A documentary called "Miss You Can Do It" is set to air on HBO on Monday, June 24. The premise of the program is to follow girls with intellectual and physical disabilities as they have the opportunity to participate in a pageant. At first glance, those involved with disability advocacy might be pleased to know that such an opportunity exists.
After all, experiences like pageants have long been exclusive of individuals with disabilities. Heck, they have been exclusive of anyone who doesn't fit a preconceived notion of "beauty"...but I'll hold my ranting for now.
Despite this obvious attempt to open a previously closed door to girls with disabilities, I have two major issues with the premise of this contest.
First, as an advocate for inclusion, I feel that creating a separate and different opportunity for girls with disabilities perpetuates the notion that the girls are not worthy of participation in a traditional pageant. Interestingly, this pageant was started in 2004 by Abbey Curran, who represented Iowa in the 2008 Miss USA pageant, and who herself has cerebral palsy. Curran, who was able to participate in traditional pageants herself, should be working toward greater inclusive opportunities, not creating segregated ones.
Yet it is the goal of this pageant that causes me even greater concern. Press for the documentary (about the pageant) cites: “The unique event brings together girls with mental and physical disabilities from across the country who are judged on “what is in their heart and not by how their outfits look.”” Ok, this is good, right? Yes and no.
I honestly find it staggering that anyone could publish this statement and not immediately recognize how this highlights inherent flaws in the traditional pageant system. I am less concerned here with the way in which girls with disabilities will be treated and/or "judged" but rather, that the standard to which we hold all our young women, disabled or not, isn’t "what is in their heart instead of how their outfits look". What a sad statement on society when it must be overtly pointed out that this pageant will seek to discover the content of the contestants' character.
It seems so ridiculously simple to me: Why haven't we created a pageant in which all contestants are "judged" on the quality of their character, not their appearance? How about one where we encourage all contestants to speak(or type, or draw...) intelligently on a topic about which they are knowledgeable and passionate as they present themselves with poise, regardless of the "dress" they wear. Better yet, how about we don’t judge anyone at all?
I have a daughter. She doesn’t have disabilities. It's likely obvious by now that I hold no real regard for traditional pageants, but I would love for her to be a part of an experience called "Miss You Can Do It" where she is encouraged to demonstrate "what is in her heart", without being judged.
If we aren't going to do away with pageants all together, then we owe it to our girls to create a "Miss You Can Do It" for all of them; a truly inclusive pageant without concern for abilities or appearance.