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Miss USA's 'genuine' answer in the 1997 Miss Universe pageant was funny, but so much more

"If you had no rules in your life for one day, and you could be outrageous, what would you do?"

Brook Lee's answer made the host and the audience burst out laughing.

Love them or hate them, beauty pageants have long been a fascination for people around the world. Every year, women compete in local pageants that funnel to state and national levels, then finally to the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions at the global level.

One of the most anticipated parts of a pageant, for both the lovers and the haters, is the interview portion. Instead of just watching them waltz across stage in a glitzy gown or a bathing suit, we actually get to hear from the beauty queens and judge how well they think on their feet.

The answers to the hosts' questions can range from smart to generic to occasionally disastrous, but one contestant's answer from more than two decades ago has gone viral because it was just oh-so-real.


Miss USA 1997, Brook Antoinette Mahealani Lee from Hawaii, was one of the finalists in the Miss Universe pageant when the host asked, "If you had no rules in your life for one day, and you could be outrageous, what would you do?"

Lee's facial expression during the question was adorable, and her quick answer said it all.

"I would eat. Everything. In the world," she said, emphasizing every single word.

"You do not understand," she said with a huge grin. "I would eat everything, twice."

Watch:

The audience loved it, the host's cackle sounded just as genuine as her answer, and Lee would go on to be crowned Miss Universe that evening.

However, her placing her hand on her stomach as she walked away in this video was a reminder that, even though it received a big laugh, her answer was rooted in the reality of the pressure these women feel to be thin. This was especially true in the 1990s, when "heroin chic" was coined to describe the desired look of models at the time. Women starving themselves to maintain a certain physique isn't actually funny, then or now.

In fact, Lee herself shared in a Hey Adam G podcast interview that her answer was actually a "political statement" in response to the controversy of her predecessor, Alicia Machado, gaining weight during the year of her Miss Universe reign in 1996. Donald Trump, who had purchased the Miss Universe that same year, made Machado's weight a public ordeal, allegedly calling her "Miss Piggy," making comments about how much she liked to eat and blindsiding her with dozens of cameramen at a gym in New York City to film her exercising.

Lee had even been asked directly about weight gain as a winner during the Miss USA pageant, with the question, "Miss Universe has recently been the subject of a lot of press attention about her weight. If this happened to you, how would you handle it?"

Lee said she was shocked that they would ask that question. Machado was sitting there in the audience when Lee was asked it, making for "a very weird moment." But her answer was exemplary:

“I think I would take a good hard look at myself, and I’d look from the inside out, and I would know I was the same girl that was crowned that day and it really didn’t matter what I look like on the outside, because I won for what I was in here. So if I go up, I go down, I get taller, I get shorter, my nose gets bigger, smaller, I’m still who I was when that crown was on my head, and I am a good representative no matter what.”

Lee said that by the time the Miss Universe question was asked, she was sick of all of the controversy over weight, so she wanted to be able to make a statement in some way if the opportunity presented itself. Her answer that she would eat-all-the-things if she had no rules for one day was her way of giving the middle finger

A relatable reaction to a ridiculous situation. Good on her for keeping it real.

After 97 years, Miss America is putting and end to the swimsuit portion of the annual competition.

New competition chair Gretchen Carlson, who was crowned Miss America in 1989, announced the change during an appearance June 5 on "Good Morning America."

"We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance," she said. "That's huge. And that means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition."


The evening gown portion of the event is also making its way into history's dustbin in favor of a renewed focus on contestants' words and actions.

This is a welcome change following decades of criticism calling the swimwear segment misogynistic.

After Yolande Betbeze Fox won the competition in 1950, she stunned pageant fans by refusing to pose for photos in a swimsuit (though she did wear one during the competition as required).

"I'm not a model. I'm an opera singer," she's said to have argued at the time, according to her 2016 obituary on Alabama Living. Her defiance led a sponsor to leave the pageant and begin Miss USA, one of its top competitors.

The debate resurfaced in 1995, when Miss America fans voted whether or not to keep the swimsuit portion. They said yes.

Fox holds her bathing suit from the 1950 Miss America pageant, during a press conference in 1995. Photo by Bob Strong/AFP/Getty Images.

There are a few bright spots in swimsuit competition history, such as when Sierra Anne Sandison wore her insulin pump during the 2014 Miss Idaho pageant (a Miss America qualifier), raising awareness about diabetes and sparking a viral hashtag #ShowMeYourPump. She shared a heartfelt note on Facebook at the time:

"Honestly, it is terrifying walking out on stage in a swimsuit, let alone attached to a medical device. My message to everyone, diabetic or not, is that we all have something that doesn't 'measure up' to the beauty standards set by the media — and that is okay! ... Diabetes turned my life upside down when I was first diagnosed. Don't let your challenge hold you back or slow you down. Use it to, not only empower yourself and grow as an individual, but to serve and influence other people as well."

Responding to the new decision about the future of the swimsuit competition, Sandison simply tweeted, "OMG GUYS."

Naturally, this decision has a number of high profile detractors mourning the "death of an institution." 🙄

"The death of an institution, ladies and gentlemen," wrote Daily Mail political editor David Martosko. Sports commentator Clay Travis, a man who once went on CNN and said the two things he believes in are "the First Amendment and boobs," said this decision "effectively ends this show as a TV event." The Daily Caller's David Hookstead tweeted, "Miss America has canceled the swimsuit portion of the contest, and won't judge on physical appearance anymore. It's a sad day for the USA."

It should go without saying, but if you think that a competition deciding to shift emphasis away from judging a bunch of women like pieces of meat in favor of focusing more on their thoughts and ambitions, that's kind of messed up.

Only time will tell if the contest is able to truly shift away from judging women based on their appearances.

But this is an important step in the right direction toward a more inclusive, accepting world.

As Cara Mund, the 2018 Miss America, tweeted: "We're changing out of swimsuits and into a whole new era."

#ByeByeBikini

This is 21-year-old reigning Miss Iceland Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir.

"We maybe don't understand each other," she once said of ending injustices, "but there is one language we all understand and should speak to stop the violence in this world — that's the language of understanding, kindness, and love."

Jónsdóttir was in the running for Miss Grand International, a world-famous beauty contest being held in Las Vegas.

But she just dropped out of the competition.


According to Jónsdóttir, she was body-shamed by the contest's owner.

And she's having none of it. Nawat Itsaragrisil, who owns the Miss Grand International contest, allegedly told Jónsdóttir that she was too fat to win, encouraging her to skip breakfast each day leading up to the competition, and to only eat salads and drink water to get by.

Jónsdóttir recently opened up about the incident in a Facebook post.

“I intend to stand up for myself, women everywhere, and the Icelandic people," she wrote. "I will not let them tell me I am too fat to look good on stage. I have quit. I will not be taking part in Miss Grand In­ternati­onal.”

“I am coming home a winner and the proudest Icelander in the world," her post concludes.

Jónsdóttir has gotten a lot of applause from people agreeing with her decision to quit.

“It’s a big disgrace how they [treated] you, not only for you, but to a lot of other younger girls," wrote one fan, The Daily Beast reported. "Wrong signal. You’re beautiful and please never change! We love you just like you are."

Not everyone was impressed by Jónsdóttir, though.

"Wait," wrote one Redditor. "She competes in international beauty contests, but this is where she draws the line against normative beauty standards?"

"So you're okay with being in a contest where you're solely judged on your looks," wrote another, "but only so long as they say nice things about you?"

Comments like that, however, forget that each of us have the authority to draw our own line when it comes to our personal comfort level, especially when it comes to the absurdity of beauty standards — after all, to some degree, we're all guilty of conforming to flawed cultural expectations around physical appearance.

One Redditor wrote in response to the critics:

"As much as you'd like to pretend that [everyday people] have no beauty standards, when you woke up today, you did some form of grooming, or hygiene. You showered or shaved or did something that conforms to a standard which was influenced by things you saw in the media and in the culture around you."

The debate over body-shaming and beauty contests has become a particularly hot topic in recent weeks, as Donald Trump's renewed attacks on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado became an election issue.

The GOP presidential nominee, who called Machado "Miss Piggy" about two decades ago, put immense pressure on her to diet and exercise after she gained weight following her 1996 pageant victory. He even had news reporters show up with cameras to document her fitness regimen.

The psychological burden on Machado — who was a teenager at the time — allegedly contributed to her years-long battle with anorexia and bulimia.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve gone to a lot of psychologists to combat this," Machado said of the traumatic experience.

In Jónsdóttir's case, she has no qualms with saying goodbye to a pageant that won't accept her the way she is.

"If the owner of the contest really wants me to lose weight and doesn’t like me the way I am, then he doesn’t deserve to have me," Jónsdóttir said of the body-shaming, noting that she's proud of her broad shoulders because they reflect her time as an athlete.

As far as her plans to enjoy Las Vegas, now that she's in town anyway?

Eat good food," she said.