If you have no idea what specific event I’m referring to in the title, I’m proud of you. Obviously you’ve been a having lovely summer away from social media. However, I will now bring up the topic that countless others have doubtlessly already written about over the past few days: the 2014 Miss America Pageant. One contestant has received special attention this year for something that I find a bit unusual; she has been both praised and insulted for flaunting a “normal body type” in the swimsuit portion of the Miss America competition.
Even though I didn’t even know that the pageant had happened until it was over, the barrage of talk about Miss Indiana, Mekayla Diehl, was inescapable. I’m not writing to express my approval, my disapproval, or frustration. I’m writing to express a hope that I never realized I had until I read comments that other people made about a Miss America Pageant contestant. Who knew?
I’m not including a picture of Miss Indiana because copyrights are frustrating and I figured that if you want to see what thousands of Twitter users consider a “normal” body type and what thousands of other Twitter users don’t, you’re only a Google image search away. I will explain why I think her body caused such a stir, however. The Miss America Pageant is, in the most basic terms, a beauty pageant. The girls who compete in it typically have a very predictable, similar body shape. This year, one girl had a body shape just the slightest bit different from the others; perhaps her waist curved in slightly less from her chest and hips than the others, her legs were a bit more muscular, and if she sat down, her stomach might compress into the natural softness that most people have and like to pretend like they don’t. I thought she looked extremely fit, and personally, I thought she was beautiful, but I thought it was a little odd that she was lauded not for being especially fit or beautiful, but for being “normal.”
And after about the twentieth time I read the word “normal,” sometimes in quotation marks and sometimes without, I realized that as a woman who hopes to be a mother some day in the future, I hope that my children don’t really believe in the word “normal” in the way others want us to believe it. Sons or daughter, I hope they are quick to realize that “perfection,” “beauty,” and “normalcy,” are, like so many other things in this life, entirely relative and impossible to truly define.
I hope they realize that magazine covers are photoshopped, and that that’s fine and they can enjoy them and still realize that it’s not reality. I hope that they realize that no matter how much we are told to “love our own bodies” amidst the storm of media images, it is entirely natural to still have moments of jealousy and frustration when you wish you could change something about yourself. I think that the more honest that we are about the way we feel and think, the more those who look up to us will realize that their frustrations and fears only follow the pattern of human nature. Someone will always want to be thinner and leave a store wishing that they could fit into the clothes made for narrow hips and straight shapes. At the exact same time, someone else will leave the same store upset that said store doesn’t even sell their bra size, because a B cup is their smallest in stock. They wish for the fuller, curvy figure that another wishes to give away.
That’s the problem. These two people are hypothetical, yet at the same time they’re entirely real. Is either one of them normal? For me, the answer is no. I want my kids to know that neither one of them deserves to be praised for the way they look in a bikini more than the other. I wish that instead of judging, people could look at someone and have a glimpse, for even a second, of the way someone who loves that person sees them.
If we’re being honest, I would think that the majority of those people who saw Miss Indiana and viewed her shape as the “normal” body shape probably had a body shape very similar to Miss Indiana. I’m not saying that they are at fault for that at all. I’m saying that we have a natural inclination to want to believe that we are the way that we should be. As much as we talk and joke about hipsters, there are many, many people who have the underlying desire to be normal, because not to be “normal” implies strange, weird, or freaky. For the rest of the world that is shaped absolutely nothing like Miss Indiana, calling her “normal” feels like an insult.
Parents have the great responsibility to teach their children. I can only hope that if I have the opportunity to be a parent one day, I will be able to raise children who don’t believe in “normal,” but who do believe that they are beautiful. I hope that I can teach a son that a girl doesn’t have to look any particular kind of way or wear any specific thing to be pretty. I hope I can teach a daughter that nice abs and nice clothes or a chiseled jawline will never be as attractive on a man as the ability to make you feel special. Out of all of the things that someone could appreciate about me, one of the last ones I would pick is normalcy. I refuse to believe in normal the way I refuse to believe in taco salad without sour cream: for some people it exists but for me it doesn’t, and that’s fine by me. 🙂
This post was written by Emily Wheeler at Campus Recreation. Emily is a sophomore Biology-Hispanic Linguistics double major at UNC Chapel Hill. She’s passionate about helping people realize that they can become happier by becoming healthier and that our small daily choices affect our health in big, long-term ways. Her favorite forms of exercise are swimming and yoga, and she is slowly becoming more acquainted with and fond of weightlifting. Her favorite color is green, and she says she is too uncoordinated to be any good at any sport that requires a ball, and her favorite food to eat at any time of the day or night is waffles. Waffle House waffles, to be more specific. (She’s not going to lie to you and say that her favorite food is broccoli.)