It was the final of Miss Teen USA 2016 on Saturday evening and not since Sandra Bullock played the water glasses while dressed like a Bavarian barmaid have people laughed so much at an American beauty pageant. The final five contestants looked so alike that when @MissTeenUSA shared a photo of them on Saturday evening, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were five photos of the same girl.
The first instinct is to laugh – they look so ridiculously alike that it’s hard not to. But for there to be such a lack of diversity in the final of such a high-profile competition in 2016 is painful.
The more you go into it, the worse it gets. The winner, 18-year-old Karlie Hay, was quickly discovered to have a history of tweeting racial slurs and making racist jokes, and this photo of all the contestants on the final night looks strikingly similar to Paul Ryan’s Capitol Hill selfie that was rightly blasted for being overwhelmingly white.
Miss Teen USA 2016 (Photo: Miss Universe)
It’s easy but wrong to say that Miss Teen USA is just a beauty pageant and that it doesn’t matter. Pageants like Miss Teen USA still have huge cultural significance, and consistently try to sell themselves as being about more than just beauty. The Miss Teen USA "about us" page says its goals are developing confidence, empowering women, giving back and breaking stereotypes. All great ideals, but I’m not sure how having a final that looks like a glitch in a Hot Blonde Teenager programme in the Matrix achieves them.
Pageants like Miss Teen USA still have huge cultural significance, and consistently try to sell themselves as being about more than just beauty
The frustrating thing is that there have been several steps forward with bringing pageants into 2016 recently. The Miss Teen USA pageant made headlines when it was announced that it was swapping its swimsuit round for an athletics round to promote fitness and health. The three finalists of adult pageant Miss USA 2016 were all women of colour, and the pageant was eventually won by kickass black US Army commander Deshauna Barber.
Deshauna Barber (Photo: Getty Images)
During her interviews, Barber spoke up against gender inequality, stating: “We are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I'm powerful. I am dedicated and it is important that we recognise that gender does not limit us.” This is what will increase confidence in girls. This is what will empower women and break stereotypes. Going from that to this army of identikit blonde teenagers is such a drastic step down that it’s hard not to feel like the whole thing has fallen flat on its face.
If Miss Teen USA wants to show that it’s more than just an excuse to gawk at pretty women, it needs to follow through. They need to start showing that everyone deserves to feel confident and to remember that you can’t empower women who are already powerful. Instead of having a judging panel made up of previous winners and a WWE Diva, it needs to include people who have achieved success because of their talents or hard work. Rather than having the contestants pose in activewear, promote fitness by interviewing them on the physical and mental benefits of health and exercise. And if they’re truly, truly keen to make the pageant about more than beauty, then we need to hear what the contestants think, rather than merely admire how great they look in a sparkly dress.
With this final, the Miss Teen USA pageant is doing nothing more than showing that you can be confident and empowered as long as you’re a blonde white lady with a heart-shaped face. The world is bigger than that now and Miss Teen USA needs to realise that or become obsolete.