“Miss America” Says They’re No Longer a Beauty Pageant, Eliminates the Swimsuit Segment
"We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance."
Despite its mission statement as “the nation’s leading advocate for women’s education,” the Miss America competition has long had trouble convincing audiences that it’s the bastion of feminist empowerment it claims to be. It’s not just the requirement that women meet impractical standards of conventional beauty and present themselves in bikinis and stilettos for judgement. Behind the scenes, the pageant has displayed a blatant climate of misogyny and shaming.
Late last year, a number of emails were leaked that showed conversations between the pageant’s CEO Sam Haskell and others within the organization, insulting former winners’ bodies, slut-shaming them, referring to them with misogynistic slurs, and even conspiring to tank their businesses and deny them their livelihood.
After those emails were made public, the organization underwent some swift and sizeable changes. Haskell stepped down, obviously, as did Miss America’s president, chairwoman, and several board members. The board now has women in seven of its nine seats, including three former pageant winners.
But Miss America’s issues with sexism and shaming go back much farther than Haskell or this particular board. (Vanessa Williams could have told us that 30 years ago.) So how much could this shakeup change at a fundamental level? As it turns out, a lot. Former titleholder/Fox News anchor and new board chairwoman Gretchen Carlson announced today on Good Morning America that the organization is undergoing a total overhaul, starting with that damned swimsuit competition.
— Cara Mund (@MissAmerica) June 5, 2018
It’s not just the swimsuit segment that’s going. Carlson said that the competition–no longer a “pageant”–will, as a whole, no longer judge contestants based on their outward appearance. That’s a huge change for an organization that began nearly 100 years ago as a swimsuit pageant and even today is, by most, more known for its bikinis and evening gowns (which Carlson says they’re also revamping) than the scholarships they provide.
Contestants will now be able to wear “whatever they choose,” and the competition wants to be “open, transparent, inclusive to women who may not have felt comfortable participating in our program before.” Rather than heels, bikinis, and mandatory sequined gowns, the competition will focus on women’s talents, achievements, and goals. They’ll discuss advancing social-impact initiatives. “We’re interested in makes you you,” Carlson says.
JUST IN: “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge. And that means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition.” – @GretchenCarlson on the major changes coming to @MissAmericaOrg https://t.co/ICRIsRN71h pic.twitter.com/IWKcVvCC50
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 5, 2018
As you might expect, not everyone is thrilled by this news. There are plenty of very angry men complaining online, promising to boycott a broadcast they likely didn’t even watch anyway. Carlson doesn’t seem concerned about ratings dropping, though. Apparently, the swimsuit portion isn’t even the most-watched part of the show. As it turns out, people like watching the talent portion better anyway. And she trusts that there will be more interest not just from new contestants, but also from sponsors looking to partner with the competition.
As for those men getting angry over not being able to openly judge women based on their appearance in this specific setting, they’ll just have to settle for … gestures vaguely at basically everything else on television, the internet, and life in general.
oh no if Miss America drops the swimsuit portion then women will only be judged harshly on their appearance every time they post anything online
— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) June 5, 2018
The caveat for this otherwise encouraging move is that it’s not clear yet if the changes will also apply to the smaller local and state pageants that feed into the Miss America competition. Hopefully, that will be the case, and that those competitions will embrace these changes. As Carlson describes, this is a necessary evolution:
We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.
What do you think of these changes? Will you be watching the new Miss America competition in September?
(image: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions)
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