Talk about beauty, brains and blowback.

A 25-year-old chemist at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was crowned Miss USA over the weekend, but some are up in arms about controversial comments she made during the pageant. Kára McCullough, who is the second DC resident in a row to claim the title, roused a Twitter backlash after calling healthcare a privilege rather than a right, and saying that she didn’t “want to call myself a feminist.”

Even before her weekend win, McCullough has already made headlines. The African American beauty queen elected to compete with “natural hair,” spurning hair straighteners for comfort. Her comments about women’s rights and healthcare only further fueled the fire.

“As a government employee, I’m granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs,” the South Carolina State University grad reportedly said, shortly after the U.S. Senate took up debate of the American Health Care Act. The House passed the bill on strictly partisan lines, though numerous analyses indicate the legislation could lead to over 20 million people losing health insurance if enacted in its current form. There is also dispute over how well the AHCA will cover individuals with pre-existing conditions, potentially deep cuts to Medicare, and massive payroll tax cuts for wealthy individuals.

In response to a query as to if she say herself as a feminist, McCullough demurred, saying that she’d “like to lately transpose the word feminism to equalism…women, we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace.”

Naturally, in the current hyper partisan environment, liberals denounced McCullough for being insufficiently progressive, while conservatives and Trump supporters flocked to her defense. (President Donald Trump owned the Miss USA franchise for more than a decade to 2015.)

“There is nothing more controversial right now than healthcare,” says pop culture expert Rob Shuter, a former Miss New York host, adding that the failure of Hillary Clinton to become America’s first female president due to the electoral college was a close second.

Of course, such pageants haven’t always been politicized. Shuter recalls beauty queens being asked decades ago about pie baking recipes rather than their political opinions. “The owners want Miss USA to feel modern and relevant,” he says. “The contestants don’t want these questions to be brought up, but the owners want controversy and for everybody to be talking about it.”

Still, expanding female participation in the STEM fields is something almost everyone can still support. McCullough, who was a member of the American Nuclear Society and American Chemical Society while in college, has been outspoken in encouraging women to don white lab coats. A renaissance of women industry leaders is only a hair flip [sic] away,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post.

Still excited for International Women's Day. As a female scientist in the nuclear regulatory field I make it my duty to encourage students to pursue college careers in Nuclear Engineering and Radiochemistry. The ratio of men to women in the nuclear industry is 24:1. That speaks volumes about gender inequality. Without surprise those statistics are driving me. I am working diligently toward my goal to provide students the opportunity to experience and experiment (no pun intended) with these fields of study before college. A renaissance of women industry leaders is only a hair flip away 💁🏽💁🏻💁🏿💁🏼💁💁🏾. . . . #internationalwomensday #missdcusa #missusa #genderequality #womenwhowork #wcw #confidentlybeautifulwithaheart. . . . . Follow @visitthecapitol for all updates.

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