Miss America May Not Be "Perfect" -- And That's Awesome

Four women competing in Sunday's beauty pageant may be considered "unconventional" -- and you better believe we're rooting for them!

You don't need to have a Barbie body, a pretty face, or even perfect teeth to watch the 2014 Miss America Pageant (Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC).

But to compete in it? Well, as you can see from this photo gallery of this year's 53 competitors, you don't earn a spot on stage at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall without way-above-average looks. That said, there are a few contestants this year who've dared to compete despite being what most beauty pageants would consider unconventional -- or, as the real world might refer to them, perfectly normal.

First off, there's Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, a blond knockout whose bikini-ready body has visible tattoos. Vail, whose platform is "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers," says covering her tats would be hypocritical. "Now, had my platform been something entirely different, maybe the tables would be turned. Maybe," she said in a blog post. "But I am who I am, tattoos and all." And who she is happens to be a National Guard sergeant and an archery expert. 

Miss Iowa Nicole Kelly is as physically perfect as any fashion model, but she happens to have been born without her left forearm. "I'm proud to represent those who look differently, but it's about what you can do and how you celebrate it," she told The Associated Press. "I'm just like you." It will be interesting to see how far into the competition Kelly gets. On the latest season of The Bachelor, Sarah Herron, a contestant with the same birth defect, lasted five rounds before Sean Lowe sent her home.

Pageant hopeful Jennifer Smestad, Miss Arizona, will represent Tourette Syndrome Awareness and Advocacy, because she herself was diagnosed with the syndrome at age 10. "I am beyond blessed to be able to spread awareness and educate others about something that is so personal to me," she said on her Facebook page.  

Miss New York Nina Davuluri may not be the first pageant contestant to have struggled with an eating disorder, But her openness about her battle with bulimia is a positive step forward for all beauty pageant franchises. 

Unfortunately, Davuluri may have tarnished that message recently, when another competitor in the Miss New York competition claims to have overheard her calling the current Miss America, Mallory Hagan "fat as [expletive]" during an after-party in her hotel room.

Davuluri denies the charge, admitting only that "I want to apologize for the awful statements made by people in my room. ... There were people who claimed to be my supporters and said things I never agreed with, nor supported." The incident is sadly ironic, considering Davuluri hopes to help young women to develop a healthy body image. 

For the record: Hagan is not fat. At all. Perhaps she gained a little weight once she won the title. And you know what? That's perfectly normal. And normal is what we're going to be celebrating while watching the Miss America Pageant on Sunday.

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.

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