A Facelift for Miss America
by Jan Baughman

Each September, young girls and men alike become giddy with anticipation of the upcoming Miss America Pageant. This year is particularly exciting because several new features have been implemented, including two breakthrough changes in the swimsuit competition: Contestants can now select between a one-piece and a two-piece suit of her choosing (excluding thongs, bikinis and any bottoms whose top hits more than one inch below the naval), and instead of accessorizing the suit with a pair of high-heeled shoes, contestants will wear a summer sandal that reflects their very own personal style. Additionally, we will see the debut of completely unstaged interview questions that will be asked by a well-known professional journalist who will have 100 percent control over topics and content (the journalist can ask any question he/she feels the American public would want to know), brand new celebrity co-hosts (two stars of the hit daytime drama All My Children), never-seen-before footage and preliminary interviews with the contestants, and a new focus on maximizing each contestant's ability to express her individuality. According to Leonard Horn, Miss America CEO, "The Pageant isn't about restrictions - it's about choice, individuality and allowing 17- to 24-year-old [5'5 to 5'10, 90 to 127-pound 36-24-36 white-toothed] women to be who they really are, stage or no stage."

In deference to the Pageant's new-found progressiveness, I submitted a request to Swans to sponsor a contestant. Permission was granted and I launched the project with the help of a few volunteers. I set to work researching the history of the Pageant, its rules and regulations, and the profiles of the previous winners. I scrutinized the judging criteria: 40% composite attributes, 20% talent, 10% interview, 15% on-stage personality in evening wear and 15% physical fitness in swimsuit. I am confident that with the right girl, brains can triumph over beauty, though the margin of error cannot be very big.

I developed a written application which required the candidates to answer a series of simple essay, multiple-choice and true/false questions intended to assess their intelligence, ability to communicate clearly and convey their very own personal style. No photographs were allowed, though I did ask for vital statistics in order to lend credibility to the process, and only after I had selected Miss Swans on the basis of her application would I see what she looked like. Swans' webmaster created a site to announce the search for the first "Miss Swans" and I received 17,643 responses in one month.

Phase Two of the project involved a review of the potential contestants. I had built into the application a litmus test that would allow me to quickly sort the girls by winners and losers. Here is a sample:

- Who is or was the most influential woman in the world, and how do you differ from her?

- If you were stranded on a desert island, would you prefer to wear:
a) a thong and birkenstocks
b) a bikini and spike heels
c) a one-piece speedo and flip-flops
d) nothing and go barefoot

- In 100 words or less, compare and contrast the significance of the destruction of Babylon under the Reign of Sennacherib and the impact of Labor Unions on U.S. meat packers.

- A desirable woman has an I.Q. that is less than the sum of her measurements. True/False?

- Describe your greatest talent and its relevance to humanity.

- If you are crowned the new Miss America, will you first thank:
a) your high school chemistry teacher
b) God
c) your mother
d) Jan Baughman

After discarding those who answered "b" to the above, 882 remained. Anyone who didn't prefer to be naked on the island was eliminated as they would not be comfortable parading around in a swimsuit on national television, not even a one-piece. This left me with 27 applicants whose essays would be the deciding factor; Miss Swans was easily identified among them. She was bright with subtle humor, articulate and intellectually honest. Her talent, carving totem poles with the likenesses of the great poets, will be difficult to convey on national television but its relevance to humanity is sublime.

After Miss Swans finished her final exam in stochastic signals, she came to stay with me for training. She wasn't exactly attractive but had a good foundation to work with. A surgeon friend volunteered to make some adjustments and we decided that a breast reduction and a nose augmentation would balance her out a bit. He assures me that the swelling in her breasts will have subsided by the Big Night, September 13, so we selected a two-piece swimsuit that flatters her pectoral muscles while hiding the scars. Every morning she practices walking down the stairs without looking, and we are picking up some tricks like putting Vaseline on her teeth so that the smile glides easily and naturally. At night, we watch television and sometimes read the National Enquirer so that we can practice for the interview. I try to think like Barbara Walters and ask the questions that the American public would want to hear, and then Miss Swans practices turning the question around and answering with something insightful or profound.

With less than two weeks to go, we are confident that we have a chance. The new progressive Pageant will allow a woman to be chosen to represent America because of her mind, not just her beauty. Young girls today will say "when I grow up, I want to be Miss America" and not be ashamed. And if Miss Swans wins, it will be the happiest moment of my life, especially if she chooses to thank her chemistry teacher.

Published August 31, 1997
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