That annual harbinger of fall has arrived: Applications for the Tournament of Roses royal court, and a chance to be crowned Rose Queen, are now available online. And once again I ask myself, shouldn’t I weigh in on the crassness and sexism of this tradition, which has been going on for 97 years? Yet the only criticism I can come up with is, how ageist that you can’t be any older than 21 to compete. I want to enter!
Why not? You have your hair and makeup professionally done, get to wear a tiara in public without people asking if you’re going to a costume party, and — this is what does it for me — get to cradle a voluptuous bouquet of perfect roses as you ride a float and wave to people. What fabulous fun is that?
Sure, there are some downsides. You have to be at the staging area for the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day at some insanely predawn hour, and I am not a morning person, and certainly not the morning after New Year’s Eve. The wardrobe they provide is from Macy’s — not that there’s anything wrong with Macy’s, but I’m more of a Barneys girl at this point in my life.
I do have some reservations about taking this stance. I asked a fellow female journalist if I am setting back the cause of feminism by saying I’d love to compete to be a princess on a float.
“I think it would be fun too. How would you justify it though?” she asked. “I think all those beauty contest justifications about education and scholarships ring so false. They are about beauty. To require that the girls also have good grades or do community service just doubles the burden on them. Now you have to be gorgeous and earnest.”
Well, here are the requirements to compete: You have to to be unmarried, childless, reside in the Pasadena Area Community College District, be a senior in high school or a full-time student at a college or accredited school in the district, and be at least 17 years old (and, like I said, no older than 21.) And you must have a C average. OK, that doesn’t sound like heavy lifting.
Depending on how far you get in the process, you may go through several rounds of interviews. Obviously, putting names in a hat would be more democratic and not at all about looks. Former royal court competitor Samantha Bacic, writing several years ago in the now-defunct independent newspaper L.A. Youth, survived three rounds before being cut. In the second round, she was asked what “three good-natured qualities” she possessed. (Hmm, I’d have to get back to them on that.) In the third round, she was asked, among other things, if they could cut her hair. (Um, no...)
Not that the tournament folks would say this is about looks. (Although the “look” of the court has diversified; there have been a number of black and Latina princesses and queens in the last few years.) In October, when Ana Marie Acosta was crowned, the Tournament of Roses organization put out a press release saying the queen and her court were selected based on “a combination of qualities, including public speaking ability, poise, academic achievement and community involvement.” Acosta herself was captain of Polytechnic School’s varsity equestrian team, a cabinet member of its Girls Service League and a Girl Scout.
Her predecessor, 2013 queen Vanessa Manjarrez, told L.A. Magazine: “I think a lot of people think it’s just a beauty contest and it’s really not. We are all focused on our academics, but we all have very diverse passions outside of school.”
I believe that these girls are serious and hardworking, but if you’re wearing a crown — one bedecked with 600 pearls and six carats of diamonds — you’re kind of a beauty queen. And maybe that’s OK here.
I think full-on, unapologetic beauty contests with women parading around in swimsuits plastered to their butts with glue are, at least in theory, vile. However, I’ve covered Miss America (had a blast — of course I did) and Miss Universe pageants and, in reality, they’re kind of hokey gatherings of very enthusiastic, very hopeful young women trying to do something with whatever their marketable assets are. Still, I don’t think this is anything we want girls to aspire to.
But I’m willing to give the Rose Parade royal court something of a pass here. I think this is mostly traditional boosterism for Pasadena. They make dozens of appearances at community events over the course of a few months (none in bathing suits). The Tournament of Roses website calls each “an official ambassador” for the tournament and the city of Pasadena. (Of course, Samantha Power doesn’t don a crown before heading off to the United Nations, where she’s the U.S. ambassador, but, OK.) And I doubt any of these girls vying for a spot on that Rose Parade float are riding the beauty pageant circuit. This competition for a crown strikes me as a bit of throwback fun — like being homecoming queen.
Now, it would be even more fun if the Tournament of Roses organization threw out the age ceiling and let tiara-loving girls of all ages compete.
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