The Miss America pageant crowned its first Indian-American winner Sunday night, and “Twitter blew up,” says Mandy McMichael, assistant professor of religion at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala.
McMichael is a doctoral candidate at Duke University, where she has focused on beauty pageants, religion and culture.

McMichael talks about “firsts” in the Miss America pageant in a new Skype interview with

After Indian-American Nina Davaluri, Miss New York, was crowned Sunday evening in Atlantic City, N.J., “Twitter blew up with a lot of responses and claims that she’s not American enough,” says McMichael.

However, “This is something that is not a first,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of responses like this in the past. It goes all the way back to 1945.”

McMichael says after Bess Myerson, the first and only Jewish Miss America, won, “there was a lot of controversy about her win.” Some people refused to let her speak while others pressured her to change her name.

McMichael also cites events from 1968, which included two protests: one by feminists over unfair expectations they saw promoted by the pageant, and another by civil rights activists who thought the pageant was ignoring “black beauty.”

Then, in 1984, after Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America, more controversy ensued as some claimed she was too light-skinned to represent the black community, and others said she was too dark-skinned to represent most of America.

Now, in 2014, three of the top five pageant contestants were Asian-American.

“We’re seeing pageants becoming more accepting of different forms of beauty,” says McMichael. “This is disturbing sometimes to people who are used to a particular standard and are used to a particular person representing them.”

But while Davaluri’s win brought negative responses from some quarters, it drew forth support from others.

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