If you were hoping to see women clad in bikinis and slinky evening gowns parade onstage at next year’s Miss America pageant, you’ll be disappointed.
That’s because the nearly 100-year-old contest as we have all come to know it is no more. In its place: a more body-inclusive, #MeToo-friendly display in which contestants won’t be judged on their physical appearance.
In fact, it isn’t even a pageant anymore, says Gretchen Carlson, who won the title in 1989 and now chairs the Miss America Organization’s board of trustees.
“We are no longer a pageant. We are a competition,” Carlson announced today on Good Morning America. “We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program, but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and a swimsuit.’ So guess what? You don’t have to do that anymore.”
In an era where the #MeToo movement has given more power to women’s voices, the shift from a largely looks-based pageant to a competition centered on women’s talents and achievements is long overdue.
In 1968, amid the backdrop of the country’s cultural wars, the women’s rights movement was on the forefront of protesting the Miss America pageant for not only its racial politics but also for the overt way it exploited and sexualized women.
“Has anything changed since 1968, when hundreds of feminists gathered on the [Atlantic City] boardwalk to protest the Miss America pageant?,” asked Blain Roberts in an op-ed for The New York Times. “Yes and no.”
It wasn’t until this year that Miss America announced that the organization would be led by an all-female team, after the Huffington Post reported that prominent male executives and board members, including the pageant’s CEO, were demoralizing women in emails.
Now, with an all-women board made up of former winners, the organization is enacting dramatic changes.
Even the organization’s website is getting an overhaul with the site promoting the upcoming “Miss America 2.0” and pushing the hashtag #ByeByeBikini.
— The Miss America Org (@MissAmerica) June 5, 2018
“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,” Carlson said, in response to how the #MeToo movement has helped the organization restructure itself. “Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”
The news has sparked a debate online, with people on both sides weighing in:
We don’t watch men strut on a stage in swim shorts and score their appearance. The Miss America & pageant system is outdated. But, the swimsuit competition is actually tied to fitness. Girls train hard for it, that’s not something to discourage.
— Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) June 5, 2018
Judging a woman in her swimsuit during the Miss America pageant was nothing short of subjective sexism. Ask a contestant what they ate that week leading up to it. Good riddance.
— Angela Belcamino (@AngelaBelcamino) June 5, 2018