There’s no grander collection of scantily-clad women assembled in a single place together than the Miss America pageant. Alright, maybe the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar, but where else are you going to get a panorama shot of over a dozen women in two-pieces? Of course, that’s about to change for good.
Gretchen Carlson, head of the Miss America Organisation, has announced that the swimsuit segment has been scrapped, saying: “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance.”
Cara Mund, the last woman to be crowned Miss America, tweeted out the news too:
— Cara Mund (@MissAmerica) June 5, 2018
The pageant, which began in 1921 as a bathing beauty revue—which is fancy talk for dolling up girls as entertainment—is now going to function as a contest to “highlight [a woman’s] achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”
Since the news broke, the internet has been abuzz. A FOX 26 News reporter asked her followers on Twitter for their opinions:
In reply to the same question, another user tweeted:
Miss Texas swimsuit winner of 2011, Kendall Morris, has “mixed feelings” about the change. On Twitter, she writes: “I have experienced firsthand the benefits of the fitness portion through receiving scholarship money and working with trainers who [taught] me how to eat healthy and exercise, not just for 15 seconds onstage (sic) but for life.”
Morris juxtaposed these “benefits” with the rising rates of obesity in America. But so many others have pointed out how the swimsuit round is about exposing the female body for the male gaze. Is it necessary that women’s bodies need to be consumed on a national stage, broadcast both in the USA and abroad? The criticism is valid because of a very simple reason. Choice. Had each contestant been given the option of wearing or not wearing a bikini, it would’ve aligned more with the organisation’s claim about caring for women’s empowerment and success.
Miss America 1993, Leanza Cornett, has gone on record saying she hated the swimsuit round. “I always felt awkward and uncomfortable,” she told The Associated Press. Clearly, some contestants have grudgingly gone through with it, while many more women might have felt they didn’t have a place in the contest, or a chance to accept its rewards (which, by the way, is $50,000 in scholarship money).
Carlson has stated: “We want want to be open, transparent, inclusive to women who may not have felt comfortable participating in our program before.” Inclusion, mild though it is in this case, is still a step forward. Who knows, maybe America will be represented by a woman who is not thin, fair-skinned, and whose sartorial choices are entirely her own.
It’d be far more satisfying to see a Miss America contest that is focused less on the female form, and more on what women have and can achieve.