Who Says Pageant Queens Can’t Be Feminists? An Interview with Miss USA

5 Nov

Alyssa Campanella-Miss USA 2011

I was given the opportunity by the Chicago Blogger Network and Diamond Nexus to interview Miss USA.  Since I don’t keep up on the pageant world, except by watching Toddlers & Tiaras when I visit my mom’s,  I had to do some research. Alyssa seemed like an ok person and I was curious to know what she would say about the feminist question.

We meet at the Cheesecake Factory in the Schaumburg Mall.  I am not a mall person and almost had a panic attack upon entering this mall over 2 years ago, haha.  Food is a powerful motivator for me though and you don’t have to actually enter the mall to go to the Cheesecake Factory.

Alyssa was accompanied by Dena who works for the Miss Universe Organization and Kyle who works for Diamond Nexus, the maker of the crowns.  Everyone was very pleasant and personable.  It was a great conversation with great food.

Alyssa currently lives in an apartment in Central Park in New York City with Miss Universe.  She is hardly ever there because of all the fabulous places she “has” to travel to such as Chicago, Miami, the Bahamas, Los Angeles, Cannes and others.   Once her reign as Miss USA is over she wants to attend culinary school and has been doing some work with the Food Network to prepare.

Now for the interview:

  • Pageants receive criticism because they are seen as negative to young women because the focus is on appearance.  How do you think pageants can be empowering?

Part of my job is to travel around with charity organizations raising awareness about women’s issues.  I’m learning skills that I can apply to my future.  This work is not just about being a glamazon.  I help out organizations such Susan G. Komen For The Cure, Gilda’s Club, God’s Love We Deliver, and Project Sunshine.  I would rather put less make up on, wear jeans, and spread cheer.

  • Are you a feminist?

We are all human beings, so what if we have different body parts?  There are women presidents, not in the U.S. but soon.  There are women all over the world in positions of power doing a good job such as the Queen of Denmark and Brazil’s president.  In history, there is Margaret Thatcher England’s first female prime minister.  We don’t need only a man to do the job.  Let women have power. 

  • Have you had negative experiences that have helped to shape you into a better person?

I was bullied as a kid.  I became so upset about going to school I asked my mom to homeschool me.  I was bullied because of what I wore.  I liked to dress more mature, like my mom, so I was shopping at New York & Co. when I was 12.  I took school very seriously and was teased about that.  I never went to high school parties, so I wasn’t cool.  When I became Miss Teen New Jersey everyone wanted to be my friend, but I knew it wasn’t sincere and remained friends with the three people who always stuck by me.  I’m naturally thin and have always been teased about that.  Even at Miss Universe people were spreading rumors that I was anorexic.  I was stressed and eating a lot, but the weight wasn’t sticking.  

We commiserated over how it is socially acceptable to tell someone they are too thin and to eat a burger.  However, if you reverse that and tell an overweight person to eat a salad you are vilified.  What people need to know is that feelings are hurt in both scenarios.  And women shouldn’t be attacking each other’s weights out of insecurities and jealousies.

  • What are your best beauty and fashion tips?

For beauty I think the more natural the better.  A little moisturizer, mascara, and lipgloss is all you really need.  For fashion, I look for comfort and what is trendy.  I like to play around with color and have fun.

  • Do you enjoy watching movies for style inspiration?  Do you admire any old Hollywood actresses for their style or personality?

I love the clothes in Titanic, but there’s no way I could actually wear it.  I like corsets because they show off your feminine shape and fix your posture.  I adore Grace Kelly.  Her wedding gown is my favorite ever.  She had class and elegance and looked so regal.  She was a queen before she even met the prince.  I really liked Katharine Hepburn for her attitude.  She was feisty and spunky.  She got away with it and was loved for it.

  • Any favorite quotes?

My mom always said “You can’t make a difference in the world without knowing what’s going on in it.”  She would leave a newspaper on the table in the morning and I would read it while eating breakfast.  I still do this everyday and I feel weird if I don’t.

  • Any advice on how to stay motivated on the path to fulfilling one’s goals?

You aren’t a loser unless you give up.  If you don’t get what you want it’s because something else is on the horizon if you keep going.  That’s what happened with me.  I placed first runner up in a pageant, but I persisted and won Miss USA.

  • How would you describe your fashion style?

Forever 21 and H&M are my stores. I want teens to be able to look at my style and recreate it.  I want to be a trendsetter and a little outside of the box, but I want it to be affordable.

  • What is your favorite dessert?

In L.A. there is this bakery Nothing Bundt Cake.  You can get 18 mini bundt cakes with different flavors and cream cheese frosting.  I also love any dessert my mom makes.

  • What are your favorite things to do while in Chicago?

Eat deep dish pizza.  Go to Garrett’s Popcorn and get the Chicago Mix-caramel and cheddar.  The next time I come back I want to explore the artwork and Navy Pier.

Alyssa showing off her amazing heels

I actually didn’t notice that Alyssa had come into the restaurant until someone’s grandma leaned over to me and said “I don’t know how she walks in those heels.”  I looked up and was like oh, I think that’s the person I’m interviewing!  When I relayed the story to Alyssa she cracked up and promptly took her shoe off to show all of us.  What makes it so easy to walk in is the platform on the front.  These 5 inchers are by Chinese Laundry.

Who doesn’t love dessert?!  Yes, pageant queens also eat lots of dessert!

Thanks everyone!

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13 Responses to “Who Says Pageant Queens Can’t Be Feminists? An Interview with Miss USA”

  1. Hallie (@halliekw) November 5, 2011 at 7:01 PM #

    Wow, she is gorgeous! This is a great interview. Thanks for sharing!

    -Hallie (a fello CBN’er :) )
    http://www.coralsandcognacs.com

  2. kat November 5, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

    great interview! she is beautiful!!! and there is no way i can walk in 5 in heels either :)

  3. ross taylor November 6, 2011 at 12:03 AM #

    LOOKS LIKE I SOOOOOO NEED TO GET THOSE SO FABALOUS SHOES! WHERE CAN I GET THEM!?? THANKS A LATTE! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

  4. Susie November 6, 2011 at 10:51 AM #

    I understand this blog is about making feminism more inclusive, but I am having a really hard time accepting the idea that Margaret Thatcher was/is a feminist. Amongst other unforgivable acts, Thatcher has been instrumental in perpetuating the sort of class warfare and wealth gaps that current Occupy movements are protesting against.

    It sounds like Alyssa is equating feminism/feminists with women in positions of power. I would argue this is not the case. Women with power can be as harmful as they can be helpful to feminist movements. Besides Margaret Thatcher, today we can look to women such as Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin to see how sometimes women in powerful positions can actually set feminist movements back.

    I can only speak for myself here, but feminism is not about elevating women to positions of power. Or at least that is only one part of my feminism. In fact, a great deal of my feminism is about turning a critical eye to those who wield power.

    Also, Alyssa totally sidestepped your feminist question. That’s too bad.

    • Dr Dmitri V Novikov (@Dmitri_Novikov) November 6, 2011 at 11:33 AM #

      Alyssa addressed that question perfectly fine, it seems to me. She is not a political scientist to review theories on social inequality, and the question was just a fraction of the interview anyway.

    • fashionfoodfeminism November 6, 2011 at 2:46 PM #

      We did talk in detail more about feminism and what is a feminist, but it didn’t make the final cut haha. And Alyssa had elaborated that Thatcher was a woman in history who had power when there weren’t many women in power positions at all.
      I’m glad someone is bringing this up though. However, I think most people that don’t have a background in women’s studies in a way relate women in power positions to a sign that women are advancing in the world. These are the discussions that need to start happening. And just because we may not agree with Thatcher’s political beliefs does not mean that she wasn’t good at what she did.

      Here’s what a few other feminists have to say about Thatcher:

      “Whether you love her politics or hated them, she offered us all a model of female power that was no longer just in the realms of fantasy, but gritty reality. To this day, Margaret Thatcher remains a constant reminder to us all of how much she transformed the prevailing relationship between women and power: how much she upset the natural order of things.”
      -Helen Wilkinson, The Thatcher Legacy, in On The Move: feminism for a new
      generation

      “The inability [of feminists] to accept worldy female power is most clearly shown in the way that the women’s movement disowned Margaret Thatcher… Women who complain that [she] was not a feminist because she didn’t help other women or openly acknowledge her debt to feminism have a point, but they are also missing something vital. She normalised female success… No one can ever question whether women are capable of single-minded vigour, of efficient leadership, after Margaret Thatcher. She is the great unsung heroine of British feminism.”
      -Natasha Walter, The New Feminism

      I don’t care if Margaret Thatcher was the devil, it meant so much to me that I was growing up when two women – she and the Queen – were running the country.
      -Oona King MP

      ^^^And maybe in our society this is the most important thing for young girls and women to see, so they can believe that it is an achievable goal for themselves.

  5. Tricia November 8, 2011 at 6:55 AM #

    I also grew up in the UK with Thatcher in power. Everyone around me, (working class), hated her. She was in no way a positive role model. I find her politics abominable, the fact of her femaleness is almost incidental. The idea that she can be in some way lauded as a hero is unbelievable – she did not want to be associated with feminism saying – “I owe nothing to women’s lib.”

    Naomi Wolf on Thatcher – “she managed to distance herself from women and women’s issues. For the eleven years of her premiership she kept able women away from the higher echelons of government; she froze child benefit”

    Suzanne Moore on Thatcher – “She is, on the contrary, a patriarch. Her heroes are her father and Winston Churchill”.

    Actually author and academic Joan Smith says it better than I can – “Mrs Thatcher was not just another British Prime Minister… she was the first woman to do the job. This fact, this singular achievement, is used time and time again in answer to women who complain about the discrimination they suffer in their everyday lives. If Mrs Thatcher could do it, the argument runs, so could anyone else. The unspoken implication is that the woman making the complaint simply has not tried hard enough… Sometimes the argument is taken even further… as evidence not only that unparalleled opportunities are open to women… but that there is now a definite advantage in being a woman. …But to discuss Margaret Thatcher in terms of a positive meaning for women is a mistake; there isn’t one. …Her success lay in her ability to perform a trick, one which was both clever and successful but nevertheless dishonest, and it was this: to all intents and purposes, Mrs Thatcher disguised herself as a man. But, and it is an important but, she never renounced her right to claim the priviledges of a woman”.

    Thatcher aside – I wonder at this interview which celebrates a high heeled shoe and misses out the “talk in detail more about feminism and what is a feminist, but …didn’t make the final cut.” Isn’t achievement to be celebrated over looks?

    • fashionfoodfeminism November 8, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

      I really like this comment. I’m glad there are disagreements because then there can be discussions. I was actually going to add Joan Smith’s quote with the others about Thatcher, but decided not to. My reason being most people did hate Thatcher and people that are familiar with who she is are probably aware of that. I wanted to know what another opinion was, the side that had something positive to say. “The talk in detail about feminism and what is a feminist, but…didn’t make the final cut” was not Alyssa speaking, it was me. That is why I felt it was not necessary to include. She asked me to explain the difference because to some this may come as a shock, but many young women are unaware there isn’t a difference. Feminism is an act, feminist is used to identify one’s self. Some are even unaware the terms feminist or feminism exist because for some the movement has come and gone. Women can work outside the home and have access to birth control and abortions if they need them so why do we still need feminism? Not everyone went to college and took social science classes. The interview shows what a person without such a background thinks. And the reason the shoe was included is to show that femininity does not have to be given up to be an empowered female. That it is ok to wear make up and high heels; that doing so is not negative. That you should not be put down for wanting to embrace feminine qualities or accentuate them.

      • Tricia November 9, 2011 at 6:55 AM #

        I have to disagree with you re the high heels, whose idea of femininity are they? it’s not empowering to wear a shoe that causes all sorts of health problems, but rather than rant I’m going to quote the facebook status of a (male) friend of mine, because I think it gets the point over with humour:

        “I think I’m going to get myself a great big pair of clown shoes. I won’t be able to run in them, I’ll barely be able to walk or drive in them and over time they’ll cause my feet to become deformed and give me postural problems, but I’ll look OH SO SEXY!! It’ll be worth it. Maybe over time all men will wear great big clown shoes all of the time and what a wonderful world that will be”.

  6. Dmitri Novikov November 11, 2011 at 1:21 AM #

    That’s overtime as you mentioned indeed if theoretically you wear them all the time. However if they are used as intended for a brief occasion and not for a drive or a long walk, I wonder whether you would not still welcome them even just for a while. Everything has its own measure.

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