Tattooed National Guard Sergeant Theresa Vail takes on Miss America

Ready or not, Theresa Vail is changing the Miss America pageant. Photo: Theresa Vail (Facebook)

WASHINGTON, September 12, 2013 —Watch out Miss America, Miss Kansas Theresa Vail is here.

The Miss America pageant was started as way to keep tourists coming to Atlantic City after Labor Day in the 1920s.

With the rise of the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the pageant has tried to change with the times and to portray the contestants as something more than air headed, wholesome, white women whose goals in life are to either be a rocket scientist or a model, with the underlying emphasis on helping to bring world peace.

In the 1960s, the contest eliminated rule number seven, according to PBS’s 2011 documentary “Miss America,” which required contestants to be “in good health and white.” Professional women began competing in the 1970s as part of the pageant’s continuing effort to evolve.

But nothing previously adapted by the “scholarship” pageant will change perceptions as much as when Miss Kansas Theresa Vail steps on the stage in her bathing suit this weekend.

During Sunday’s Miss America pageant, televised September 15 at 9 p.m. on CBS, Vail will be the first contestant not to cover her tattoos during the bathing suit and evening gown portion of the competition.

Vail’s body art is not subtle. The serenity prayer is tattooed on her right side, and covers the area from just under her arm all the way down to her hip in large old English style writing. Vail has another tattoo of the army medical corp. insignia on her shoulder. Both will be visible.

According to The Star Ledger, other contestants also have tattoos. Miss Montana has a large one on her foot, but Miss Kansas is the only contestent who is not covering tattoos during the competition.

Johnny Lange from Comes a Time Tattoo in Fairfax, Virginia, says he cannot imagine people would negatively judge a woman with a tattoo. “Women have been coming in regularly since the 90s. I have mothers and daughters coming in together. All ages, all types.”

Lange believes that if there was any negative reaction from the judges toward Miss Kansas, it will not be because she has a tattoo but because what the tattoo says.

“People get tattoos that mean something to them and having the serenity prayer put on you like that. Well, I’ve done that same tattoo enough times; people who get that have had something bad in their life happen due to drugs or alcohol.” Lange stated.

Vail’s reference on her blog to her choice of the serenity prayer leaves the motivation open to interpretation. Vail writes “I was growing up amidst the bullying and neglect, I found myself asking God on a daily basis to give me peace in knowing I cannot change certain things about myself, but also asking Him to give me the strength to change things that I had the power to.”

Jen Kristoff, who works at Comes a Time Tattoo as a piercing artist, and who has tattoos on her arm and back of her neck, had a different perspective about the contestant showing her ink. “Tattoos sexualize a woman,” said Kristoff. “Look in any tattoo magazine. The woman with body art is put in very sexualized positions. Men come up to me all the time and move my hair or touch my arm. Complete strangers will try to roll up my sleeve to get a better look at my tattoo. It’s like I am an object, not real.”

Kristoff went on to say, in this particular situation, maybe it would benefit Vail.

Vail explained her decision not to cover up her tattoos on her blog stating, “Now, many still believe that Miss America is apple pie and pearls. However, in the job description of Miss America it clearly states that “she must represent contemporary women between the ages of 17-24.” The operative word here is “contemporary,” synonymous with modern! 1 in 5 Americans have at least 1 tattoo. If I were crowned Miss America, bearing my tattoos, do you realize the stereotypes and stigmas it would break? Do you realize it would pave a path for a whole new audience to compete in the Miss America Organization? As of right now, the stigma is girls with visible tattoos do not compete in pageants, and certainly do not win. I want to break that. I am a traditionalist, I am conservative and I am a God-fearing woman. Having tattoos does not negate any of those. Think about it.”

Another example of Miss Kansas as a truly contemporary woman is her transparency on her blog. Her entries reveal other ways in which she is breaking the Miss America contestant stereotype. She is a sergeant in the National Guard, making her only the second woman ever to compete from the armed forces, and she is also an expert marksman and an avid bow hunter. At her first pageant nine months ago, she had planned on showing off her archery skills as her talent but at the last minute organizers decided against allowing it. She performed opera instead and was crowned Miss Kansas.

Julie Brautigam Marcus, a 41 year old suburban Virginia mother who points out that she herself does not have any tattoos, thinks that Vail should be admired because she is competing just as herself and not trying to be anything else. “She is saying, this is who I am despite how you feel about it. I am who I am.”

Theresa Vail is a beautiful and talented woman, but certainly not the type of contestant who usually wins the Miss America contest. Viewers will have to tune in Sunday night to see what the judges think of her.

Vail has not won the talent or swimsuit preliminary competitions from the first or second night of the pageant. Tonight the third night preliminary winners will be announced.


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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.

 

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