Miss San Francisco Gets Competitive

Being Crowned Miss San Francisco

Adult beauty pageants are something that people seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Are they even relevant anymore? This year, it was announced that the first trans woman, Kylan Arianna Wenzel, was being allowed to compete in the Miss USA Pageant -- with the help of some legal action. But why are people still fighting to be judged on their looks alone? To help answer this question, I spoke to Vivian Wei, our very own Miss San Francisco. 

Wei didn't grow up wanting to be a pageant contender -- it was something she did almost by accident. When she was 19, Wei signed up for a pageant to provide moral support to a friend. 

Wei says that, at the time, pageants were something she wouldn't be caught dead doing: "I've always grown up as an academic...very serious about my studies, very serious about my career. So I thought, 'How is this going to benefit me?'" What she soon discovered was that pageants are not just about beauty; they are hard work and involve a real measure of time and dedication. "The four points on the crown are style, service, success, and scholarship. I didn't realize it at the time, but working toward a crown was pushing me to be better in all of these areas, so that was why I did it."

But what about the swimsuit competition? Isn't it degrading to be judged on what you look like in a swimsuit? "First, I would like to point out that it is a lifestyle and fitness competition. Yes, we happen to be in swimsuits, but it is not just about looking pretty. Look at the photos of the fitness winners from this year. They are ripped and have athlete's bodies. In a time when obesity is a pressing issue, why is it unacceptable to promote being active, eating right, and staying fit?"  

Wei did not win the title of Miss San Francisco the first time she competed. She placed as third runner up, but that didn't stop her from trying it again. "I had no idea how mature I would become in the span of a year," she says. "I used to be very shy and public speaking terrified me. Now, I'm comfortable with being on stage and having people give me constructive feedback. Doing this made me a stronger, more thick-skinned person."

Wei wants women who are in pageants to understand that this process has much more to do with who you are than simply what you look like. "I know if I want something, I am going to work hard for it. It's more for your own self-confidence and learning how to better yourself and discipline yourself. Not all pageant girls are nice, not all pageant girls get into it for the same reasons that I do. Success isn't worth it if it isn't hard."

With the Miss America pageant, anything won financially is in the form of a scholarship, so Wei's Masters Degree is partially paid for when she chooses to begin the next step in her education. She currently has a degree in Business Administration from Berkeley and works as a successful Marketing Coordinator for a PR Firm. I asked her how she felt about Miss Wenzel being allowed to participate in the pageant system as a trans woman: "I support it. It's hard enough being anyone and getting on a stage. Everyone on that stage has received criticism and I can only imagine how much harsher it is for a trans woman."

I asked Wei how she enjoyed her reign as Miss San Francisco. "I love getting to know this city and getting to know all of the communities that make up San Francisco." Her only disappointment was after the Giants won the World Series and she was not allowed to participate in the parade, because the organizers didn't think being Miss San Francisco mattered.

"I was in contact with the City of San Francisco before the Giants parade. The person who was in charge of the parade logistics did not know about the Miss America Organization and she questioned who I was and what I was about," she says. "I think I was not able to participate in the parade because it was very last minute and I don't think the organizer knew what Miss San Francisco stands for." (Wei took it in stride and is still a huge Giants fan.)

25037_3902039400762_153093632_n.jpg Miss San Francisco, Vivian Wei (photo by Michael Devin)

When I bring up "Toddlers and Tiaras," she shakes her head in contempt. "'Toddlers and Tiaras' is not at all representative of what Miss America is about," she says. "Every young woman should make the decision to compete in a pageant by herself, not to be forced by a parent. It's a television show but kids should be kids. Pageants are something to do when you are emotionally mature enough to handle all aspects of a competition."

Wei's reign as Miss San Francisco will end in a few weeks and after that, she says she's done with pageants. While she had nothing but wonderful experiences, she learned everything she needed to from it and now wants to concentrate on her career in PR and starting work on her Master's. In talking to Wei, it became clear to me why pageants have value and, like everything, it is up to the person participating, and what they will take from the experience.


Vanessa L. Pinto is a journalist based in San Francisco, best known for her blog on The Huffington Post. Her platform is multi-faceted, just like those I write about.  She holds a B.A. in Political Science, with a concentration in pre-law from Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo and is always game for an adventure...! Visit her at her blog.

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