Roughly thirty years after forcing Vanessa Williams to renounce her title as Miss America, the Miss America Organization publicly issued an apology to her during this year’s competition.
In 1983, Vanessa Williams became the first African American woman to become Miss America. Her title was short-lived as she was coerced into resigning 10 months later when nude pictures of her surfaced in Penthouse Magazine. Now remember this was way before the whole social media era. It wasn’t as easy then for private photos to leak. How did anyone get their hands on them, you ask? Well, a couple summers prior to making history, Vanessa worked as a receptionist for a modeling agency. She was given the impression that the pictures to be taken would be shot in silhouette so she’d be unrecognizable. However, according to an article by TIME, Penthouse was willing to pay an arm and a leg simply because of the fact that Mrs. Williams was identifiable. The magazine’s publisher then made the executive decision to release the photos as they were deemed both interesting and newsworthy.
To her knowledge, Vanessa didn’t consent to the pictures being published and planned on filing a lawsuit against the magazine and the publisher. After discovering she’d signed a model release form at the time the photos had been taken, she dropped the lawsuits. Now you see, I’m one of those individuals who constantly struggles between being the better person and being petty. You’re telling me that the photographer lied to get naked photos of me, the magazine published them without my knowledge, my title as Miss America was taken away, I suffer from a bruised ego and I do nothing about it? Forgive me for not being too knowledgeable when it comes to the law, but I would have used one of those reasons to sue those people and cashed that money right away. I dare somebody to tell me I didn’t suffer from emotional distress!! Vanessa had a completely different reaction, which is a testament to her sophisticated and classy nature. Despite the fact that her victory as an African American woman was trumped by her title as a scandalous Miss America, she chose to cope with this internally. She refused to allow the negative exposure to define her and instead used her career and accomplishments to make a name for herself. Since then, the Grammy, Emmy and Tony nominated Vanessa Williams has lived a very successful life as an actress, singer, dancer and mother.
Moral of the story: Better late than never. Although the apology was long overdue, a sincere apology is better than none at all. It was big of the new Miss America Organization to apologize although they weren’t necessarily the ones to do the damage. After the public humiliation, it was only right that the apology was issued in front of the world to see. It definitely warmed my heart knowing that this may have officially provided the closure needed to end that chapter of her life.