Miss USA’s ‘genuine’ answer in the 1997 Miss Universe pageant was funny, but so much more
Love them or hate them, beauty pageants have long been a fascination for people around the world. Every year, women compete in local pageants that funnel to state and national levels, then finally to the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions at the global level.
One of the most anticipated parts of a pageant, for both the lovers and the haters, is the interview portion. Instead of just watching them waltz across stage in a glitzy gown or a bathing suit, we actually get to hear from the beauty queens and judge how well they think on their feet.
The answers to the hosts’ questions can range from smart to generic to occasionally disastrous, but one contestant’s answer from more than two decades ago has gone viral because it was just oh-so-real.
Miss USA 1997, Brook Antoinette Mahealani Lee from Hawaii, was one of the finalists in the Miss Universe pageant when the host asked, “If you had no rules in your life for one day, and you could be outrageous, what would you do?”
Lee’s facial expression during the question was adorable, and her quick answer said it all.
“I would eat. Everything. In the world,” she said, emphasizing every single word.
“You do not understand,” she said with a huge grin. “I would eat everything, twice.”
The audience loved it, the host’s cackle sounded just as genuine as her answer, and Lee would go on to be crowned Miss Universe that evening.
However, her placing her hand on her stomach as she walked away in this video was a reminder that, even though it received a big laugh, her answer was rooted in the reality of the pressure these women feel to be thin. This was especially true in the 1990s, when “heroin chic” was coined to describe the desired look of models at the time. Women starving themselves to maintain a certain physique isn’t actually funny, then or now.
In fact, Lee herself shared in a Hey Adam G podcast interview that her answer was actually a “political statement” in response to the controversy of her predecessor, Alicia Machado, gaining weight during the year of her Miss Universe reign in 1996. Donald Trump, who had purchased the Miss Universe that same year, made Machado’s weight a public ordeal, allegedly calling her “Miss Piggy,” making comments about how much she liked to eat and blindsiding her with dozens of cameramen at a gym in New York City to film her exercising.
Lee had even been asked directly about weight gain as a winner during the Miss USA pageant, with the question, “Miss Universe has recently been the subject of a lot of press attention about her weight. If this happened to you, how would you handle it?”
Lee said she was shocked that they would ask that question. Machado was sitting there in the audience when Lee was asked it, making for “a very weird moment.” But her answer was exemplary:
“I think I would take a good hard look at myself, and I’d look from the inside out, and I would know I was the same girl that was crowned that day and it really didn’t matter what I look like on the outside, because I won for what I was in here. So if I go up, I go down, I get taller, I get shorter, my nose gets bigger, smaller, I’m still who I was when that crown was on my head, and I am a good representative no matter what.”
Lee said that by the time the Miss Universe question was asked, she was sick of all of the controversy over weight, so she wanted to be able to make a statement in some way if the opportunity presented itself. Her answer that she would eat-all-the-things if she had no rules for one day was her way of giving the middle finger
A relatable reaction to a ridiculous situation. Good on her for keeping it real.
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