge exactly what they advertised, beauty. The Miss America pageant, the first of its kind, made an effort to ensure that brains were a part of the equasion, slushing off the stereotypical pageant purpose and emphasizing the different aspects of women and their personal success. Along with beauty and intellegence, pageant participants return to their hometowns where they actively promote community involvement. By the 1960s, pageantry took off as more and more women were becoming educated.

While anyone of any race, color, or ability can enter into the Miss American pageant, there are still race and ability specific pageants. The key role of the pageant winner is to understand and support topical issues. With that purpose in mind, more and more specific oriented pageants have evolved. One such pageant is the Miss Deaf USA pageant.Dedicated to empowering, enhancing, and supporting today’s changing and expanding community of deaf women, the Miss Deaf USA organization has committed themselves to providing a platform for its contestants to demonstrate their unique talents, intellect, beauty, and overall personal and humanitarian goals. The winner of Miss Deaf USA assumes the role of an Ambassador of and for the Deaf Community. She will manifest the social, humanitarian, and intellectual values of women everywhere — hearing and non-hearing. Most of all, as an Ambassador, Miss Deaf USA will have the platform to address the indignities and stereotypes that no deaf person should endure, utilizing dimplomacy as a catalyst for positive change. Visit the official Miss Deaf USA website for more on the organization and its mission.

This year’s pageant winner is Michelle Koplitz. Raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Koplitz now resides in Washington DC. She graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with her Bachelor’s Degree in Biotechnology and is currently attending a Master’s program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Health Education and Health Communication.

Begun in 2005, spearheaded by Bonita Leek, the Miss Deaf USA pageant began after Adam Smith discovered the Miss Deaf World Pageant, located in Prague, Czech. That year, the Miss Deaf USA winner was the first U.S. contestant in this competition. The crossover spurred the creation and initiation of an international event where young women from all over the world would compete to become a part of the first Miss Deaf International.

This year’s Miss Deaf International queen is Julie Abbou, Miss Deaf France. Abbou was born to deaf parents and is a third generation of her deaf family. She was given French Sign Language (LSF), a visual and gestural language in France. Abbou was mainstreamed till the age of 12 in a hearing school and later transferred to a private school and then college in Paris for deaf students. She went on to Marseille to study art (her emphsis in sculpture) at the University of Fine Arts, where she earned her Bachelor in Arts. She is currently in her 2nd year studying restoration-conservation of art pieces, specifically ceramics, at the private school Condé in Paris.

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