On July 23rd, 1984 Vanessa Williams made history. Nobody in the history of the Miss. America organization had ever been unable to serve their title. At 21 years old she was a young winner. The controversy of her title and the pictures that put it in jeopardy live in infamy today. Penthouse magazine announced that they had intentions of publishing nude photos of the beauty queen in its September issue.
The Miss. America organization has been widely criticized for its marginalization of its female contestants as well as the perpetuation that beauty is in fact more important than intellect. Of course, they were just following suit. Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general has always leveraged women’s looks for money. Here’ they’re just doing it out in the open. According to several different sources, this pageant in particular was touted as a “scholarship” pageant. Awarding different monetary values to contestants based on their beauty, intellect and grace was something that could be hidden once criticism swirled. Many actually came to Williams’ defense saying that naked photos are on the same level as the swimsuit competition.
Originally Vanessa made history as the first African American winner of the title. She was born March 18th, 1963 in Millwood, New York. She graduated from Syracuse University and was a student of Musical Theater. She ended up working as a receptionist at a modeling agency in Mt. Cisco New York. This is where she met photographer Thomas Chapel, who took the infamous nude photos of the Miss. America winner that would later make her renege her crown.
Controversy swirled around the photos because allegedly, Williams only agreed to them because they would be silhouetted. She was told that she wouldn’t be recognizable in the photos. Of course, after she became Miss. America the photographer sold the photos to Penthouse magazine under Williams’ nose. Of course, everyone is looking to make a buck off of success, whether it’s their own or not.
Williams dropped lawsuits against the magazine and the photographer was given notice to remove the photos from the deal. They didn’t hold up in court because Williams had signed a release at the time that the photos had been taken.
William later rebounded against the scandal and went on to have an extremely lucrative entertainment career. Her singing and acting careers garnered her an A-list celebrity. To this day, people tend to remember her not for this scandal, but for the amazing things she was able to do in spite of it.