My thoughts on Miss USA

Normally, I wouldn’t bother to write about Miss America USA.

I don’t like beauty pageants. I think they’re plastic and degrading, for all of the run-of-the-mill feminist reasons.

But when I heard that Miss USA 2010 is Rima Fakih, a Lebanese-American Muslim woman, I literally did a high-kick in excitement.

Miss America 2010 Rima Fakih

You’re probably thinking, “Why would any self-respecting feminist cheer at the fact that a Muslim woman has been objectified along with the rest of the Miss USA contestants?”

My feelings about this particular Miss USA pageant are ambivalent. Like I said: beauty pageants = gross.  There’s not just a history of sexism, but also of exploitation, exclusion, and racism within American beauty pageants.

But I am incredibly excited that there is another female face of Islam in the mainstream media. Rima Fakih is another representation: she doesn’t look like the headscarf-wearing Muslim women usually profiled in human interest stories (the ones who open their own businesses or are fired from Abercrombie & Fitch stores). She doesn’t look like the war-torn women of Iraq of Afghanistan–representations in the media that Americans are used to seeing.

I don’t want to downplay the fact that Rima’s crown represents sexist ideals and expectations. As a media activist and Muslim feminist, I am fully aware of these issues, and I know that her victory is not a real one for Muslim women or Arab American women.

And although the backlash has already begun, Ms. Fakih’s win is also a reinforcement of the Muslim American presence in this country. It reminds America that even though a Faisal Shahzad pops up every now and then, the majority of us are just living and working Americans like Rima Fakih.

But as someone who sees media portrayals of Muslim women that are completely negative every single day, I’m just going to take this one moment and enjoy it. Ms. Fakih’s high-profile win adds to the diversity of how Muslim women are represented.