When I started reporting this week's cover story, "American Beauty," I thought I'd be writing about beauty queens. Maybe there'd be an awesome hair-pulling catfight, or a bunch of name-calling. But there was nothing like that — in fact, I found there was so much more behind those big toothy smiles and sparkly gowns.
At it's core, it's a story about the Mrs. Washington America pageant — essentially, Miss America but for married women. Of the several candidates competing locally, I wrote about three: a 39-year-old elementary school teacher, a 47-year-old ex-body builder and a 28-year-old who escaped a violent marriage.
As I started gathering my notes together, I realized that every one of the women competing had said something similar: that despite their achievements, and despite their strength, a crown and a sash would make people pay attention to them.
It was a chilling revelation to me: that successful, strong, educated women would still seek the glory of an antiquated American tradition — the beauty pageant — to find value. As I unpacked that issue further, it revealed a lot of chilling truths. Pageantry might be empowering for some, but experts worry that it's simply playing into American's emphasis on the way women only look externally.
This became a story about mothers and female career people, and an examination of whether women can truly have the family, the job, the education and the husband. And even if they do — like the women that I profiled in the story — they might still seek the validation of a panel of judges to tell them that, despite everything else, they're beautiful.
Is that all that really matters?
Join me at noon today on The Inlander's Facebook page to chat about this story.