My name is Kiara Imani Williams. I am 25 years old, and I am a third year law student at the University Virginia School of Law. I am an intelligent, independent, African-American woman. I am socially conscious and politically aware. I am an activist. I am a philanthropist. I am a feminist.
I am a feminist who competes in beauty pageants. Yes, the type of pageants where women walk across a stage in a bikini and high heels, and work to convince a panel of judges that they want “world peace.” In fact, I am the winner of Miss Virginia USA’s 2015 “Miss Congeniality” award. (No, I am not kidding). I subject myself to being objectified by a panel of judges who overanalyze my body, my clothes, my facial beauty, and my poise. I wear hair extensions, makeup, and fake nails. I wear butt glue to keep my bikini in place when I walk, and I twirl and turn on stage in overly priced evening gowns.
The purpose of this article is not to defend the institution of beauty pageants, but to ask for acceptance. After two years of competing in various pageant systems, I am well aware that they are problematic in many ways. They glorify a European standard of beauty. I can admit that walking across a stage in a two-piece is not necessarily indicative of one’s commitment to living a healthy lifestyle.
So why do I compete? Why do I subject myself to such an objectifying activity? How can I call myself a feminist if I am participating in a system that reinforces “unhealthy ideals of attractiveness?” These are the questions I am constantly asked by my peers when they find out that I compete in beauty pageants. And I want to take a moment to answer these questions.
My answer is actually quite simple. I compete in pageants because I like them. I like to dress up, I like makeup, and I like to perform. I have fun choosing my evening gown. I like challenging myself to eat healthy meals and remain physically fit. I enjoy speaking at local schools and making other public appearances. I have fun meeting different women across the country who enjoy the same types of things I do. I like being put in a position where I can mentor young girls and talk about the importance of education.
I fully believe that pageants have the incredible potential to provide access to education, leadership training, and public relations skills to many young woman. Having worked internships at MTV, Fox News, and Disney ABC Television since I started competing, I can honestly say that the skills that I have acquired in pageantry have contributed more to my
success than any other activity. I know how to handle myself under pressure, I know how to work a room, and I know how to command attention.
To the self-proclaimed feminists who judge me for my involvement in pageants, I want you to know that I do not compete in pageants for the attention of men. I am proud of my body, but it does not define me or validate my worth. Yes, there are some women who go to unhealthy extremes to shed pounds. But what about those of us who do make a commitment to eating healthy and working out? It’s hard being a woman today when society bashes you for being unhealthy and overweight, but still bashes you if you strive for a healthy lifestyle.
Why, may I ask, is it okay for “feminists” to demand that women be given the right to choose their own path, then to place demands on the acceptable pathways to feminism? Is a mother who chooses to stay at home with her children inherently any less of a feminist than the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Is the mother of a little girl who enjoys playing with dolls any less of a feminist than the mother of a little girl who enjoys playing with toy trucks?
I have been criticized, judged, and attacked by “feminists” who judge me for my choices. Following the atrocious rape incidents on my campus, I was even accused of perpetuating rape culture by participating in pageantry, as if my love for fashion is synonymous with asking someone to rape me. As a law student, I am constantly told that no one will take me seriously if I am too feminine. I have been told by professors to lower my voice register, and to wear shorter heels and darker colors if I want to get a job. When did the word “feminist” turn into a divisive ploy to turn females against one another?
I don’t like the color pink because society tells me to like the color pink. I just… like it. It’s that simple. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s a combination of nature and nurture. I hope that my future daughters will grow up in a society where they are free to embrace every aspect of their womanhood, whatever that may mean to them. I want them to feel free to wear pretty dresses without living in fear that they are asking to be raped. And I want them to feel free to wear basketball shorts without being accused of dressing like a boy. In order for that to happen, we have to stop judging one another for the choices we make. For how can we ask men to respect us if we are not respecting each other? Feminism and femininity can co-exist.
I am a student at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, I believe in female equality, I am Miss Congeniality, and I really do want world peace.