America’s favorite annual contest of beauty and grace typically receives a lot of criticism from audiences. Berated for its objectification of women and its vapidity, the Miss America pageant has always had its share of opposition. The contestants are allegedly vain, and the recent emergence of child pageantry television tells us that they’ve been designed to behave that way since adolescence. But Allyn Rose, a contestant from Washington D.C., is about make these naysayers eat their words with the decision that she will be making following Saturday’s proceedings.
Rose is a Miss America contestant, but is prepared to part with the looks that are likely responsible for her selection as a finalist. The daughter of a breast cancer victim, Rose is unwilling to suffer the condition that claimed the life of her mother and because of this intends to undergo a double mastectomy after the contest.
In a touching recollection of her mother, Rose said that her mother “would have given up every part of her body to be [at the pageant]”. Rose refuses to allow pressures and conventions of beauty dictate how her body should look. What’s even more shocking is that regardless of whether she wins or loses, she is certain she will go through with the procedure.
A sobering discussion with her father is what led Allyn to consider having the tissue removed. Her father suggested the idea of a double mastectomy, and essentially told her that she would suffer like her mother did if she chose not to have the procedure done. Allyn was only a freshman in college when she first considered the procedure, which was still something that seemed distantly in her future; it probably didn’t help that she was working successfully as a model and pageant contestant while she needed to consider this serious procedure. But now, 24-year-old Allyn is only three years away from the age at which her mother received her initial diagnosis: 27.
But there are plenty of things that are making Allyn’s decision to undergo surgery an easy one. Firstly, the possibility of reconstructive surgery could potentially return her to her original bust. Additionally, other women have undergone the procedure and claim that it provides enormous peace of mind; that the implications of the mastectomy far outweigh the physical and mental anguish that could result from developing breast cancer. Not to mention, supporters from all over the country are providing Allyn with a steady stream of letters and encouragement to help make her decision an easier one. Allyn even has support from the medical community; Dallas-area medical expert Dr. Charles Wallace thinks that Allyn is “courageous to speak about this subject. Her personal experience will raise awareness and she should be commended for her bravery [in sharing]…a personal and private health decision”. A cosmetic surgeon, himself, Wallace went on to describe some of the history associated with the procedure:
"In the 70’s and 80’s preventative mastectomy was a more common practice and today is an underutilized procedure for those that have a strong family history of breast cancer. It offers peace of mind for the patient, because although it isn’t a 100% solution, for a good majority, it is a 99% solution relieving the worry of if and when the cancer will strike. Reconstruction is easier and opens up your options when considered prior to mastectomy giving the patient more control in an situation that normally strips them of it.”
Still, Allyn is not alone in her decision toward a double mastectomy. The number of women deciding to undergo the surgery is currently ten times the number of women who had the surgery in 1998. This is primarily a result of advancements in technology: genetic testing is far more sophisticated than it was over a decade ago, and women can catch any genetic indicators of breast cancer early in life. Allyn even had a genetic analysis that revealed she doesn’t the actual breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) but she does demonstrate a rare genetic mutation that might make her predisposed to developing the cancer later on, a future that Allyn refuses to make a reality.
Similar advancements in the field of reconstructive surgery also have contributed to the rise in number of double mastectomies since the late 1990s. New approaches allow physicians to use artificial implantation devices or organic tissue from the patient’s back and abdomen to return the breast to its original form; Dr. Wallace sasys that "new Sientra implants offer...exceptional flexibility for one-stage reconstruction of these types of problems in most patients."
Allyn will use her position as a pageant contestant to empower women – cancer victims and non-victims alike – about their self-image. She is confident that her decision will be a potent demonstration of confidence for women everywhere, and will also be using her position to educate women about healthcare, and taking medical decisions into their own hands. However, her decision may also have some positive effects on the Miss America institution, itself. Just maybe, Allyn’s actions can rescue the pageant from stigmas of vanity, and enrich its reputation to be one of an event that celebrates not only superficial beauty, but also the inherent strength and courage of the feminine population.