Most viewers who tune into the annual Miss America pageants understand that the beauty contestants are selected through an objectifying process — such as requiring contestants to use butt adhesives to hold their skimpy swimsuits in place, solve world issues in under 20 seconds and parade down a runway in five-inch heels — but the worst part about the organization is that it misleadingly claims to be the largest provider of women’s scholarships.
“Miss America makes themselves sound so much more impressive than what they actually are,” social studies teacher Brenda Heinrich said. “They make it seem like they are this huge foundation for scholarships for women but why isn’t there more scholarship money than what they claim?”
While it is true that Miss America provides scholarships to women, the non-profit foundation only distributes it to those who compete in the pageants, excluding a vast majority of women in the United States. In order to be eligible to compete in these pageants, women have to confirm that they are not married and are not and have never been pregnant.
Miss America claims to make about $45 million in scholarships available to its local and national contestants annually — more than the Society of Women Engineers, the Patsy Mink Foundation and the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Foundation, which awards $2 million in more than 750 scholarships to women annually.
According to John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” after looking at 990 tax forms from 33 local and state pageants, Miss America could not come close to the $45 million claim. It turns out that the highest number that Oliver’s staff could account for from the public tax forms came to less than $4 million.
“It is unfair to women who thought the program had up to $45 million dollars to give,” junior Lily Lor said. “It is like they scammed these women into believing they had all of this money and in the end they didn’t have the amount they boasted about.”
Oliver’s staff further investigated and found that in 2012, at the national level, the organization spent less than $500,000 in cash scholarships. So where did the remaining $44.5 million go?
In reality, Miss America counts up all of the offers of scholarships made available, rather than the amount of money actually awarded to contestants. In Miss America’s eyes, a contestant who is offered $10,000 from 10 universities is getting a grand total of $100,000 in scholarships, although each winner can only attend one university.
“I think that they are indecent for lying and such deception fits the nature of the industry pretty well: very shallow,” senior May Simpson said.
Despite the organization’s false claims of scholarship awards, Oliver’s research shows that it still remains the biggest scholarship provider made available to young women in the United States.
“It is great that the scandal got publicized but it just shows how women are subject to fewer opportunities and that it continues to remain as a vicious cycle,” Simpson said.
When asked to respond to Oliver’s questions about the scholarships, Miss America released the following statement to the Huffington Post: “We highlight the impressive, generous $45 million in scholarships made available in an effort to honor every one of our academic partners nationwide who make available cash and in-kind financial opportunities to the MAO and young women who participate in the program.”
The sneaky word choice in that statement is “made available.”
Just last year, the Miss Alabama Organization claimed that it provided at least $2.6 million in scholarships to Troy University alone. However, the pageant took the number of competitors (48) who could hypothetically accept the scholarship and multiplied it by the value of a single scholarship which was $54,000. Troy stated that the actual number of Miss Alabama contestants who accepted a scholarship that year was zero.
Another controversial finding was the pageant had used scholarship money in order to pay office expenses because of financial struggles when the broadcast struggled to meet relevancy on cable TV, confirmed by Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America Organization in 2014.
“Using scholarship money for other purposes than its legitimate use is just taking advantage of the money and the women,” Heinrich said.
Miss America’s manipulation of language and numbers is proof to some why the pageant should not even exist in
modern society, other than for entertainment purposes.