The recent Miss Teen USA pageant has been receiving a good amount of positive press after recently announcing that it will no longer hold the swimsuit part of the competition. In its place, this year’s contestants wore colorful athletic outfits.
However, the positive press didn’t last very long and over the past few days, its image has taken not one, but two serious hits. America is a very diverse country, with citizens of every race, creed, and color. So on Saturday, when the five finalists were introduced in Las Vegas, it was hard to overlook the fact that they were all light skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed. In fact, out of the 51 contestants, only seven were women of color while 22 were white and blonde haired and most group pictures showed African-American women hidden in the back.
For the pageant, and the entire Miss Universe Organization, that claims to be a ‘celebration of diversity’ this has caused a huge public relations crisis with numerous models and celebrities posting on social media about the lack of diversity in the competition. Commenting things like all the finalists look alike and the only diversity was in the shape of their eyebrows.
Then, just a few hours after 18-year-old Miss Texas Teen USA Karlie Hay was crowned Miss Teen USA, social media users discovered numerous tweets from her personal account dated back in 2013 and 2014 where she repeatedly used racial slurs, including the ‘N’ word, which made the pageant and its winner look even worse.
Hay quickly set her personal Twitter account to private and issued a statement from her official Miss Teen USA account, stating that she had used the word in the past during a time when she was experiencing some personal struggles, but it doesn’t reflect the woman she is now. The Miss Universe Organization also issued a statement, chastising Hay for using the word but also supporting her growth. The organization has also stated that they will not take her crown.
Neither the Miss Universe Organization or Miss Teen USA has yet to make a comment on the diversity issue, but many popular social media users have plenty to say.
While claiming to be an organization that prides itself on diversity, many people believe history has shown otherwise. The first black winner of Miss America, Vanessa Williams was crowned in 1984 but was forced to give up her title soon afterward and 2016 winner Deshauna Barber, Miss District of Columbia has publicly spoken about the discrimination that many African-American women face when it comes to participating in pageants.
From a public relations point of view, and with many people already disapproving of pageants it’s vital that the organization begin some damage control to help salvage and improve its image. Rather than staying quiet about things, it needs to begin publicly promoting diversity within the organization and show pageant hopefuls and the general public that it no longer favors light-skinned, blue-eyed blondes.
Josh Nass is a public relations executive and sought after crisis communications specialist. He regularly appears on Fox News, MSNBC and other leading media outlets to offer his expert commentary.