For the first time in a century, Miss America contestants will not walk the catwalk in swimsuits as the pageant aims to become more inclusive to women of all sizes, enhancing an era of female empowerment, the contest announced Tuesday. The organisers publicised that contestants will no longer be judged on their appearance but on their achievements and goals instead.
Dating back to 1921, the swimsuit contest has been synonymous ever since the first-ever Miss America pageant hosted in Atlantic City. Pageant contestants of all sizes wore one-piece swimsuits that were considered culturally acceptable for women to wear at the time.
Moving forward 14 years, the swimsuit competition went through a serious transition. Contestants competed in high-waisted bikinis; a departure from the one-piece swimsuits that were fundamentally more revealing. Towards the later part of the 20th century, bikinis became the new standard swimwear worn by Miss America contestants. Bikinis ultimately revealed more of women’s bodies, which were inspected and judged as they walked across the stage.
In the early 2000s, protests to end the swimsuit competition became more prevalent yet the pageant remained firm on the matter. The swimsuit competition became increasingly ‘glamourized’ as toned abs and a tanned body became popular amongst the bikini generation of contestants.
Over the decades, the Miss America Organisation have struggled to reconcile its original mission — empowering women and handing out millions of dollars in scholarships — with requiring contestants to wear revealing attire.
The organisation’s leaders have stated for more than 20 years that they had thought about altering the swimsuit competition. However, they continued to defend it, asserting that the competition is about self-confidence in uncomfortable situations, not thinness. In last year’s edition of the instruction manual for state-level judges, the organisation said that many view the swimsuit portion as exploitative. “It is the Miss America Organization’s belief that those who feel that way really don’t understand the competition itself,” it said. “Regardless of what we may each believe about the role of the Miss America Organization’s title holders; the American public has an expectation that she will be beautiful and physically fit.”
Yet few former contestants have spoken out against the swimsuit competition, saying it led to serious physical and mental problems. Kirsten Haglund, who was Miss America in 2008, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that the swimsuit portion “perpetuated the objectification of women more than it empowered them.”
The ground breaking anti-sexual assault and women’s empowerment movements #MeToo and Time’s Up have overturned the public conversation regarding women’s issues, and elevated the global consciousness surrounding the obstacles women encounter in their daily lives, both personal and professional. And as a result, the Miss America Organization will scrap the swimsuit competition, starting at the national contest in September, in a sweeping change that will also reshape local and state contests.
“I’ve talked to tons of young people who’ve said to me, ‘I’d love to be a part of that program, but I don’t want to parade around in a swimsuit,’” Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who is now the organization’s chairwoman, said in an interview. “I get it.”
Ms. Carlson, a prominent voice for women’s rights in the workplace after she filed a harassment lawsuit in 2016 against the former Fox chairman Roger Ailes, said the competition would focus more on the contestants’ talents, intelligence and ideas.
“We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” Ms. Carlson, who was Miss America in 1989, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. “We are moving it forward and evolving it in this cultural revolution.” She further commented that viewers’ opinions had changed. The swimsuit portion of the competition was “not a highly rated part,” she stated.
“People actually like the talent part of the competition,” she said.
What are your thoughts on this change? Will this improve the beauty industry?
Text: Ella Buxton
Image: NY Times, ABC News, Pinterest, Daily Wire, Time,