Miss America has a new look: inclusivity.
On Tuesday, the organization announced that it would no longer feature a swimsuit competition:
— Miss America Org (@MissAmericaOrg) June 5, 2018
Instead, Miss America contestants will vie for the title with attributes other than their looks.
Gretchen Carlson, former Miss America 1989 and the organization’s chair of the board of trustees, announced the new look on “Good Morning America”:
JUST IN: “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge. And that means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition.” – @GretchenCarlson on the major changes coming to @MissAmericaOrg https://t.co/ICRIsRN71h pic.twitter.com/IWKcVvCC50
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 5, 2018
“We are no longer a pageant,” Carlson said. “We are a competition.”
The organization’s overhaul—dubbed “Miss America 2.0″—replaced the event’s swimsuit portion with an interactive session and altered the evening gown portion to include contestants’ social causes.
The Miss America organization published the announcement in its newsroom; it read, in part:
This change in format signals the end of the swimsuit portion of the competition. In its place, each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.
The former evening gown competition will now give participants the freedom to outwardly express their self-confidence in evening attire of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives. Talent, which has always been a distinguishing element of Miss America, will remain a highlight of the competition.
“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment” said Gretchen Carlson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, adding “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. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”
The organization was adamant that participating women “will no longer be judged on outward physical appearance” and said the competition is open to women of different shapes and sizes.
“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,” Carlson said. “Who doesn’t want to be empowered, learn leadership skills and pay for college and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul.”
She continued, “That’s what we’re judging them on now.”
Cara Mund, 2018’s Miss America, also tweeted the announcement:
SWEEPING CHANGES AS THE MISS AMERICA ORGANIZATION ANNOUNCES CANDIDATES WILL NO LONGER BE JUDGED ON PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Swimsuit will be eliminated for “The 2019 Miss America Competition”
Airing Live Sunday, September 9th, on @ABCNetwork https://t.co/bt4GDbI75r pic.twitter.com/vLPEisrzoS
— Cara Mund (@MissAmerica) June 5, 2018
The branding change is happening as the #MeToo movement accelerates in Hollywood and beyond, where it dominated events such as the Golden Globes.
ABC News reported:
In addition to being crowned Miss America in 1989, Carlson has more recently been an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual harassment and a champion of the #MeToo movement. In 2016, she settled a lawsuit against former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who stepped down from his role after mounting pressure from additional employees with similar accusations.
The move is also intended to separate the Miss America competition from negative PR.
The organization was in crisis mode after the revelation of internal emails from its former chiefexecutive, Sam Haskell. In December, Haskell was suspended from the board. Shortly after, he resigned.
Carlson took over the Miss America competition with a new all-female leadership team earlier this year, after the organization’s former executive director Sam Haskell and president Josh Randle resigned over leaked emails that insulted former pageant winners’ appearance and sex lives — including Carlson.
The organization, confronting its own harassment scandal and searching for its place in the #MeToo era, had worked on the new format for several months. The nine members of the board of directors — seven are now women — unanimously approved the change in March. It was kept a secret until two days ago, when state directors and former Miss Americas were informed.
ABC News reported:
“This is a new beginning and change can sometimes be difficult but I know a lot about change,” [Carlson] said. “My life has worked in mysterious ways. I never thought I’d be the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, but here I am and we’re moving it forward and we’re evolving in this cultural revolution.”
Response to Miss America’s new focus has been mixed.
Though many social media users applauded the organization’s announcement, others pointed to pageants such as Miss World and Miss Universe, which will continue to have swimsuit portions. Some suggested the Miss America organization is ignoring its beginnings.
The competition was set up nearly 100 years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a bathing beauty pageant specifically designed to attract tourists to the area during Labor Day weekend.
The first contest in September 1920 was entitled ‘The Fall Frolic’ and was so successful that by the following year 100,000 people turned out to watch young women compete from all over the country.
Margaret Gorman, Miss District of Columbia, was declared “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America’, and quickly became known as Miss America.
Since then, thousands of beautiful young American women have entered their state contests hoping to win a coveted prize on the Miss America show.
The New York Times reported:
… [W]hat started as contestants wearing one-piece bathing suits, conservative by today’s standards, became women in revealing bikinis and high heels parading around for a leering television audience.
Miss America’s change also highlights organizations’ need to reevaluate how their structures and policies fare in today’s media landscape, where controversies can quickly become crises.
What do you think of the organization’s new approach?