Haters be damned: Why I’m thrilled about Nina Davuluri’s win as Miss. America 2014

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

I am ecstatic about Nina Davuluri being crowned Miss. America 2014 because she’s of Indian descent. I don’t follow the pageant. I know the most successful one, Vanessa Williams, was booted from the crown. I have a friend who’s a Harvard grad, best selling author, mother, wife and a HuffPost host and was Miss. Virginia.

But as usual, the Internet is full of hate. Not just the usual trolls but not so shockingly the feminists and Indians.

I’m thrilled about her being Indian in the same way I was when I saw “Bollywood Dreams” on Broadway or saw my first M. Night Shyamalan film or see Mindy Kaling on TV.  I feel a huge HURRAY. Growing up, there had been no role models in the public sphere.

The power of media is not to be underestimated. An image is strong and even stronger is a role model. It’s important for a country to see diversity in all of its sectors so they can not only get their heads out of wherever their heads have been but to be an inspiration for the little ones.

I grew up in an elementary and high school where racism was the norm.  In the ‘honors/AP track’ no less.  More than once, I was told to “go back where I came from.” And that was the best of it.  WIth no role models in public space, it was easy to believe that you were “the other.”

So, yes, seeing public images of people looking like me with the same type of background makes me warm like drinking hot cocoa with my Uggs on. Especially when said people are dancing with great technique and infectious energy!

 

You may ignore racism or any other -ism, and most successful minorities do because it is a reality, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But you ignore it.

And that is what Miss. Davuluri is doing. Ignoring the haters. Like Ben Affleck, both of them have cashed in on their checks and high profiles and living it up, haters be damned.  And I for one say, Bravo!

It is a big deal to win anything, much less one of the most competitive shows in the world, think what you will of it. It is a big deal that the woman, the image of beauty and the cultural ambassador at whatever events she’ll be going to while representing this country is not white. Even Pres. Obama’s half white. No one cared about Miss. America for decades and her win generated conversation. Right there, is a win.

As to to this “racist backlash”:  I work in the media in both the news and entertainment so one thing I know:  headlines are written to sell. That “flood” of racist comments on Twitter that was all the news actually numbered 705 (thanks, Steven Colbert). Meaning, it was a drop in the bucket of hundreds of thousands twitter comments.

Then, there were the haters who were other Indians who chose this minute to talk about how India isn’t tolerant. Indians may win the award for the most apologists (everything is “South Asian” even if it’s not). First, what does India have anything to do with…anything? Miss. Davuluri is of Indian descent and not Indian.  That’s what the hate is about, in fact. Some Miss America’s were of German descent. Did anyone talk about Nazis in Germany? The whole point here is that she represents America.

As to the ‘bikini pageant,’ the entire point of feminism is to let women choose their own path. If they choose to be a Playboy bunny, God bless. If they want to fund their studies by competing in pageants, Godspeed to the nearest gym.

Often, these ‘feminist’ statements are made by people who will never be in any pageant not because they’re not beautiful but because there aren’t that many women fulfilling the height and weight requirements of models. If I did, maybe I would’ve been a model or pageant contestant. It sure beats paying back student loans for over a decade.

Pageants don’t perpetuate anything. Women were obsessed with their bodies long before popular media. Leeches were used back in the Middle Ages to keep young.  Though it’s getting better, though women aren’t completely sexualized in the professional and public spaces (even Harvard Business School has issues as per the former president of my alum, Debora Spar and anyone else who’s ever been to HBS), it’d be a blind person who tells you that looks don’t matter. Sure they do. Just like women love hot men, or charming men, or powerful men or whatever their taste. What hetero women like in men is often not pageant worthy – same reason why the Viagra pill for women didn’t really work on women.

Tracking her progress

Tracking her progress

We always will look at the external because that’s human nature. We also don’t have time to get to every single individual we meet.  How much we let looks matter is another question.

I’m also thrilled, as a feminist, that Miss. Davuluri is not an anorexic unattainable ideal. She’s real about her weight issues, has worked hard to look good, has curves, has brains, great dance moves, and worked hard to get into Stanford’s medical school. I’m looking up her fitness regime as we speak.

Her journey is not only inspiring to the millions of people who battle to lose weight in a healthy way but is actually progressive in that she’s opened the narrow confines through which we look at beauty in this country.

Is Miss. America single-handedly setting back feminism? No. Not getting proper maternity leave is. Unequal pay is. Career growth stunted because of pregnancy is. Not viewing rape as a crime and placing stigma on the victim is. Calling a girl a slut for the same things a boy does is. Saying a woman shouldn’t do something because you wouldn’t is.

A bunch of women who have the genes and willpower to be societally acceptable as beautiful, who will go all Glengarry Glenn Ross on you to win, who have all sorts of reasons for wanting to win money is simply capitalism at its best.

And an Indian American woman who’s the new all American won. Because we can all sorts of Glengarry Glenn Ross on you. Backwards, in heels.. and in a bikini.

 

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