The Bikini Goes Bye-Bye: The Miss America Organization Faces Its Own #MeToo Moment
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. It’s what comes out of their mouths that we’re interested in. We’re interested in what makes you, you.” - Gretchen Carlson, Miss America Board of Directors Chairperson
Undoing an almost 100-year-old tradition, the Miss America contest will no longer feature a swimsuit portion. The news came Tuesday from Miss America 1989, author of the book Be Fierce, and Miss America Organization (MAO) Board of Trustees chairperson Gretchen Carlson in a formal announcement.
The newly-rebranded Miss America 2.0 is no longer, according to Carlson, a “pageant” but a “competition.”
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” said Carlson. “It’s what comes out of their mouths that we’re interested in. We’re interested in what makes you, you.”
Gretchen Carlson, Chair, Miss America Board of Directors
The removal of the pageant’s—er, competition’s—swimsuit contest comes after a much-publicized shake-up in the organization’s leadership. In December 2017, when an email message written by then-CEO Sam Haskell to a telecast writer was leaked to the public, loyal fans of the Miss America pageant got a glimpse into how top executives really felt about contestants and former winners. One message went as far as referring to “former Miss Americas” as the c-word, and that’s when the gloves came off— Sam Haskell, President Josh Randall, and Board of Directors chairperson Lynn Weidner abruptly resigned following the scandal.
Sam Haskell, former CEO of the Miss America Organization
So when Carlson announced in early 2018 that she had “so many great ideas for the organization,” fans couldn’t wait to see what she had planned. Additionally, many believe the appointment of Carlson to a leadership role in a contest that was originally founded as the “bather’s revue” will pave the way for more women to see themselves as potential candidates. “We want to be inclusive to women who may not have felt comfortable participating in our program before,” says Carlson.
Not only does Carlson bring her personal experience as a contestant to the table, but many believe her much-publicized #MeToo-esque battle with the late Roger Ailes, former FOX News chairperson, for which she received a 20-million-dollar settlement and a public apology, will create a more empowering environment for future contestants. “This is an opportunity for more women to come together, support each other, rise up, and move forward,” said Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan in support of the changes to the MAO.
Miss America 2018 Cara Mund
Photo: Matt Boyd Photography
But not everyone agrees that removing the swimsuit competition will bring Miss America 2.0 into the land of 21st-century women. In an article for Slate, staff writer Christina Cauterucci shouted down the need for the Miss America contest all-together.
“If women wanted to showcase their tap-dancing or piano skills, they’d audition for America’s Got Talent. If they wanted to get better at answering on-the-spot questions about current events, they’d join a debate league or mock trial.”
“No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite grasp what great thing Miss America contestants are competing for, what the title means, and what’s supposed to make sense about the act of publicly ranking a group of 51 women against one another based on a set of arbitrary, disparate skills. There’s already a name for a competition where women compete against one another to prove their passion, ambition, intelligence, talent, and love for America: It’s called an election.”
Co-host of The Talk Sheryl Underwood too bemoaned the bikini bye-bye, but not for the reasons most might assume. "I'm not really excited about this," she stated plainly on Tuesday's episode. "To me, watching a beauty pageant was about posture, grace, charm, and articulation."
But Carlson remains steadfast in her commitment to the Miss America competition, noting that she never ceases to be amazed at the number of women who gained from the pageant’s scholarship opportunities. “Everyday I meet somebody who has participated in this program who benefitted from those scholarships and became lawyers, doctors and members of congress. We want more women to know they are welcome in this organization.”
The Miss America 2019 competition will air September 9, 2018.
Sources: Good Morning America, The Talk, Huffington Post, Slate, SheCompass.com