The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

A Royal Visit

Photo by Ingrid Meulemans.

The first thing you notice about Emily Tinsman is her smile. It’s a beauty-queen smile for sure. And when you see her out of the corner of your eye, she’s a blur of crystal zirconium and hairspray. Standing at just over five feet, she’s a small woman.

Yet, sitting in front of a group of local kids in the reading room at Drake Public Library, she is a young Queen Elizabeth but with curly blonde hair and knee-high riding boots. Or, as we call her in the States, Miss Iowa 2019.

“Hi there!” said Tinsman, kneeling down on the floor to be eye-level with two-and-a-half-year-old Owen. “I’m so happy you are here! Can you show me how many fingers you are old?”

Owen, a little boy in a gray Henley and navy-and-white striped sweatpants, just smiled and tucked his head back between his mother’s knees.

Every boy and girl that attended Tinsman’s read-aloud at Drake Community Library last Saturday received the same welcome. Tinsman would ask them their name, their grade, and then bend down to let them touch her tiara. “It’s just barrettes!”

Tinsman laughed when I later asked her how she could have possibly worn it for the whole event. “It will just balance up here with the help of my barrettes.” Tinsman did admit that the Miss Iowa tiara was a bit heavy though. But with great power comes great responsibility. What’s that old saying again? Oh, right, of course: Heavy is the head that wears the crown. And Tinsman sure wears a big crown.

“All right!” shouted Tinsman after finishing the first read-aloud, “Let’s get our wiggles out!” As if they were one autonomous unit, the whole room suddenly stood up, reached towards the ceiling, and danced in an extremely wiggly way.

The event, which took place over the course of about an hour, involved Tinsman reading three vaguely theatre-related picture books, most of which required audience participation and all of which, in the words of Tinsman and her rapt audience members, were “silly.”

As someone who often worked with children, Tinsman knew that after long stretches of sitting and listening, even the most diligent of fans would need a brain break. “I hoped you liked these silly stories!”, said Tinsman, closing the cover of the last picture book. “Did you guys learn anything about instruments?”

After some nonsensical babbling and quite a bit of squirreling around, the librarian in charge announced that it was time to begin the activity that we had all been waiting for: crafts. The baby that had fallen asleep face-down on the floor about half-way through the reading stirred. The tension in the air was palpable.

To the surprise of everyone in the room, there were not one, but two crafts penciled in for the day. Along with the jingle-y musical sticks provided by Drake Public Library, Tinsman also brought a supply of plastic Easter eggs and Rice Krispies treats so her new friends would be able to make little instruments of their own. The end of read-aloud triggered an explosion of little arms, legs and tiny Velcro sneakers, and Tinsman braced herself behind the Easter Egg craft table.

One upside of the free-for-all, however, was the ability it gave me to ask Tinsman some hard-hitting questions. While a sunny biography courtesy of the Miss Iowa Foundation can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection and a burning desire to learn more about the Hawkeye State, I wanted to dig deeper and really get to know this recently-graduated music teacher turned beauty queen.

“I was always involved in music, art, dance, all of it,” Tinsman said. “I actually didn’t start competing [in pageants] till I was in college as a way to get scholarship money to pay for my education, I graduated from Drake University last May. I was able to combine my career ambition with service to create my personal initiative for arts education, and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing the past three years.”

A long-time participant in the arts, Tinsman has been involved in dance, piano, theatre, voice and clarinet. It was her inextricable connection to these disciplines that led to her current initiative: making sure arts programs are accessible and ensuring all students receive what she calls a “well-rounded education.”

“I always wanted to teach,” said Tinsman, “I love kids. I love being an advocate for kids, and especially nowadays when there are so many obstacles that kids are going through. … I think that education is the best way we can change the next generation, uplift them and give them the education they need to be successful later in life.”

Using the Miss Iowa title as a platform for positive change, Tinsman has had the opportunity to “have conversations with the governor” and “sing before the House and the Senate,” advocating for a cause that she cares about deeply. However, Tinsman acknowledges the fact that beauty pageants have not always had a positive voice within social justice movements.

“Miss Iowa and Miss America has really shifted in the past couple of years,” noted Tinsman. “It’s normally been seen as a ‘beauty pageant,’ but two years ago we eliminated the swimsuit competition, and this year we eliminated the evening gown [portion]. So, this year, it’s predominately [about] your talent, interview and your initiative or platform.

“It really is about being a well-rounded woman and what you are passionate about and the service that you are doing for your community. I really do think that it is a positive program in the sense of empowering women to find what they love, showing them how to be involved and using the organization as a jumping off point for further work.”

Rebranded as ‘Miss America 2.0,’ Tinsman claimed that the Miss America foundation was working towards a future where there is more representation. While she admits there are still a lot of flaws within the pageant world, Tinsman says the work she is doing now relates to her future ambitions.

“I am planning on getting my master’s degree in school administration eventually. So, I’m starting off in music, but I think the best way that I can be an advocate for the arts is in an administrative position.”

For the next couple of months though, Tinsman will be driving around the state in a red car with “Miss Iowa” written on the side. And although she wears the crown, Tinsman refuses to let preconceived misconceptions of beauty pageant queens defy her work.

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