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According to reports that were confirmed by the Alpha Phi International Fraternity and the Miss America Organization, reigning Miss America Kira Kazantsev was implicated in a hazing controversy when she was an undergraduate at Hofstra University. Kazantsev, who was eventually forced to step down as a sister of Alpha Phi, allegedly instigated and enforced numerous hazing rituals, including but not limited to insulting pledges and critiquing them on their physical appearances.

In response to these hazing revelations, the Miss America Organization issued astatement, arguing that, “it’s unfortunate that this incident and unsourced allegations have been exploited to create a storyline that distracts from what we should be focusing on: Kira’s impressive academic achievements at Hofstra University, including earning a triple major from the Honors College and her commitment to serving her community.” The press release went on to further extol Ms. Kazantsev’s virtue, including the work she’s done to “empower young women.”

This missive could just be read as your standard step-around; an attempt to dismantle a potential PR bomb before it detonates. Alternatively, this one press release can be read as indicative and highly emblematic of the widening gulf between the values and behaviors that the Miss America Organization allows and encourages and the incredibly disparate way that it chooses to present itself and its motives and priorities to the outside world.

Odds are that the Miss America Organization would like you to forget the fact that its annual competition began as a bikini body contest on the Atlantic City boardwalk. The event, which was deemed a “bather’s revue,” was designed to bring business to the boardwalk—literally generating profits off of schlubs for whom ranking women against each other on the basis of physical appearance constituted a good time.

For all its blatant sexual objectification, Miss America’s early iterations were, at the very least, honestly and openly trading in the bodies of America’s young women. The narrative gets more complicated once the organization began to reach for legitimacy, essentially masking and obfuscating, but never truly addressing or rejecting the ideologically backwards and deeply anti-women platform on which the pageant was originally founded.

Reform first came in 1935 when Lenora Slaughter was hired to re-invent the pageant as its new director. During her 32-year reign, Slaughter added a talent section to the pageant, required that all contestants be accompanied by chaperones, and also decreed that scholarship money would be the main form of compensation for all future Misses. During the 1930s, Slaughter also oversaw the official segregation of the competition, ruling that, “contestants must be of good health and of the white race.”

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