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Inauguration Of First Indian-American Miss America Sparks Discussion Of Smell Test



Does our new Miss America pass the “smell test”?  That is the question being asked by the National Organization of Former Miss Americas (“NOFA”), a traditionalist group of former beauty pageant winners after the crowning of the first Miss America of Indian descent.  They argue that future pageants should include a scent test but critics say that NOFA harbors unsavory racial motives.


In 1921 Margaret Gorman won the very first Miss America competition wearing only her bathing suit.  She was deemed the winner based on the loudness of the gathered crowd at the boardwalk of Atlantic City and points given by local artists.  After Margaret’s win the president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, told the New York Times, “She represents the type of womanhood America needs — strong, red blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood.”

When Miss New York Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American to hold the title, most pageant fans rejoiced.  Pageant Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell said, “Ms. Davuluri represents everything we celebrate about our diverse country and shows that any woman of any color can be the essence of America.”

Ms. Davuluri gushed, “I was the first Indian Miss New York, and I’m so proud to be the first Indian Miss America.”  The 24-year-old Fayetteville, New York, native was on the dean’s list and earned the Michigan Merit Award and National Honor Society nods while studying at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science.  The beauty queen added that she wants to prove that “Indian women can have beauty as well as brains.”

There is nothing un-American about being stinky.”

Samantha Weiler, President of NOFA, was not so celebratory after the pageant.  She made a number of comments at the post-pageant reception (while according to some appearing to be under the influence of alcohol).  “We have had [African-American] Miss Americas, so having a non-white winner means nothing,” she said.  Ms. Weiler also resurrected NOFA’s proposal to include a scent competition in the pageant: “The truth is that some recent winners – and I’m not naming names – might smell worse than my husband’s used gym socks.”  She added, “Is that what we want our young women aspiring to?”

In 2003, NOFA formally proposed a scent competition – derisively called by some as “the smell test.”  The scent competition would involve the judges smelling the contestants near the end of the pageant without perfume or scented shampoo.  The purpose, according to NOFA, would be to see which contestants maintained their poise and smelled most feminine.

Many in the minority community cried foul in 2003.  Gandhi Gandhi Gupta, President of the National Federation of Indian American Associations (or “NFIAA”), told reporters at the time that he felt that NOFA “was trying to weed out certain minorities that smell different at the end of the day.”  He added, “There is nothing un-American about being stinky.”  Indeed, in many parts of the world pungent body smells are considered to be sexy.

Since 2003, NOFA has proposed various permutations of the scent competition, and Pageant officials have rejected all of them.  Each draft scent competition has involved judges smelling the contestants in various body parts, including their arm pits.  In 2011, the scent competition narrowly lost a 6-5 vote by the Pageant Commission.

The scientific community is nearly unanimous that some ethnicities, particularly Indian-Americans, emit more robust odors when under stress.  “Some of their smell is due to diet and some is due to how their bodies synthesize proteins more efficiently,” said Arthur C. Miller, Chief Endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  “For reasons we do not quite understand yet, people from the subcontinent of India really seem to smell badly.”

It is unclear whether Ms. Davuluri’s victory will take away or add to NOFA’s influence in the Miss America community.  For now, at least, the smell of Miss America Pageant victory may be filled with garlic and onions.