(Photo curtesy of Emily Hinkson)
Of all my interviews, speaking with Emily was one of my favorites. That may seem odd, as we exchanged only a few emails back and forth, but she was one of the few who spoke freely about both the good times she’s had with pageants, as well as the aspects of the practice that she would like to see changed. Many of my interviewees were hesitant to break from their PR sounding spiels, but Emily laid it down like it was. When I asked her about the stigma of pageants, she wrote,
“You are not just crowned for a night and then stick it on your shelf for it to collect dust, you are out there changing peoples lives, inspiring others, and doing all these extra activities that nobody forces you to do…People will have their own opinions, which is perfectly fine, because you do have to respect them, but the only way they will actually know and to get rid of stigma, is to compete in a pageant. “
She didn’t start in on the scholarship opportunities, or the people skills, or anything about the organization. She put the truth, that she knew pageant girls are more than a pretty face and a sparkly crown because she was one, and she also understood that the opinion of pageants won’t change unless you’re on the inside of it. I think that Emily understands that the public can’t see past the glitz and swimsuits to, what I have discovered to be the largest part of pageantry, the events that go on after the winner is crowned and the relatives go home.
Perhaps this plainspoken honesty is because of the nature of the interview. Typing things out gives the writer a chance to examine thoughts and answers much more thoroughly than speaking face-to-face, where brain to mouth filters don’t always kick in. I did expect her responses to be more articulate that other interviews, and that held to be true. But I think the direct way that Emily speaks is all her. Even in our follow up emails, she put all the information there in just a handful of sentences, no dancing around subjects or vague answers. She said what she thought was important and left the rest.
Through talking with Emily, I learned she got involved in pageants through a girl who lived next-door to her grandmother. The girl competed in the Miss New Jersey pageant several times and was Emily’s mentor during one of those competitions. Emily herself stayed to smaller scale pageants, taking the title of Little Miss National Park in 2004, Miss pre-teen National Park in 2007, and became Miss National Park in 2012.
Her outlook during these pageants was that they weren’t competitions against other girls, saying, “…when your competing the only person you are truly competing against is yourself so that is all that matters.
I still have plenty of questions, such as how being a being a “plus sized girl” that has competed and won pageants has affected her daily life, what she’s doing to prepare for her plan to eventually compete in the Miss New Jersey system, and I’m dying to know more about her platform “Desire to Inspire: mentoring girls beyond beauty.” That all said, Emily has certainly answered the most pressing question that I’ve had all through my research experience. I asked her if there was anything she would change about pageants. She answered:
“If anything I would change the fact that the Miss America system is about being extremely fit. Being a plus sized girl, makes it hard to be in the pageant world due to the fact that a lot of girls are thinner, and fitter. I have always wanted to be Miss America one day, and you never know maybe I can get there eventually. I wish people would just be open to having a plus sized Miss America so other girls would be able to look up to her, and know that if I can do it, you can do it. There needs to be more of a variety of girls. I look at it like this… all girls are amazing, and it truly is not about what’s on the outside, its what is on the inside really. It is extremely difficult trying to compete with other girls who are thinner because that in itself you think you are not good enough. That is partial the reason why I stopped competing.”
And this is the quote that solidified the realization that pageants, for all the good they do with confidence, scholarships, and all that jazz, they are still centered on the display of women’s bodies. I’m with Emily (and many others) on this one: that who cares how small a bikini Miss America can fit into? In a pervious interview with Lindsey Petrosh, she made the point that the Miss America organization was just trying to make sure the girl “lives a healthy lifestyle.” Well, I happen to think I live a very healthy lifestyle, with a good diet and moderate exercise, but I’m still packing an adorable lining of pudge. If a girl can dance like no one’s watching, sing her heart out, play Mozart on the keys, or helps out society in ways most of us never dream of, then “ideal body fat content and measurements” can bite me. “All girls are amazing” is right.
I learned a lot from this interview, especially from an ethnographic standpoint. Even though this interview gave me more insight into pageants than some of my in-person queries, I believe that I missed out on the kinds of information that interacting with someone face-to-face provides. I prefer, as Emerson puts it, to immerse myself in the field, be there physically, speaking and talking and walking and watching. So perhaps in the future my interview process will be two fold, with some of my questions being posed through emails or phone calls, and other queries through in-person interaction. Only then to I feel like I would have the whole picture from which to work.