Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: "Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain" by Kate Shindle

When Kate Shindle was crowned Miss America 1998 in September 1997, she became one of the most polarizing Miss Americas in some time. Some thought she was the clear winner the moment she stepped onstage; some said she only won because the pageant was fixed. Some loved her talent; some hated it. Some thought her swimsuit was fun and unique; others HATED it. But most of her detractors couldn't deny the intelligence and passion with which she spoke about her platform issue or cause, awareness and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

"I have been called courageous, a trailblazer, the first socially relevant Miss America ever, fat, thin, beautiful, handsome, ugly, talented, untalented, inspiring, infuriating, deserving, undeserving."

I've always been a fan of Shindle's, as I feel she is never afraid to tell it like it is. In Being Miss America she speaks candidly both about what it's like to be Miss America—the good and the bad—and the triumphs and challenges the Miss America Organization has dealt with historically, and those it is facing currently.

"Most of the young women who strive to become Miss America see it as the public sees it: as a dream, a wish fulfillment that guarantees one will be respected, praised, and lifted up as an example of all that is right about young American women. Little do they know what they're actually getting into if they win. Decades of stereotypes, expectations, scandal, myths, media scrutiny, public skepticism, and questionable leadership choices have made actually being Miss America nearly impossible."

Those of you that know me are probably aware that I've been a volunteer with the Miss America Organization for more than 10 years. I've been tremendously fortunate to watch some dynamic young women compete in this system, and watch the amazing things they've done with their lives and for their communities, partially as a result of the skills they've burnished through competition, and partially thanks to the scholarships they receive. I've also had the tremendous opportunity to meet a number of immensely dedicated volunteers, who are the lifeblood of this organization. Their love for the system, despite its flaws, and the incredible amount of work and sweat and tears and money they put in (most of the time for no personal gain) is both inspiring and humbling.

That's why as much as I enjoyed this book, it saddened me to get a more in-depth understanding of the problems the organization has, and get Shindle's perspectives on both the causes and the potential solutions. Being a volunteer, even in my own small way, I'm aware of some of these issues, and I also understand them as a person who has worked in the nonprofit association management field for nearly my entire career. Sure, some would say these are only Shindle's perspectives, and she has an axe to grind, and maybe not everything she says is entirely accurate, but I hope this book serves as somewhat of a wake-up call to those with the power to make change happen. Think what you must about the Miss America system, it has made a tremendous difference in millions of women's lives, and still can.

Shindle writes as I'd imagine she speaks, and I found this book really compelling. I read it in just a little more than a day. My only criticism is that the book could have used some more judicious fact-checking: in a few instances, former Miss Americas are referenced by incorrect years, and one recent Miss America's last name is spelled quite wrong throughout the book. But that's the savant in me—many people might not even notice that.

If you have an interest in the Miss America Organization or what it's like to be Miss America, you'll find this book tremendously interesting. If you love the system and/or have given any time to being a part of it, you may feel as I do. But if all you've ever thought about Miss America is she's nothing more than a crown-wearing bimbo who doesn't do anything, I'd encourage you to read this. You may not change your mind, but you should.

1 comment:

  1. Great Review, Larry! I just ordered my copy.