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Miss America Organization Finally Apologizes for Slut-Shaming Vanessa Williams

It only took over 30 years, but who's counting?

Back in 1983, Vanessa Williams – whom you know from all over film and television – was the first black woman to be crowned Miss America. However, she was pressured to give up her title and ultimately resigned her crown with six weeks left on her reign due to a nude photo “scandal” that was completely out of her control. The Miss America organization has finally apologized for that.

In this video interview with OWN’s Oprah’s Master Class series, Williams explains how she came to take the photos in the first place, and how they were sold without her consent.

So, nude photos of her and another woman were taken with the understanding that no one would ever see them, and they were supposedly taken for comp. They were then sold without Williams’ consent – and publications like Playboy wouldn’t publish them, but Penthouse decided to, not caring how they were obtained – and Williams was forced to surrender her title. Because Miss America is all about (was all about?) being pristine and chaste, in addition to talented and beautiful and smart. Because, of course, a woman can accomplish so many things…so long as she’s not considered a “slut.” Because the worst thing to happen to any woman is for her naked body to be on display. Even though we casually display women in various stages of undress throughout our media.

Even though Miss America, despite being about things like scholarship and community service and talent, is also about marketing beauty – otherwise, why have things like a swimsuit competition?  It’s not that the organization was ever anti-sexualizing women – they were just upset that it wasn’t done on their terms and with their permission.

I’m thrilled that Miss America’s current CEO, Sam Haskell, made it a point to give her this apology on the broadcast last night. I’m not really big on pageants, but I do understand that many women get a lot out of participating in them, and I was glad to see that Williams was welcomed back to an organization that she clearly cared about. And she’s gone on to be a huge star, sharing her musical and acting talent with the world, so clearly this “scandal” didn’t stop her from being a role model anyway.

This entire incident, however, is also a reminder that women’s nude images being distributed without their consent is not just a Digital Age problem. For example, when hackers released private nude images of Jennifer Lawrence last year, many people said that Lawrence should’ve “known better.” What did she expect, after all? It’s the Internet! If she didn’t want them to be distributed, she shouldn’t have taken them in the first place! But clearly, women don’t need the Internet for this to happen.

In addition, the answer is never “she shouldn’t have taken them in the first place.” The answer is, “What is wrong with our society that we ever think that distributing nude photos of a woman without her knowledge and consent is OK?” As Jennifer Lawrence pointed out after her photos were leaked, this isn’t a “scandal,” it was a sex crime. I’m just glad that the Miss America organization finally came to their senses and apologized for penalizing her for having the audacity to have her privacy stolen.

I could write a whole other post about how even if she had willingly taken part in the sale, that the stripping of her crown was hypocritical, slut-shaming, and misogynistic…but I’ll save that for another time.

(via Uproxx)

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