Scholars and Tiaras

Miss South Carolina contestants from the Upstate help redefine pageantry


“Beauty is the last thing on our minds.”

-Sophie Keyes, Miss Greater Easley

To the contestants’ relief, the 2016 Miss South Carolina pageant didn’t feature the hysteria of a Steve Harvey blunder. However, the pageant did break some new and promising ground.

This year’s contestants showed that the term “ beauty pageant” can be deceiving. Although many skeptics think pageants are simply competitions for attractiveness, Miss Greater Easley Sophie Keyes explained that the contestants think otherwise.

“Beauty is the last thing on our minds,” she said.

Keyes, whose father is a teacher at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, has a more important cause: the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is very close to her heart. Keyes’ best friend uses a wheelchair. As an avid concertgoer, Keyes found that many venues have poor accommodations for wheelchair users. Often, she would be separated from her friend, because most of the seats for people with disabilities were separate. “ Most accessible seating is also at the very top of arenas, or in the very back,” she explained.

She strives to make public events equally enjoyable to all people, no matter their situation. Her cause does not receive a lot of attention, she feels — but through pageantry, she has raised awareness locally and statewide. She has traveled to different entertainment venues, including the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, to meet with representatives and see if the regulations for accessible seating are being met. Keyes also traveled to Texas last year and worked with consulting company Accessology to become certified in the architectural aspects of the ADA.


The first runner-up in this year’s Miss South Carolina pageant, Miss Coastal Islands Suzi Roberts, has a personal motto that echoes Keyes’ sentiments. She has been using the hashtag “ A Force, Not a Face” throughout the pageant season to show how pageantry isn’t just about a pretty face anymore.

“I hold Miss South Carolina and Miss America accountable to start a movement, not just to wear a crown for notoriety,” Roberts said.

A former Atlanta Falcons cheerleader, Roberts used her lifelong love of dance and artistic expression to form her own startup. She is the founder of The StART Initiative, which helps expose children to music, dance, theater and visual arts. This mission carried over into her platform in this year’s pageant, which focused on children’s issues including foster care, adoption and child abuse prevention.

The recently crowned Miss USA has led the way in redefining pageantry. An African-American Army commander, Deshauna Barber represents the diversification and progress that pageants have made since their inception.

Although pageants have come a long way, Roberts agrees that our state’s pageant still has a long way to go, especially when it comes to diversity. “ I think that is one area where our state specifically could improve,” Roberts said.

Miss Blue Ridge Foothills Teen Trina Pham has made it her mission to improve this aspect of pageantry. The Greenville Technical Charter High School student, who has Vietnamese heritage, was the only full Asian contestant at this year’s competition. Her platform focused on diversity and challenged the Eurocentric standards of beauty that might discourage women of different racial backgrounds from competing in pageants.

“My parents were hesitant to let me compete in pageants because of the frightening costs and the stereotype of only beautiful blondes winning,” she said.

Pham proved that stereotype wrong when she won the Teen Academic Award, her very first scholarship.

Although none of these contestants left Columbia with the title, they did come away with a strong belief in the relevance of pageants.“ I think pageants are important to society, because women are advocating for social issues that need to be addressed,” Keyes said.




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