Miss America’s axed swimsuit competition sends mixed messages

Removing the pageant’s beauty element has pros and cons

Disappearing swimsuits.
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The recent changes to the Miss America pageant are said to mark the end of an era and spark newfound empowerment. However, these decisions may come with troubling consequences.

The official Miss America Twitter account tweeted a video last week supported by the hashtag #byebyebikini. The short clip showed a small white bikini vanishing into a puff of smoke with gold letters spelling out “Miss America 2.0” appearing from a haze.

This tweet appeared moments after newly-appointed chairwoman of the Miss America Board of Directors, Gretchen Carlson, announced on Good Morning America that the Miss America organization will undergo changes set for the upcoming competition on Sept. 9, 2019. 

Carlson, who won Miss America 1989, announced Miss America is no longer a beauty pageant—it’s now a competition. 

“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance, that’s huge,” Carlson said in her exclusive interview with Good Morning America

Following this statement, Carlson announced the elimination of the swimsuit competition. It is the only portion of the Miss America competition that has been a part of the pageant’s 97 year history. 

There will also be a revamp of the evening gown competition. Contestants will now wear their own chosen attire of whatever makes them feel most confident, as opposed to the customary formal dress. 

The focus of Miss America 2.0 will see a shift from beauty to brains, as “it’s going to be whatever comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in,” Carlson said. 

Carlson is no stranger to change. She was one of the first women to spark activism with the #MeToo movement after filing a lawsuit with claims of sexual harassment against Roger Ailes, former Fox News CEO and Chairman. 

Last December, the Miss America organization found itself directly in the middle of the #MeToo movement when former CEO Sam Haskell and top executives were exposed for making sexist and vulgar comments towards pageant contestants in emails. Those who were accused resigned.

These major changes to the iconic competition have received an outpouring of praise. But they also face criticism.

The most noteworthy pushback derives from past contestants themselves. Former runner-up to Miss America 2014, Crystal Lee, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the swimsuit competition “delivered a powerful message: that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive and that you can be a feminist and flaunt your body.” 

The question now lingers: do these changes to Miss America aid in the empowerment of women or do they create new limitations on what women can or cannot feel good about?

The dismissal of the pageant’s beauty component could perhaps give the impression that beauty and brains can’t work in unison to fulfil female empowerment—or that empowerment can’t come from one’s physical appearance at all. 

Feminism calls for the universal support of all women and celebrating one another for all that we possess, which includes both brains and beauty. We all find empowerment in our own individual way, and learning to let mental and physical qualities co-exist peacefully is in all of our best interests. 

As for the future of Miss America, we can expect to see an inclusive competition that will display the knowledge and activism of a diverse group of amazing women. Whether or not the competition will live on beyond this change after years of declining ratings is yet to be determined. 

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