Winning Miss America is a dream come true for many beauty pageant contestants who train for years to earn the coveted title. But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as current Miss America 2018 recently explained.
Just as her dreams were coming true, she was hit with the harsh reality that the life of Miss America was not as glamorous as it seemed. She decided to come out with a detailed letter of how the Miss America Organization not only silenced her but also bullied her during her reign as Miss America. After she did, all hell broke loose within the organization.
Who is Cara Mund?
Born in Bismark, North Dakota, Cara Mund began pageantry as child, earning the titles of Little Miss north Dakota, Miss Pre-Teen North Dakota, and Miss Junior Teen North Dakota. She went on to represent North Dakota in the Miss America 2018 competition held in Atlantic City and she won the coveted title along with a $50,000 scholarship.
Making Her Miss America Dream a Reality
Since Mund was a child, her dream was to be Miss North Dakota. Becoming Miss America hadn’t crossed her mind, yet. However, once she won, she thought, “I’m going to make history.” Since she competed for four years before winning Miss North Dakota and even wrote her senior thesis on Miss America, Mund stepped into the new role knowing what the job would entail. But she was very wrong…
The Job Wasn’t Working Out
Mund had an expectation that she was going to be treated like an employee at any other company and she wanted to do the best job possible. In January 2018, Mund started voicing concerns just as the Miss America Organization was going through a leadership change. As the company was adapting, Mund wanted to make sure that her perspective was heard.
Journaling Her Experience
She told Cosmopolitan, “I journal everything, and I have detailed notes about how I was treated. [In the last few months] I started looking back at some of those notes, and things that I was saying–things like, “I’ve never felt more alone. … I had raised my issues with Miss America Organization staffers and with the board. But there’s not a grievances process set up for Miss America; I felt like I had exhausted all my options. I didn’t think I mattered anymore–I didn’t feel like Miss America.”
She Felt “Alone”
Mund explained that at the time, no one knew what she was going through. She claims she wasn’t allowed to talk outside “the family,” as told to her by Miss America’s CEO. Mund recalled constantly feeling like she was doing something wrong and so she’d continue to bend over backward to make sure she wasn’t. “Because I wanted to do a great job! I mean, you only get to be Miss America once. But the treatment got worse and worse,” Mund said.
Her Breaking Point
It really hit her about nine months into the job when she realized she was doing everything she could, yet nothing was changing. “If I was in a different job, and I was being treated this way, I would have probably quit,” Mund said. She decided to speak out in the form of a letter, sighting her unhappiness and instability within the Miss America Organization. “In the end, Mund sent her pageant sisters a letter to let them know what was happening.
A Targeted Letter
That letter wound up causing the loss of $75,000 in scholarships, according to Miss America’s CEO. Mund’s letter singled out the organization’s chief executive, Regina Hopper. It also took issue with Gretchen Carlson, the chair of the organization’s board of directors, who Mund said had supplanted her as the organization’s ambassador.
Carlson is most famous for her role as Miss America 1989 and her tenure at and departure from Fox News. She has appeared in the news on behalf of the Miss America Organization since she took the position as its chair in January 2018. Mund said they told her that she’s not important enough to do big interviews and that the major press is reserved for Gretchen. Mund’s letter, whether intentional or not, mirrored scenes from the film “Mean Girls.”
“Mean Girls” Comparison
Examples being that Mund was instructed not to wear pink because “Regina hates pink” and being told that she could burn certain outfits. The letter outlined that Mund admitted it had been a “tough year” and in an interview she expressed fear of “being punished” for speaking her mind. After Mund went public with her concerns, former Miss Americas said they could relate to Mund’s struggles, but that those struggles come with the title.
Former Winners Speak Out
“It’s a very difficult year, but about six months in, you start to understand your job is not only about how your work reflects upon yourself but [how] what you do reflects on the organization,” Miss America 1999 Heather French Henry told The Press of Atlantic City. As Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan pointed out, “It’s a job. … I hate that [Mund] feels that this year has been hard,” Hagan said. “When you’re an employee of a brand, you’re expected to fulfill their expectations, as well as your own.”
Responding to Mund’s Letter
In response, the Miss America Organization responded to Mund’s letter by saying that it supported her and that “it is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately,” according to The New York Times. “Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns,” the statement says.
Problems for the Franchise
This is just the latest drama for the Miss America franchise, which attempted to rebrand itself among all of the scandals. The Miss America Organization’s leadership was under fire in the winter of 2018 after The Huffington Post published emails sent by Miss America’s chief executive, Sam Haskell, that denigrated past beauty pageant contestants.
Internal Correspondence Exposed
The Huffington Post wrote: “Internal correspondence reveals name-calling, slut-shaming, and fat-shaming in emails between the Miss America CEO, board members, and a pageant writer.” In August 2014, they explained that Sam Haskell sent an email to the lead writer of the Miss America pageant telecast, Lewis Friedman, informing him of a change he wanted to make in the script.
Shaming the Women
Haskell said: “I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call them Forever Miss Americas … please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!” Friedman replied, “I’d already changed ‘Forevers’ to ‘Cunts.’ Does that work for you?” Haskell’s short reply came quickly: “Perfect … bahahaha.”
Mind-blowing Internal Emails
By then, Haskell had already been the leader of Miss America for nine years when he decided to fat-shame and slut-shame the former Miss Americas, calling them shocking names and in one case laughing at the suggestion that one of the women should die. The Huffington Post says they reviewed nearly three years of internal emails provided by two sources to get this information.
On the other hand, Haskell is credited with helping the Miss America Organization get back on its feet, bringing the show back to its original home of Atlantic City from Las Vegas. But despite his success at the company, the internal emails tell a different story and Haskell wound up being suspended for his part in them.
As far as Mund, after realizing she was being bullied in the workplace, she has considered taking legal action. Although since her reign as Miss America 2018 is nearing its end, she would prefer not to and to use her platform for good instead. “It’s not about getting revenge, but making sure that [the next Miss America] doesn’t have the experience I had, and that [for her] it’s close to the reality of what a dream job it is for the little girl wanting to be Miss America.”
A Tough Job
“And yes, it is a tough job! Any Miss America will say that,” Mund told Cosmopolitan. “You’re on the road all year long here, you’re going from appearance to appearance. But it’s also one of the most amazing jobs if handled in the proper manner.” She believes that for the next Miss America to have a different experience, that an “overall restructuring” of the company is important.
Business is Business
“It’s a business, and it needs to operate like a business if it’s going to survive,” Mund said. She also seems to really want it to survive. “I want to see it live for another 100 years — because of the scholarship opportunities it gives women, the confidence, the poise. I want to be one of those older Miss Americas who walks out on the stage during the competition [each year]. That’s one of the best parts of the show!”
Miss America Pageant 2019
But that may not happen anymore for Mund. The Miss America Organization has since refuted Mund’s claims and punished her by not allowing her to attend the 2019 Miss America pageant. “I got to Miss America, and some of the other girls were talking about things like apartments and cars [which they had been gifted] for their year [as the state titleholder]. I was like, ‘I got six free haircuts,’” Mund added. Despite this, she hopes that her speaking out will encourage other former beauty pageant winners to do the same and result in a brighter future for the next Miss America.