NBC News reports that The Miss America Organization has announced that the swimsuit competition and other aspects of the Miss America Pageant will be replaced by a segment where judges and contestants will interact freely. This segment is said to include a discussion between the two regarding the contestants future goals and past achievements.
The chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, Gretchen Carlson, announced on live TV that the Miss America pageant will be a “competition, not a pageant.” The idea that contestants be judged based upon their appearance is no more, with Carlson adding that the new competition will be inclusive of all women of all sizes.
In addition to slashing the swimsuit modeling competition, the Miss America Organization also slashed the evening gown competition, with contestants now free to wear whatever they choose to. This makes women of Muslim and Sikh faith eligible to compete. This part of the contest will also include discussions with contestants on how they would continue to make advanced social impacts as Miss America, if they were to win. The talent portion, which includes singers and dancers amongst other intriguing talents, will remain during this portion, as well.
These changes come from the Miss America organization, which is now compromised solely of women for the first time in the 97-year pageant history; the three leaders are all former Miss America pageant winners. Further changes, including the removal of Miss and the addition of Ms; revamping the talent competition; and encouraging pageant contestants to join social movements for the betterment of girls and women across the world and America have all been suggested, as CBS News reports.
Some point to the #MeToo movement as a big driving force behind the changes, as Carlson, appointed after the former CEO resigned amidst a lewd email scandal, once sued Fox News for sexual harassment. Carlson said that the new decisions were made unanimously a few months ago by the board.
Miss America began in 1921, the year after women were granted the right to vote, in Atlantic City. The swimsuit competition was a hot topic during the time, due to the lack of women wearing swimsuits in public after a ban on revealing beachwear was passed. Miss America was granted a temporary suspension on that ban. In the late 1930s, the talent portion was added, no longer making it specifically a beauty pageant. At the time, unwed women between the ages of 18 and 28 were allowed to compete, and until 1940, they had to be in “good health” and “of the white race”. It wasn’t until over forty years later that an African-American woman would compete and win the pageant.
The changes are being seen as a positive, especially for feminists across the board. Miss America is the largest source of scholarship awards for women in the United States, but the competition focused solely on physical appearance rather than intelligence- up until now. In 1950, the winner of the pageant, Yolande Betbeze, stood up against the physical requirements, refusing to pose in a bikini. Much later, in 1992, Catherine Ann Lemkau, the runner-up, commented that she’d like to see the swimsuit segment removed from the competition. A few years later, in 1995, 2/3 of viewers who called a 1-900 number for Miss America agreed that the swimsuit competition should cease to exist. In 2018, that is a reality.
Although it took time to make this competition less about beauty and more about character, the new decisions by the new Miss America Organization and its board give women, and those who may identify as femme, a chance to compete and win. Women of all shapes and sizes will now feel comfortable competing in this competition and women of different faiths will now be able to. When these types of changes come to something so prevalent in history as sexist and un- feminist, the world has a reaction. The reaction to this one should be anything but negativity. Opening this competition up to more women gives the Miss America Organization a positive advantage in almost every aspect. Further changes are needed but with time, there is no doubt that these changes will come, too.
The Miss America Organization is in the process of becoming something bigger and better than it already is. The new motto, “To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women” has been rebranded in addition to an announcement: “Miss America 2.0 Coming soon: New website. New show. New Experience.”, clearly indicating that the new era for Miss America is coming soon, and that it’ll be one to watch. Forget the days of fake tans and tight-fitting gowns, because Miss America is coming back as a competition, not a pageant, and a more welcoming one at that.