Beauty contests are definitely not my thing. I never watched the Victoria Secret Fashion Show except that year Kanye and Jay-Z performed. I did not know that the MILF mom from Johnson Family Vacation was actually Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to win the Miss America contest. I didn’t even know she was forced to abdicate her throne a few weeks later because of a pre-internet nude photo scandal. All I know about beauty contests is Miss Congeniality, your president Trump being a full-blown creep, and the underrated Little Miss Sunshine. By the way if you’re rewatching movies in quarantine throw that on your list.
When I found out a former colleague in the education world had run for Miss New York late last year I knew that GSC readers needed to hear about the experience. As a life-long learner and an obsession with pop culture, I had to bridge the gaps of knowledge that a Google search could not fulfill. The eligibility rules straight off the website read, “[ALL CONTESTANTS] Must not be married, never have been married, and never have had a marriage annulled. Must never have given birth to a child, cannot be pregnant or be a parent.” That rule is so important it comes before making sure you’re of good moral character. For what it’s worth schools ask the same character criteria of teachers, but I can assure some of us slide through the cracks.
In my undergrad years I knew a former Miss Connecticut and she seemed like a very nice and friendly person. The culture of Connecticut, however, is as foreign as Russia to me and I knew the answers I needed could only be found from a Miss New York contestant. That’s no shade to Constitution State, but rather big-ups to the greatest empire of the land. Check out the interview below with Anya Morales from the island of Manhattan as we discussed pageant rules and culture, scholarship potential, beauty standards, and more.
GSC: First off, who are you and how do you identify?
Anya: I’m Anya Morales and identify as bi-racial and in being black and hispanic.
GSC: What made you decide to run for Miss New York? Has that always been something you’ve been considering since you were younger?
Anya: Honestly I decided to run for miss new york on a whim because it kept popping up on my instagram feed and i just signed up for it. My first year teaching with Blue Engine I had one of my co-teacher she competed in Miss USA, Kansas, won and got her law school paid for so that was definitely influential on me. Ok, I knew someone who did it and I can try and like why not? So that’s why I wanted to do it. It’s not something I’ve been considering since I was younger.
GSC: Did you want it to pay for your grad school?
Anya: I mean yeah, it was definitely one of the factors. I have to go full time this upcoming year and I also had to work a part time job during nights on the week.
GSC: How did you feel about the Miss USA pageant before entering the competition? How do you feel about it now?
Anya: I mean before I thought about the woman who won last year, I totally blanked on her name, she seems really cool. She’s a woman of color and a lawyer and I thought ok they’re changing their views of how women should look. It’s not always the skinny white chick, and I thought that changed my view in the last year or so. Because before I thought it’s the same generic woman all the time. So I thought this seems like the perfect year to do it. I should do it now if it seems like how they’re running the competition seems different.
GSC: Are you allowed to speak on it or do you sign any waivers that kind of make that impossible?
Anya: Honestly I have no idea. I don’t think it’s an issue because it’s not like secrets I can’t really tell you. There’s not anything secretive they told us. Girls are uploading stuff to IG and social stuff so I mean it’s not really any secrets.
GSC: You hear passionately from both sides of the spectrum such as it’s objectifying women for the male gaze or it’s feminist empowerment. In terms of the staff and judges interacting with contestants, how did you feel they treated you?
Anya: I think the staff was super friendly. The people that were showing us had us do practices nonstop. For sure the actual competition was super nice. And the people who did my hair and makeup and we had to have a chaperone. She was super sweet. I had no issues with the staff. We didn’t interact with the judges at all, I talked to them for the interview and that was it.
GSC: As far as I’m aware, there has never been a dark skinned Latina of color to win Miss America. Was identity something that drove you during the contest?
Anya: Yes definitely because I don’t know if you saw 2018 Miss New York was from DR and that was definitely what influenced me like alright if she can I possibly do this. Especially since last year like every major competition I can just see Miss America, Miss Universe, all them all black women. So I think they are changing how they think of how they’re trying to drive the contest and I hope they keep that up after COVID whenever they start doing the competitions again. Try to have more diversity not just with the state competitions and there’s definitely a difference between how they judge the state competition and actual Miss USA.
GSC: Do you plan to keep up with competition now that you are out of the national running?
Anya: I think I’m not gonna watch it, but definitely I’ll just see on social media or something what they’re doing. I hope they keep up with it.
GSC: How many people were in the competition? How many contestants were there?
Anya: Waaaay too many. New York was the biggest state, it had the most girls in the entire country. There were 278 girls, where some states had like 20.
GSC: Were there certain women you felt a stronger bond with? Have you stayed connected with anyone from the competition?
Anya: Some of the girls I kept in touch with, like my roommate I had for the weekend and then some other girls who I met who lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
GSC: Which parts of the competition were most enjoyable? Any parts that you did not like as much?
Anya: It was nice we had the opportunity to just hang out… It was the night before the last day of the competition they gave us kind of like a dance party thing and it was nice to hang out with the girls and not just be chatting with them in between rehearsals because that’s all you do. I guess talking to the person who did my hair and makeup, she was there both days. I got to get to know them better and they were really cool so that was nice. That too. Parts that I didn’t like were just all the rehearsals, they were hella strict. I have a boyfriend and if I saw him I wasn’t allowed to hug him or kiss him. They had a strict policy that you couldn’t see your family. It was two days of competition, so you could see them but they didn’t stay in the same hotel with me. You couldn’t go get dinner with them, you couldn’t spend any time with them, and you couldn’t do that for the entire weekend and that shit was super stressful and you could not do that. You would get kicked out of the competition.
GSC: Wait, why couldn’t you see your family?
Anya: So I could see them, I made sure my dad came on Sunday because I knew after the competition I could go home and you know do something with my dad. But they were just super strict about it because they wanted to know where all the girls were at the same time so after day one, you could see your family afterwards whatever whatever, and you go back to the hotel and switch because when they do Miss USA New York they do Miss Teen USA at the same time so they bum rush everyone out. A lot of parents stay at the hotel we’re all at so people couldn’t still go see their parents. It was ridiculous. They kept saying to keep track of all of us though. That’s a thing.
GSC: What are the expectations in regards to presentation? Is make-up a requirement? Can you skip out on the swimsuit competition if you’re uncomfortable or is that an automatic disqualification?
Anya: So technically here’s the thing, what I’ve found out is there are rules that state you technically don’t have to do all of this shit but everyone’s doing it. I paid to get my makeup and hair done because I had to, like not had to, but I’m not great with doing my own hair except just make it straight, from curly to straight. So I paid for that, it’s a whole package. I couldn’t pay to cover up tattoos, but the majority of girls covered up their tattoos. I didn’t. Just how the clothes you’re supposed to wear. Like what was it, the heel you’re supposed to wear have to be over 4 or 5 inches, something like that. It was a heel requirement. They tell you what kind of dresses you should get, not brands but a floor length dress for this part of the competition and you need a bikini for this part you can wear a full piece but girls don’t wear a full piece. How your makeup is done, there’s a lot of unsaid things. You kind of go with what everyone else is doing but they also want you to stand out at the same time, right? There’s a lot of contradictory shit.
GSC: What if you can’t walk in five inch heels? What do you do?
Anya: I don’t know. I guess there’s some girls who can’t, I mean I think there’s some girls who had smaller heels. But the ones who were semi finalists definitely had stiletto high heels and were all skinny. Super skinny and tall. They would say a lot of stuff like we’re looking for a different type of girl who is not just a regular beauty queen, they have to care about things. They have to have an education and blah blah blah. We don’t care how they look. But there were two girls who were like heavy-set, or not the perfect image, like I’m 5’3’ ½, but the girls were close to six feet and like six inch heels. I was very small in comparison to them. But yeah, it was kinda like okay you say that but the people who end up being semi-finals they all kinda look the same, racially ambiguous girls. And like two women of color made it past top ten.
GSC: What did you learn about yourself from the competition?
Anya: I learned that I just need to do my own thing and not let it get to me. I definitely felt really shitty afterwards not making the semi-finals. But I can’t say I didn’t try my best. I have to keep having confidence in myself because it definitely kind of shut me because you’re there with gorgeous-ass women, like stunning. But then, my roommate was a model, she’s a model, and she didn’t get to the semi-finals either. It kinda made me feel better in terms of I mean it does matter how you look but at the same time it’s not my whole life. It’s not what I’ve dreamed of doing, it was something to try and it was a cool opportunity. You know you could take it as a learning experience. I’m biased too because I definitely met some girls who… I met a weird spectrum of women. Some girls are bitchy and nasty and other girls are super friendly and like gorgeous and had like the education to back it up but there are stereotypical girls that saw me reading and were like I fucking hate reading, I’m surprised you’re reading a book here. So a very wide spectrum of contestants.
GSC: Is there anything you wish you could go back and change about the experience?
Anya: I guess no. The weekend of doing the actual pageant no, if anything if I could go back I’d get a better headshot photo but that’s literally it.
GSC: What advice would you give women contemplating running for their state competition?
Anya: Considering looking for another state, you might have a better chance. Especially since New York takes the most women, I didn’t know that. Start practicing your walk and stuff months ahead, I definitely didn’t do that but a lot of people did. Don’t think you need to spend a shit ton of money. You’re gonna feel like you need to spend a lot of money, you probably will spend a lot of money, but don’t get a Coach, don’t get the most expensive dress ever, especially if you never plan on wearing it again. I think just do your best and plan ahead.
GSC: Assuming there is a competition despite COVID-19, would you run again next year for Miss New York in 2021?
Anya: I don’t think so. I honestly was debating this for awhile because the age cut off is 27 and I’m going to be 27 so it would be my last chance to do it, but I don’t really feel like putting in all the energy and the money into it again and doing a GoFundMe again and sponsorships. There’s a lot and I did it and I had the experience and I’m good.
With some stereotypical overall beauty standards and archaic belief system in a miss independent Miss New York, the pageant does show some forward progress by having women of color begin to win competitions. With a potential for college scholarship and potential to network with other educated and influential women, I can see now why the Miss New York competition would attract contestants of all backgrounds.