Miss Michigan, Rima Fakih, is the first Arab Muslim to be named Miss USA. Asked how she felt, the 24-year-old Lebanese American said, "Ask me after I’ve eaten a pizza."
Out in right field, Daniel Pipes wonders if there’s affirmative action in Western beauty contests, citing obscure Muslim wins such as America’s Junior Miss in 2007 and Miss Nottingham (!!) in 2005.
The real question is whether one should be proud of a Muslim winning a beauty contest that seems to run counter to Muslim values of modesty. Ecuadorian Muslim Janan Delgad wonders if she should be rejoicing or repulsed by the win, in a blogpost titled, "It’s Complicated."
Rima Fakih’s victory is complicated for a number of reasons. First, American media’s disproportionate focus on “Arab” terrorism is so overwhelming, that a connection between “Arab” and practically anything that does not involve violence is a welcome relief. Except, of course, that Rima’s “ideal” body measurements, as those of every other woman in that pageant, reproduce normative notions of the ideal female body that are violently imposed on every woman out there who is not a size -2 (and for those who are, they are a reminder that they need to continue starving themselves or else). But since this is a different kind of violence, I guess many of us can choose to ignore it.
Second, Arabs and Muslims are so routinely discriminated against, and racially profiled (notoriously at airports), that seeing that one of us gets to make it in spite of being Muslim and Arab is another welcome relief. Now, the fact that the accomplishment had nothing to do with her intelligence, character or personal skills, but rather with her…huh… yeah, the entire combo, and that it entailed no other skill than to know how to undress herself with class, all this can be ignored because, hey, how often does an Arab Muslim get to represent America anyway? So what she gets to represent America for (the commercialization of women’s bodies) can be ignored as well.
Third, Arabs and Muslims are always being accused of not integrating properly into mainstream Western culture. We hold lectures, forums and conferences where we speak of fostering viable, confident and constructive identities where our Islam and Americanness/Frenchness/Germanness/etc are not mutually exclusive components. The process involves hiccups, but we try. And along comes Rima Fakih, and she gets to be subjected to the same exploitative enterprises some white Christian women get subjected to, and its is oh-so-tempting to say, see?? We are integrated! We can be Muslim and get to do the things other Americans do! We also get to have our bodies paraded like horses on expensive Vegas casinos! Hurray! Except, of course, that when this happens, women like Rima who agree to appear in tiny bikinis are cast as the progressive ones (CNN actually used this word). On the meantime, those of us who cover up head to toe are contrasted to these beacons of progress, in hopes that one day we see the light as well, and shed off our scarves, and while at it, perhaps all the rest as well (this is not an exaggeration, “why see the naked body in a negative light?”).
Of course, Fakih doesn’t represent anyone, only herself. Especially now that The New York Daily News has uncovered photos of her pole dancing in 2008. Will she be stripped of her new crown?