In an interview with CNN, Miss America contestant Alexis Wineman tells the interviewer “My autism isn’t what defines me.” She is absolutely right. She is a human being, and people are not defined by any one aspect of themselves. She, like everyone else, is a complex, multi-faceted person.
However, what the Miss America Pageant has done is let her be defined by her autism.
Wineman, Miss Montana, was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a form of autism, when she was 11 years old.
She was often an outcast growing up, and told that she was ‘different.’ Then she won Miss Montana, and was a contestant in the biggest beauty pageant in the country.
But how have things really changed? Miss Wineman is known as “the Miss America contestant with autism.” She is singled out among the 54 beauty queens in the pageant and interviewed, written about and debated over because she is different. Sure, some of the articles may focus on her platform issue “Normal is just a dryer setting: Living with Autism” or her academic goals, but most of the overall focus on Miss Wineman is centered around the fact that she is a Miss America Contestant with autism.
She has put her status as a Miss America contestant and all of the media attention to good use promoting autism awareness, and I hope that she goes on to do great things.
The Miss America organization is supposed to be supporting and empowering young women. Yes, it gives scholarship grants to young women. But how is a beauty pageant empowering? All beauty pageants say is being beautiful is the most important thing. Is being singled out as different empowering? To me, it makes me feel like an outcast. Everyone wants to be an individual but everyone also wants to feel included.
The Miss America pageant is not the only party at fault in this. The media is also responsible for singling out this young woman as ‘different’ due to her autism instead of putting more attention on other aspects of Miss Wineman.
The Miss America organization, as far as I can see, is taking advantage of Alexis Wineman’s diagnosed pervasive development disorder to make it look as though they are ‘supporting diversity.’ The organization wants to jump on the diversity bandwagon.
Supporting diversity should be about accepting everyone as an individual, no matter who they are—not making a big deal out of how different they are from the rest of us. Doing that only exacerbates the issue of discrimination.
Some could argue that Miss Wineman put herself in a position to be stereotyped by entering the Miss America competition. But does entering a competition mean you want to be put in a box? Just because the contestant from Montana has a mild form of autism doesn’t mean the media circus and the Miss America organization has to zero in on that almost to the exclusion of everything else. Alexis Wineman should not be defined by her autism.