The Miss Alabama Controversy, Explained (2024)

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A plus-size model won the top spot in an Alabama pageant and the internet had a meltdown.

Anna Rascouët-Paz

Published June 7, 2024

The Miss Alabama Controversy, Explained (1)

Image courtesy of Instagram user @thenamalmiss

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In late May and early June 2024, some social media users expressed outrage when they saw the winner of a "Miss" pageant in Alabama:

Some protested the fact that Sara Milliken's win promoted "unhealthy lifestyles." One asked whether a pageant would reward a "chain smoker" with the same prize. A third, also mentioning the Miss Maryland USA crown that went to a trans woman in June 2024, called out what they saw as "fake awards."

After an interview she gave to Mobile, Alabama, TV station, WKRG, Milliken, the station and the reporter received an onslaught of attacks, including on a Facebook post that shared the report. "Embracing and cheering on obesity is insane to me…," a commenter wrote. "she's extremely unhealthy and this is a slap in the face to the young girls who have worked hard and maintained a diet to actually be a beauty queen.. This is an embarrassment to the state of Alabama."

Milliken responded on her official Facebook page:

The things that has been said about me is truly disgusting and I cannot fathom how people think it's ok to say these things. The easy thing would be to give up. I could hide my face. Stop posting on social media. Make no appearances. Stay low key until Nationals. I could even give in and give up my title. But instead I say WATCH ME. Watch me serve my community. Watch me give my all into preparing for nationals. Watch me find the shy girl in the room and learn her name. Watch me continue to pour positivity into social media. Watch me crush every goal I set. Watch me chase this dream. Watch me show every single hater why a plus size woman can and should be a titleholder. Stand back and watch me show everyone who doubts me wrong. You are more than your body and more importantly… you are more than the evil things people say about your body. I gave this dream up for 6 years because of the hurtful things someone said about me. Never, ever again.

But as the uproar continued, it became clear that, intentionally or not, many commenters did not seem to make a distinction between different pageants in the U.S., each of which gives varying levels of importance to physical appearance, as opposed to skills and personality.

One of them is Miss USA. This pageant picks representatives of each state, and the winner of the national pageant goes on to compete in Miss Universe, to which several countries send their national winners. Miss USA, which was once associated with former U.S. President Donald Trump,still holds a swimsuit and sportswear contest— to judge the silhouettes of the contestants rather than their physical abilities.Other stages of the Miss USA contest included a private interview, an evening gown presentation and an onstage question.

Miss America, another pageant, does not have a swimsuit contest. Its categories includea private interview, an evening gown presentation, a panel interview with several judges and an onstage question, as well as a talent show and a physical fitness presentation. Miss America does not send contestants to Miss Universe.

The winner of Miss Alabama USA in 2024 was Diane Westhoven. No one had won Miss America Alabama 2024 as of this writing. But Milliken competed in neither of those pageants. Instead, Milliken was crowned in the National American Misscontest.

NAM in Alabama has competitions of talent, spokesmodel, fun fitness model, runway modeling and top model, though they are optional (other optional categories exist in other states). The required categoriesto win a NAM pageant are formal wear, personal introduction, interviews and community service. This was the schedule of the latest contest in Alabama. NAM values communication and confidence more than physical attributes, according to its mission statement:

Each participant has the opportunity to be a trailblazer… charting the course for her future successes. More than just a pageant, National American Miss is a program all about growing confidence.

We emphasize the importance of developing real world skills and are shaping the future leaders of tomorrow. Forget everything you thought you knew about pageantry.

This wasn't the first time Milliken competed in a NAM pageant. She competed before in the Jr Teen group at age 15 and second time in the Teen group at age 16. "I didn't think it was possible for a plus-sized girl to win," she told WKRG. "I didn't think it was possible from small-town Alabama to win. I worked literally every single day for 365 days."

Milliken was set to compete in the national NAM contest the week of Thanksgiving 2024.

Sources

2024 NAM MISS Alabama, Louisiana, & Mississippi State Pageant Schedule *. NAM, https://www.namstatepageant.com/_files/ugd/a8a5f0_66532d8b184e4abb8abf13cf1ba89117.pdf.

'Cyberbullying after Viral Facebook Post Spurs Outpouring of Support for Alabama Pageant Queen, Explanation of Comment Moderation | WKRG.Com'. WKRG News 5, 5 June 2024, https://www.wkrg.com/mobile-county/cyberbullying-after-viral-facebook-post-spurs-outpouring-of-support-for-alabama-pageant-queen-explanation-of-comment-moderation/.

lspecker@al.com, Lawrence Specker |. 'Plus-Size Alabama Pageant Winner Stays Positive despite Backlash'. Al, 7 June 2024, https://www.al.com/life/2024/06/plus-size-alabama-pageant-winner-stays-positive-despite-backlash-your-body-does-not-define-you.html.

Miss Alabama USA 2024 Is Diane Westhoven. 3 June 2024, https://www.pageantcircle.com/2024/06/final-results-miss-alabama-usa-2024-is-diane-westhoven-for-miss-usa-2024.html.

'Miss USA Qualifications: Who Can Compete in Miss USA 2024?' MARCA, 11 Jan. 2024, https://www.marca.com/en/lifestyle/us-news/2024/01/11/65a0074546163f72338b45b7.html.

National American Miss | America's #1 Pageant for Girls and Young Women 4-24 | Growing Confidence. https://www.namiss.com/. Accessed 7 June 2024.

'National American Miss Alabama on Goal Setting, Body Positivity and Pageant Life | WKRG.Com'. CBS 42, 3 June 2024, https://www.cbs42.com/alabama-news/23-year-old-woman-crowned-miss-alabama-in-national-american-miss-pageant/.

'Pageant | National American Miss | Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi'. NAMstatepageant, https://www.namstatepageant.com. Accessed 7 June 2024.

The Miss America Organization and Pageant Icons | American Experience | PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/miss-america-organization-and-pageant-icons/. Accessed 7 June 2024.

'Trans Woman Wins Miss Maryland USA, Making History with a List of Pageant Firsts'. Washington Blade, 7 June 2024, https://www.washingtonblade.com/2024/06/07/trans-woman-wins-miss-maryland-usa-making-history-with-a-list-of-pageant-firsts/.

WKRG. Atmore Woman Crowned Miss Alabama in National American Miss Pageant. 2024. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QeCrqL96YU.

By Anna Rascouët-Paz

Anna Rascouët-Paz is based in Brooklyn, fluent in numerous languages and specializes in science and economic topics.

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