Image Credit: Denise Truscello/WireImage.comThe inevitable time has come for certain conservative commentators to level charges of reverse-racism at Rima Fakih’s Miss USA win. The Lebanese-born immigrant, who was representing Michigan in the pageant, became the first Arab-American to win the crown last night.
Mere hours later, the backlash began. Pundit Daniel Pipes posited an “odd form of affirmative action” on his blog, noting the “surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants.” (His examples: a 2007 America’s Junior Miss, a 2006 Miss England, and a 2005 Miss Nottingham. Yes, sir, the takeover is staggering.) Fox News, meanwhile, undermined her win by questioning whether, essentially, she got it by default after the blond Miss Oklahoma, Elizabeth Woolard, spoke out in favor of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law — when asked about it during the interview portion by judge/Office star Oscar Nunez — by defending “states’ rights.” Woolard ended the night as first-runner-up, which, for some observers, seemed to echo Carrie Prejean’s fate last year after her answer reflected her opposition to gay marriage. Added Fox’s account: “Fakih, an Arab-American from Dearborn, Michigan, took home the crown, despite nearly tripping on her evening gown.” Other web chatter today brings us everything from evidence that she won a pole-dancing contest in college — while fully clothed in a tank top and shorts, as if just coming from gym class, which seems pretty moot after this pageant-sanctioned lingerie shoot — to weird, baseless accusations of ties to terrorists.
All this sturm und drang over a beauty contest run by Donald Trump.
First: Really, anyone’s questioning whether this woman is pretty enough to win a beauty contest? Have you seen her? Second, she did it after tackling an equally controversial interview question about whether birth control should be covered by health insurance. (In case you’re interested, she thinks so: “I believe that birth control is just like every other medication, even though it’s a controlled substance,” she said. And as a side note, I like this recent addition of real issues questions to the pageant. It’s not so much that I care what they think, but that they think at all.)
All of that said, I’ll make a far bolder claim: It’s okay to consider someone’s background in awarding a pageant title. She’ll serve as a role model to Arab-American girls who, perhaps, haven’t felt that they belonged — goodness knows they may have encountered reason to feel otherwise in the last several years. But more to the point, she’s also inherently had more to overcome in getting to this point, and that’s something to be recognized, at least when it comes to an honorary, representative title that’s supposed to reflect ephemeral qualities like character and poise in addition to genetic gifts. And it should be noted she displayed personality to spare during the competition — I like a less-than-perfect girl who trips on her gown and, when asked how she felt about winning, answered, “Ask me after I’ve had a pizza.” If girls are looking to beauty pageants for role models, that’s the one I want up there.