Are beauty contests passé?

No, they are not, and don’t call them beauty contests, say 20-year-old Alysa Bainbridge of Leesport, a.k.a. Miss Philadelphia 2019; and 16-year-old Jaylen Baron of Eagleville, a.k.a. Miss Philadelphia’s Outstanding Teen 2019.

There is a stigma to being a beauty queen, Alysa tells me.

“It’s frustrating they think I got here just because of my looks,” says Alysa, a St. Joseph’s University sophomore who is an assistant news editor at the Hawk, the school newspaper.

“You have to research your platform and speak about a subject as dark as mental illness, and the opioid epidemic,” she says. Those two issues are her platform, the issues to which she is committed.

She speaks with emotion and from firsthand knowledge: Last year her older brother, Tyler, died of a drug overdose. He had started experimenting with drugs in high school, she says, and the family learned too late that he was bipolar. They tried in vain to help him.

At first, Alysa opposed supervised injection sites, but she has come to believe one might have saved her brother’s life.

As we debate the issue, Alysa defends her position with a maturity beyond her years, with certainty without arrogance.

Jaylen’s platform isn’t a walk in the park, either. Her cause is the Breathing Room Foundation, an organization that assists families dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

“I was helping the foundation as a volunteer before our family became a receiver of services,” she says. He mother, Jane, contracted pancreatic cancer and died in 2016.

She is a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown who dances and aspires to join the Radio City Rockettes.

Their platforms are not frivolous. They are at the core of what they are doing and why they bristle at being called beauty queens.

“This is my first year in the pageant,” says Jaylen, adding she’s seen the Miss America Pageant only once or twice.

Alysa is more the pageant person — her mother, Michele, was Berks County Junior Miss 1989 — and should Alysa not achieve her dream career of broadcast journalism, she’d like to help young women who are interested in pageant competition.

There is a straight line from Miss Philadelphia to Miss America, with three Philadelphians having won the crown, although none since 1940.

Each young lady is offered a scholarship at Cabrini University. Jaylen will accept a four-year free ride, while Alysa will remain at St. Joe’s but take her master’s at Cabrini. Each woman’s prize package is worth $130,000, according to the Miss Philadelphia Scholarship Organization.

So, yes, it is a scholarship competition, plus a talent competition, but its base is an attractive appearance. Some say that this rewards women for something unearned — good looks.

Well, the kids in the math club get rewarded for something they were born with — skill with numbers. Almost everyone has at least one advantage — singing, dancing, skill at language.

And that’s a beautiful thing.