Ms Fitness USA In 1989

A classic American beauty contest with an alleged emphasis on fitness and health.

Beauty contests are the sort of entertainment that we’ve long outgrown, apparently – dated affairs where we objectified women rather than celebrating their diversity of size and shape. ‘These are not real women’ cry the critics who presumably believe that the contestants have been grown in a lab. Even in the 1980s, such contests were seen as rather old-fashioned, and an effort was being made to modernise – not by making the contestants and less traditionally attractive, but by emphasising (albeit it on a somewhat token level) their ‘fitness’.

Now, we’re not talking about bodybuilders here – that world has its own rather unique sense of attractiveness. No, the contestants in Ms. Fitness USA (and look at that feminist-pleasing ‘Ms’) are all aerobics teachers, fitness instructors and the like. They all seem to hail from the same areas – possibly within easy travelling distance of the event, which I doubt had the national pull of Miss USA or such.

We’re told that the difference here is that as well as the usual swimsuit, evening gown and interview segments, there is a ‘fitness’ section – sadly though, this is not a physical examination by a doctor. Host Joe Fowler assures us that the girls are beautiful not just on the outside, but also on the inside, which seems very nice – you want your beauty queens to be the sort of people who help old ladies across the road, look after abandoned kittens and raise money for worthy causes. But it seems that Joe is actually just talking about the state of their internal organs. “You’ll see just how healthy they are” he assures us, though there are no blood tests involved, so we just have to guess. For all we know, some of the contestants might have been riddled with disease.

In the version online, no sooner are we introduced to the contestants than more than half have been disposed of and the field has been narrowed down to ten entries: Nancy Georges, Diana Donald, Leslie Bianchi, Kelly Glynn, Tammy Ryan, Linda Bell, Rosalind Roemer, Julie Fulkerson, Asia Decoy and Sherry Goggin. God knows what the others failed at, given that we have the swimsuit, evening wear, interview and fitness rounds here – perhaps they were immediately singled out as too rough by the judges, a ragbag of gym owners, clothing manufacturers and ‘hairdressers to the stars’ (which stars not made clear).

Anyway – the ‘fitness’ routines once again show the fine line that separates aerobics from pole dancing (namely the presence or otherwise of a pole), the ‘swimsuits’ range from modest wear to essentially lingerie, there’s a lot of big, big hair on display and the interviews are the expected car crash collisions of awkward questions, stilted answers and weird charity connections (“we go to schools and tell kids to avoid drugs and get into athletics”). As ever, the final results are awash with fixed smiles and ‘I didn’t want to win anyway’ congratulations.

You are unlikely to see this sort of thing on your sports channel (or any channel) now, so enjoy it as a throwback to a more innocent, less intersectional time.

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