On the Record: Miss D.C. Winner Bindhu Pamarthi (L ’15)

bindhu pamarthiOn June 9, Bindhu Pamarthi (L ’15) was crowned Miss District of Columbia, having competed in beauty pageants since she was 12. Vox was fortunate enough to have her answer some questions on her pageant experience through the years, though we didn’t touch on what gender income disparity says about society. Go here to watch K Street Magazine’s interview with Pamarthi, who will go on to compete in the Miss America pageant come September. 

Vox: What was the most important part of winning Miss D.C. for you?

Pamarthi: I started competing in pageants in the South when I was 12 years old. As the child of Indian immigrants, I was initially something of a misfit in that world. I lacked what seemed like the requisite southern accent, and my wardrobe was simplistic and under-bedazzled. I remember getting a pretty cold welcome from the other contestants and their “pageant-moms.” I was too naïve, then, and lacked the self-awareness to understand that my ethnicity made me different. My beautiful, Indian mother was not so oblivious, yet she never said a word about it to me. She ignored the unwelcoming stares and the snickering mothers. She focused on me because she knew that in my “Little Miss Sunshine-esque” way, I was so happy to be in a pageant. Then, I won.

Insensitive questioning, offensive gestures, and unfriendly stares are just things that I have grown up seeing my parents faced with. That my beloved mother could silently think, “At least my daughter can beat you and your kids in a pageant” was quiet redemption. For the most part, that was also true. In my eleven years in pageantry, I won three state titles that took me to national finals in Anaheim, California and Nashville, Tennessee. All three times, I outcompeted hundreds to thousands to take my spot in the top three. Track record aside, this victory is sweetest because my mother can finally know that even as closed-minded people will rudely claim that we are not American, her daughter just might be Miss America. Either way, as the representative of the nation’s capital at the iconic competition in Atlantic City, I was able to make my mom proud. That means everything to me.

Vox: What’s the experience of being both a Georgetown Law student and a pageant competitor been like for you? How do you navigate those two worlds?

Pamarthi: Going to law school and going to Miss America have been long-held dreams for me. I love both, and both have a way of eating up all your time and begging for more attention. Balancing the two was incredibly challenging and even as I prepared for Miss D.C., I felt that I might be doing both an injustice. At the end of the day, attending Georgetown Law and prepping for Miss D.C. are not things to complain about but humbling honors. I did my best, and now the challenge has grown ten-fold. I will not be taking time off of school to carry out my responsibilities as Miss DC which means someone just threw a flaming sword into my juggling act. I like staying active in the community, and I cannot even imagine life without the classroom yet. Luckily, people are pretty understanding of the importance of school to my professional growth and privilege that is being Miss D.C. so I will do what I have always done which is to stay focused!

Vox: You’ve been doing pageants since you were 12. How do you think they’ve changed since then? Is there anything you’d still like to change about them?

Pamarthi: Coming from me (a small framed, petite woman), this message has less impact but the ugly underbelly of the swimsuit competition is that I have seen a number of contestants in years past driven to dangerous, extreme measures to drop weight. This is not to say that there should be no assessment of fitness in pageants, or even that the swimsuit portion needs to go. But use of diuretics, laxatives, not drinking water, not eating food, or all-protein diets are plainly unhealthy and hardly reflect a good lifestyle. I think a more accurate measure of fitness is needed either in addition to or in lieu of swimsuit.

Vox: It can sometimes be easy to dismiss pageants as outdated or anti-feminist. How would you respond to that and how do you think they remain relevant?

Pamarthi: Pageants reserve positions of power and influence for women who historically face discrimination in professional settings and have been seen as weak, dainty, and incapable. As Miss D.C., I will have a voice capable of reaching all across the country to advocate for an issue or issues I am passionate about. I won a scholarship as Miss D.C. and stand to win more money at Miss America to pursue my education. I inherited the responsibility of serving as a local spokesperson for the Children’s Miracle Network which is the official charitable sponsor of the Miss America Organization. Feminine women get ignored in the office. Your voice hardly gets ignored as Miss D.C. I would be hard pressed to come up with a more feminist institution.

Vox: Your platform was promotion of cruelty-free products and a stance against animal testing. Can you elaborate on what that means to you and where you hope to go with it in the future?

Pamarthi: The end goal is banning and/or eradicating inhumane and unethical animal testing procedures in the cosmetics industry where it is neither necessary nor justifiable. The European Union banned animal testing by cosmetics companies in 2004 and as a country celebrated for its principles, it is long overdue that America takes a positive stance. I hope to raise as much awareness as possible for the issue and encourage consumers to vote against cruelty with their dollar. By buying cruelty-free, the public can pressure other cosmetics giants who test on animals to stop.

Vox: You’re going on to the Miss America pageant in September. How are you preparing for that and how do you expect it will be different from a regional competition?

Pamarthi: Going to Miss America is the pinnacle of a person’s pageant career (should one be so lucky as to make it that far!). Everything is bigger, better, and far more high-stakes. I stand to win a lot of scholarship money, a huge voice for laboratory animal advocacy, and a number of other things that I have yet to discover. I will be working with John Morris, my official personal fitness training sponsor for the very popular swimsuit competition. I will start drilling mock interviews with a team of very influential Washingtonians. I will refine and repeatedly rehearse my talent routine. I will be going to New York to meet designers who will make my evening gown. I will work with my talent costume sponsor to design my outfit. I will meet with Arabesque, my jewelry sponsor to design all my Miss America competition jewelry. I will do a LOT of paperwork. I will be filming my America’s Choice video (probably on GULC campus and hopefully flash mob style!) I will travel to Florida and Maine for some mandatory appearances with the rest of the state titleholders, and I will be making appearances and fulfilling my duties around the District.

Vox: What are your goals for post-law school life and how do you think your pageant experience will help you achieve them?

Pamarthi: The network that I have developed over the years is incredible and the possibilities are endless. I know I could be happy doing a number of things but having the power and influence needed to advocate for and defend disadvantaged populations (whether they be lab animals, children, low-income families, the elderly, minorities etc.) is something I want and it is why I came to law school. What exactly I will do with my J.D. remains to be seen!

Vox:  Be honest. How many times have you watched Miss Congeniality?

Pamarthi: A ton. I freakin’ love that movie.
Photo: Miss District of Columbia Scholarship Program

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