Miss America Organization Was Right To End Swimsuit Contest, But They Are Overcorrecting

Miss America Organization Was Right To End Swimsuit Contest, But They Are Overcorrecting June 7, 2018

The Miss America organization just announced they will no longer include the swimsuit competition in their annual contest. It’s 2018, friends, and the time has come to finally eliminate this blatant objectification of women’s bodies for celebration.

Miss America Chair Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America winner, appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the big announcement, saying “we are no longer a pageant, we are a competition.”

Mothers of daughters should applaud this transitional vocabulary. Like it or not, “Miss America” is a lofty title and it’s high time we weighted intelligence, compassion and patriotism over body parts and beauty marks.

It’s no surprise the message was delivered by Carlson, who has been a vocal member of the #MeToo movement, after a very public sexual harassment scandal, in which she won a $20 million lawsuit against Fox News. Carlson left Fox and wrote a book about her experiences and is set to premier a series of documentaries surrounding #MeToo with the A+E network.

 In this era of women’s empowerment against deeply ingrained societal misogyny, it’s past time to do away with the literal ogling and judging of female body parts as a system of points to determine their value. Women are beautiful, but this hyper-focus on specific body parts takes it too far.

Not surprisingly, the swimsuit portion of the pageant is rooted in sexism. The very first Miss America pageant in 1921 caused the New York Times to print this outrageous headline: “1,000 BATHING GIRLS ON VIEW IN PAGEANT.”

Ironically, this took place just one year after women received the right to vote. But yes, it attracted quite the crowd with breathless exclamations of this nature. Originally the contest was limited only to looks, but in 1938 a talent portion was added and it wasn’t until 1940 that the organization got rid of a rule stating one must be “of good health and of the white race.” Yikes. And then it took 43 years for a black woman to actually win the competition.

Progress is slow in the world of Miss America.

I’m rarely agree with feminist leader Gloria Steinem, but she got it right when she said this of the swimsuit portion of the pageant:

“The swimsuit competition is probably the most honest part of the competition because it really is about bodies; it is about looking at women as objects.”

While Miss America has added philanthropy and a focus on social good to enhance the appearance of depth within their contest, nothing could overshadow the obviously outdated and unnecessary swimsuit portion.

The evening gown portion of the competition is also set to be revamped and women will now be allowed to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable and confident. For some, that may very well be an evening gown. For others, it be athleisure wear or their favorite skinny jeans — and no stereotyping or shaming should be tolerated for whichever a woman chooses.

This announcement also comes on the heels of an email scandal, in which male officials were caught calling Miss America participants vulgar names. The organization is clearly intent on setting a new image from top to bottom. The former CEO and President both resigned and their positions have been filled by women. In addition to eliminating swimsuits, they will also be partnering with Ignite, an organization designed to promote female political engagement.

It’s worrisome that the organization is taking so many drastic steps all at the same time. While eliminating swimsuits is decidedly a good move, ousting all men (men are not inherently bad, people!) and pulling in politics could do more harm than good.

Political discussion is far more polarizing now than it has been in history and it’s possible women will be bias against women with certain viewpoints. Considering the judges are often celebrities who tend to lean Left politically, this could be an immediate mark against conservative contestants. Additionally, it’s especially discouraging to see that Ignite — though a non-profit — is honoring Chelsea Handler as someone who “exemplifies” their mission. Handler is known for mocking the looks of women she disagrees with politically.

But two steps forward and one step back is still progress.

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