Bravo’s Game of Crowns: Down with the Beauty Queen

miss congeniality

IT’S ALWAYS cute, not to mention hilarious, to see a five-year-old tottering around in her mother’s heels and smearing lipstick all over her face. It wouldn’t be quite as endearing to see a mother acting like her five-year-old, though.

Bravo’s newest train wreck show, Game of Crowns, revolves around the contestants of adult beauty pageants. As we’ve seen for many years on Toddlers & Tiaras, most women vicariously live out their fantasies and unrequited dreams through their children à la Gypsy’s Mama Rose. Bright side? At least the women participating in the pageant circuit featured on Game of Crowns have left their kids out of it and chosen to subject themselves to the unique experience that is the beauty pageant.

Many people detest the very idea of children’s beauty pageants (85% of participants on a thread entitled “Are child beauty pageants wrong?” answered “Yes”), calling into question the “values,” like ruthlessness and the importance of physical appearance, they teach children. It’s also difficult to believe that a child would like or willingly volunteer to spend their free time practicing for and participating in pageants if the encouragement from their parents was absent. But if we’re playing devil’s advocate here, for the rare few who actually do enjoy strutting their tiny stuff on stage, it’s a better activity to participate in when compared to being engrossed in iPads, smartphones, and videogames like the majority of their peers. And learning how to win and lose graciously is a valuable skill.

But as far as grown women go?

Game of Crowns focuses specifically on the Mrs. America pageant. “Mrs.” is key: the most stringent requirement to be a contestant in that pageant is that the participants must be married. Now, we think it’s vitally important for women to maintain their own identities and interests after getting married and bearing children, having a life outside of the roles of “mom” and “wife,” but the problem is that these identities and interests aren’t the focus of the show at all. Aside from raising families, many of the participants have careers and occupations that many people, male or female, would be proud of: one contestant, Vanessa Sebastian, is a nurse anesthetist (that’s a lot of schooling!) while another, Lynne Diamante, “has a law degree and runs a multi-million dollar eyewear company,” according to Bravo.

But instead of highlighting those accomplishments, Game of Crowns paints a picture of women who are vain, frivolous in their spending, ruthless in their competitive natures, cattier than cheetahs, and just plain mean. Participants talk smack about each other behind each others’ backs one moment — participant Shelley Carbone snarkily said that one participant’s outfit  looked “like she pooped out a tissue” — and then act as if they’re the best of friends the next. One participant even tried to sabotage a fellow contestant by offering her cupcakes! That takes ruthlessness to a whole new level, because not many people have the willpower to resist cupcakes.

Pageant participants are always quick to dismiss naysayers, lauding pageants as a legitimate and positive venue for rewarding extraordinary women. And that could be true, if celebrating the accomplishments of those extraordinary women was the aim of those pageants. But they’re not. The only thing Game of Crowns wants to do is provide a venue for women to one-up each other in the meanest of ways, in the hopes of drawing in the kind of audience that gets off on that kind of stuff. This one doesn’t have the right clothes or That one’s a “40 foot-er” (their version of a Monet, apparently), little snipes launched at each other like grenades designed to make competitors look bad when they, in fact, accomplish the exact opposite.

And while that’s bad enough in itself, one of the biggest problems the show poses is that it continues to enforce the stereotype that a woman’s value lies in what she looks like and not what she does or what’s she accomplished. Its old, tired as hell, and, frankly, has no place in a world where women want to be recognized on the value of their merit.

Hey, pageant girls: you don’t need a room full of strangers applauding and a plastic crown to make you a queen. You were one before you walked onto that stage.

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