Dear Miss America Judges,
This past Saturday night after a nice meal out I snuggled up with my hubbie, and turned on the Miss America Pageant. This occurred in part because nothing is as fun for me as watching gorgeous women parade around in swimsuits after having stuffed myself with bread (it was warm AND crusty!), and in part because in spite of having seemingly thousands of channels at our disposal, nothing was on television.
As I settled deeper into our bed sporting my “forgiving pajamas” I heard something on the broadcast that forced me to sit my tired body up in bed (you know it was good if I was willing to elevate myself). It turns out that one of the contestants, Alex Wineman from Montana, is on the autism spectrum.
After propping myself up I next watched in awe as this beautiful young woman took the stage to introduce herself in the twenty-three seconds she was allowed to do so. She made great use of her time, telling the audience she had autism and that she had been bullied as a child. She finished her spiel with almost casually mentioning that until recently she hadn’t known it was okay to have autism.
It was then I found myself crying during a Miss America Pageant. Dear God, what has my world come to.
At this point I actually made the supreme effort to get out of bed and google her (I’m so proud of myself) to find out more information about her. In flipping through a number of posts about her since that night so many of the things we autism bloggers are always writing about popped up, namely commentary she has given with such maturity, and confidence.
During an interview with KRTV she declared that for her, “it’s not autism that defines her, she defines it”. That “spreading the message that everyone is different whether they’re autistic or not- it not only spreads autism acceptance, but a universal acceptance.” And last, but not least, my personal favorite: “Normal is just a dryer setting.”
Amen to that.
Judges, I just want you to know (and I am certain you care dearly about my opinion) that if there’s a deserving contestant down the road, that it’s time for Miss America to get with the program, and crown a differently-abled woman onto that stage. Of course, I say this with the profound bias of having two differently-abled kids myself, but there’s another reason as well. Prior to the event, by online voting, Ms. Wineman won the People’s Choice Award.
In the words of the wonderful Sally Fields, they loved her. They really loved her.
I neither know Ms. Wineman nor have witnessed her level of autism, but upon further reading I’ve learned that she’s had great difficulty with speaking, and has had speech therapy for many years. She even mentioned in the interview that she’d stayed in the background during childhood a great deal because of her difficulties conversing.
Since she was bullied as a young girl, I imagine that along the way she had some trouble making friends. I would hazard a guess that since she didn’t know it was okay to be autistic until recently, that she sometimes struggled with self-esteem issues. And yet, there she was on that stage, pushing herself into an arena that requires public speaking engagements, a gregarious nature, and a high level of confidence and poise.
And throughout her brief time in the public eye that night, she achieved all of those goals.
So, my dear judges, I have to part ways with you by saying in my not so humble opinion that Ms. Wineman, despite not taking the crown, truly won that night. This is no slam against Miss New York, who actually made me enjoy tap dancing for three consecutive minutes. No, it’s just that this brave young woman had to scale mountains to get where she is, and it seemed as if the other contestants might only have had to traipse a few hills to get there.
And since apparently character factors so much in this contest, I just think that should have been given more consideration. It should at least count more than the 15% allotted to the “fitness/how does she look in a bikini” portion of the event.
Again, just my opinion.
So Ms. Wineman, if I haven’t made it clear, you got my vote, and obviously the nod from many other people in our country as well. Congratulations for taking a stand and giving inspiration to thousands of young woman who may be struggling daily with who they are, and how they fit into this tough, predominantly neurotypical world. As far as I’m concerned (and really, my voice means everything), you won, and you’re so right.
Normal is just a dryer setting.