A heartfelt letter to the Miss Universe Organization and Toneata Morgan
by She Flies With Her Own Wings
I have been fortunate enough to compete in the Miss Oregon USA pageant the last three years. In fact, I have competed in pageantry for the past decade. I have met incredible women from all over the beautiful State of Oregon; women who are intelligent, compassionate, involved in their communities, charismatic, beautiful, and women who work hard to break pageant stereotypes and give pageantry a good name. I spent seven years competing in the Miss America Organization (MAO) before switching over and competing the last three years in the Miss Universe Organization (MUO). Maybe I was naive from my years in MAO. Maybe I was naive because Oregon isn’t a ‘pageant state’. Either way, I believed that the Miss Oregon USA pageant and the Miss Universe Organization was a just and honest pageant system who truly believed in empowering women to be confidently beautiful. I believed that every girl who had the courage to step foot on that stage had an equal opportunity of walking away with the crown. Each year at check-in for the Miss Oregon USA pageant, contestants would sit in the audience and listen to David Van Maren (Pageants NW – NW Productions co-director) share the couple’s story; a story of coming from nothing to the land of opportunity. David speaks of truth and honesty. Maureen Francisco (Pageants NW – NW Productions co-director) assures us that Pageants NW has no influence over the judges. And yet here we are, so many of us, feeling confused, disappointed, and angry because an opportunity was robbed from us by someone who is dishonest and untrustworthy.
I am not sour or bitter because I didn’t win. I am frustrated because I, and every other contestant, spent thousands of dollars and invested so much time and energy to compete in a dishonest and unjust pageant. This isn’t about what is and isn’t fair, this is about what is right and wrong. As an organization that is supposed to provide opportunities for young women and help empower them, I have learned that MUO isn’t just a business, but it is a pyramid scheme. It is a scam. They are not invested in the young women who compete, they are invested in making as much money possible from these young women.
The Miss USA system requires contestants to reside in a state for a minimum of six months in order to be eligible to compete in the state pageant. The Miss Oregon USA State Contract specifies that: “I NOW reside and HAVE resided in my State as my ‘permanent and primary residence’ (as defined below) for a period of at least six consecutive months immediately prior to the commencement of the State Pageant… ‘Permanent and primary residence’ means my true, fixed and permanent domicile which I intend to make my permanent home… I understand and agree that you have the right to reject information or documentation you feel has not been gathered or provided in good faith.”
This is not the first time that residency has come into question within the Miss Universe Organization. As an organization that should hope to be reputable and of integrity, why has this not been addressed yet? Either get rid of residency requirements altogether, or hold true to the contract that state contestants physically reside in said-state for a minimum of six consecutive months prior to the competition.
Toneata, I only briefly got to know you over pageant weekend; you seem like a sweet girl. I know you have a dream of competing on the Miss USA stage. So did I, and just about every other girl competing this last weekend. Again, I am not sour or bitter that I didn’t win, I am however frustrated that you felt it was ok to compete in a state that you don’t live in. I am aware that you turned in two pieces of residency documentation, and that those documents were accepted by MUO. But how could you turn in documents in good faith when you haven’t actually physically lived in Oregon for six months?
Your online footprint clearly states and shows that you live in the Greater LA area and are currently a senior at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). According to new.thepinetree.net in an article published less than a year ago, you grew up on Lake Tulloch, attending Copperopolis Elementary and Middle Schools in Angels Camp before moving to the Malibu area. You also told thepinetree.net that “California is my home. It has the best climate, beautiful scenery, and offers unlimited opportunity for those who follow their dreams. Where else can you go snowboarding and surfing in the same day? I would be honored to represent our state as Miss California USA 2017″. You told one media source that you were “born and raised in Coquille”, but also told KATU2 news that you have lived in Oregon for just over a year. How can Oregon be your true, fixed, and permanent domicile when you grew up in California and are currently living, working and attending school in Southern California?
Maybe there is a flaw in the contract and within the system, but you took advantage of that loophole for personal gain. Where is your integrity and honesty in that? You graduate from LMU this May, if you wanted to compete in an easier state, why not actually move to Oregon then? Spend six months living here, getting to know our beautiful state and familiarizing yourself with the community you claim to be a part of. Understand the true meaning of being an Oregonian so that you can actually represent us on the Miss USA stage. No one would have a problem with you winning under those circumstances.
You are young, and I know the thought of winning and wearing that ‘sparkly hat’ is really appealing. You probably weren’t thinking of us other contestants or whether or not you were morally and ethically abiding by the contract. Getting to that Miss USA stage in a quicker and easier way had your focus. So, I want you to know that because you had this ‘me, now’ mentality, you robbed the opportunity of representing Oregon on the USA stage from many true Oregonians. Only one girl gets to win Miss USA, the other contestants return to their home to finish serving their states.
My hope is that you will learn from this mistake, do some self-reflecting and grow. Use your social media to truly inspire young women and show off the State of Oregon rather than promoting your own agenda and showing off your body. Spend some real time in our state; learn what it means to be an Oregonian. Because that’s what Oregon deserves – more than it deserves a Miss USA.
Oh and Kristen Bradford, don’t think I forgot about you. As a coach, you should be motivating your girls/clients to not only work hard and chase after their dreams, but to do so with some integrity and honesty. Toneata isn’t the first girl you’ve helped cheat the system. The lessons you teach them shouldn’t only apply to pageantry, but they should be skills that they are able to take with them throughout life. Instead of showing the girls the easy way, why don’t you show them that hard work, dedication, and perseverance are they keys to getting anywhere in life. Just because an organization allows this loophole doesn’t make it right or ok – stop encouraging young girls to risk their character for a short-term goal.
My hope is that the Miss Universe Organization will either change their contract or start enforcing their rules. Until it becomes an organization of character and integrity, I will no longer be supporting the Miss Universe Organization or the State pageants within it. And remember girls, just because there is a loophole and a way to cheat the system, that doesn’t mean you need to compromise your character to achieve your dreams.
Sincerely, A disappointed contestant who believes in doing what is right, Stephanie Matheson