Today when your teen or pre-teen daughter gets home from school, she is probably going to be talking about Miss America’s red plastic cup.
Which gives you a tremendous opportunity to talk about a truth that flies in the face of our “mean girl” culture, but which we all want our daughters to grasp: You can light up the world by being exactly who you are.
Last night in Atlantic City, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Miss New York Kira Kazantsev, was crowned the 2014-2015 Miss America. And no matter what you think of the Miss America pageant, the world had a breakthrough last night: the judges chose not the suggestive hip-hop dancer, the winner of the swimsuit competition, or the beautiful violinist in the flaming red dress, but the young woman who was confident enough to walk onto that massive, imposing stage in a comfortable, pretty, blue pantsuit, sit down cross-legged on the floor and sing Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” while tapping and twisting a red plastic cup in time with the music.
Any girl who has seen the movie Pitch Perfect will recognize the inspiration for this performance instantly. While many parents will want their girls to be more mature before they actually see the movie, it does have an important theme about being yourself –which is exemplified when the lead actress, Anna Kendrick, sings and drums a beat with a plastic cup. Ironically, she does this to show her beauty-pageant like acapella group colleagues that they don’t have to be like everyone else.
Immediately after Kazantsev performed her talent, the social media world went crazy; with many people deriding her choice. Not because she did a bad job, and not because it wasn’t fun (she had the audience clapping along!), but because she veered off from the usual Miss America formula. They assumed she had no chance to win.
But she did win. And the new Miss America is very straightforward about why she took such a risk: “I wanted every single little girl in America to be able to see that you can do that talent — you can do whatever talent you want on national television — even with a red cup — and still be Miss America and have the time of your life. I literally in that minute and 30 seconds had the most fun I’ve ever had, and that’s because I stayed true to myself and I did what I wanted to do for my talent, no matter what everybody else told me, and it paid off. I’m very happy about it.”
Today, when your daughter gets home from school, don’t push, but use this as a conversation starter. If she hasn’t seen or heard about it, show her this little clip from the Associated Press. Ask what she thinks it says, that the judges chose a girl who chose to not do a “usual” talent like dancing or playing the piano, or singing a Broadway song. And see what she says.
There are many other things we could discuss about this winner: that she’s not a bit vacuous, but a smart, hardworking young woman who tackled three majors in college and is now at law school. That she’s the child of immigrants and speaks Russian fluently, so there are times she must have felt different from her peers. But to me, her choice to plop down on that huge stage with that red cup speaks loudest of all.
Today, Pharrell Williams’ theme song is my own. How glad we are that last night the Miss America judges recognized the beauty of a young woman who sets aside the pressure to be someone she is not, knows who she is, and lives it.