As a progressive feminist-type, I am obligated first to say that beauty pageants are appalling, superficial, etcetera. As a closet girly-girl, I am fascinated by them, in kind of the same way my inner bad-ass is with tattoos. So yes, I watched Miss USA on Sunday, and it was awesome. But initially, I wasn’t that impressed by Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Michigan, who won the title of Miss USA 2010. Don’t get me wrong: she looked amazing. But what was with her weird interjections in the middle of answering her question? I was like, "Girl, there is a time and place to say hi to your mom, and this is not it."
Personally, I was rooting for the second runner-up Samantha Casey who is from my home state of Virginia and also attends my alma mater, the College of William and Mary. (Tribe pride! I don’t actually know her, but we have 66 Facebook friends in common. I used to see her at the gym where she’d be all beautiful, effortlessly punching with 15-pound weights while I heaved a little five-pounder, trying to get 10 reps in before my arms collapsed. But I digress.)
Then I found out that Fakih is a Lebanese immigrant. Whoa, what? An immigrant?! Won Miss USA?! To have an immigrant -- especially one that Arizona might check for papers -- win the Miss USA pageant is the equivalent of said immigrant receiving a Grammy for Best Country Album of the Year. I literally cannot even imagine myself in a Miss USA pageant, and it’s not only because I’m 5’1” and have potato chips sludging through my veins.
What’s kind of disheartening is that controversy is already stirring up over Fakih’s ethnic and religious background. For just one example, talk show host Debbie Schlussel devoted a post on her website to how Fakih was supported by Hezbollah and that the big deal over her Muslim background is an example of liberal Islamo-pandering.
Here’s the thing: Fakih’s family is Muslim, but she states that she went to a Catholic school and comes from a spiritually diverse background. Kind of sounds like your classic, mixed-religion American family to me.
Some critics also took issue with the fact that Fakih is being described by the media as a Lebanese American. "If you have to constantly identify yourself as a hyphenated American, something’s wrong," Schlussel writes.
But… that’s what Fakih is. She was, literally, born in Lebanon. And now, she is American. Gymnast Nastia Liukin is described as a Russian American and no one’s screaming that she’s got ties to the KGB. How odd that critics who denounce Fakih for not presenting herself to be simply American are also the ones pointing fingers at her Muslim and Arab identity as disqualifiers for her title to being American. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways, folks.
Then there are critics questioning whether or not Fakih is the first immigrant to win. That part is uncertain, because the pageant records are not clear on their contestants’ heritage and citizenship. I imagine the pageant officials have quite enough to keep track of, what with the pesky tendency of unwanted photos to surface post-pageant. (Pictures of Fakih pole dancing? Check.) Being named Miss USA is no easy feat for anyone -- just ask the other 50 ladies in the pageant and the thousands of women in America watching them on TV.
It’s worth noting that the official Miss America pageant contract of 1948 stated in its infamous rule number 7 that the "Contestant must be in good health and of the white race." It'd be hard not to congratulate ourselves a little, for having our first Arab American Miss USA!
Fakih's detractors have one thing right, though: this is a very politically charged moment. But the question isn't whether a Muslim American should be allowed to hold this title -- it's what she will do with her new opportunities, in her position as our Arab American Miss USA? Not just America on the right, but on the left. And the Middle East will probably be interested as well. As much as it pains the progressive-feminist in me, I have to ask: is she worthy of her crown?