Vanessa Williams and Melania Trump. Why The Comparison?
It’s not a comparison between Vanessa Williams and Melania Trump as persons but rather, that they did the same things but were treated differently.
In 1983, Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America 1984. She was the first Black woman to receive the title. In July 1984, directors of the Miss America pageant asked Vanessa to relinquish her title and crown. Vanessa resigned. Here is why.
A free-lance photographer named Tom Chiapel remembered taking nude photos of Vanessa in 1982. He pitched them to Playboy, who refused his offer. Eventually, he sold the photos to Penthouse magazine. Vanity Fair reports that Penthouse paid more for Vanessa’s photos than they had ever previously paid for a spread.
The Washington Post archived a 1984 article about the story, stating
“For 10 months Vanessa Williams has served the pageant and the title of Miss America well,” said the statement released by pageant directors, “but we must make it clear that we cannot and do not condone her actions either in posing for the photographs or in failing to reveal the facts at the appropriate time in the selection process that led to her being awarded the crown.”
“The pageant celebrates the whole woman and its spirit is intrinsically inconsistent with calculated sexual exploitation,” the pageant’s statement said.”
Vanessa called the experience her “rock bottom.” She was 21-years old when she resigned her Miss America crown and title.
The Miss America pageant prides itself on projecting a positive image of women with good moral character. Beginning in the 1980s, contestants were required to have a social platform, such as drunk-driving prevention or AIDS awareness. They also compete in categories such as talent.
Williams eventually rebounded and launched a successful career as an entertainer including music and acting.
I remembered Vanessa Williams on Monday when attending a Memorial service for a friend. It was the same day that Melania Trump rolled out her platform titled, “Be Best”. The subject came up as we awaited for the official Memorial ceremony to begin.
When I look at Melania Trump, I want to like her – sincerely like her. The 46-year old is First Lady because her husband was elected president. If not for that, I would not know her name. I don’t want to hold her accountable for the things that her husband says and does. No matter how much I admire her sense for fashion, I cannot forget that Melania has posed for nude photos for the entire world to see.
I thought of how the Miss America pageant’s directors described the purpose of nude photos — “calculated sexual exploitation,” and if those same people today would apply that to America’s current First Lady.
When did America change its standards? Or is this another example of America’s double-standards?
Apparently not being able to answer, the person who was praising Melania changed the subject to the dinner ware used at the State Dinner, saying that it must have taken Melania three months to organize that event.
I said nothing — just sat there thinking that maybe the Miss America pageant directors should pass a rule that if any contestant has voluntarily taken professional, nude photographs, that they must compete in a category of setting the table for a formal dinner.
Then I turned to another person and we talked about the reason we were there.
We still have work to do.