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Can the 'exploitive' Miss America really change? Here's what experts think

Korin Miller
Writer
The Miss America pageant announced that the swimsuit competition will no longer feature in the contest (AFP Photo/Ethan Miller)

Big news in the beauty pageant world: Miss America has scrapped the swimsuit competition.

The announcement came early Tuesday on Good Morning America via Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the board of trustees for the Miss America Organization. Carlson says the change was inspired by the #MeToo movement. “We are no longer a pageant, we are a competition,” she said. “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That’s huge, and that means that we will no longer have a swimsuit competition.”

Carlson, a former Miss America, also said that “it’s going to be what comes out of [the candidates’] mouths that we’re interested in, when they talk about their social-impact initiatives.”

The Miss America organization, which is dubbing itself “Miss America 2.0,” released a short video of a bikini disappearing into thin air on and social media with the caption, “We’re changing out of our swimsuits and into a whole new era #byebyebikini #MissAmerica2019.”


The organization also announced in a press release that the evening gown competition would be tweaked to “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.” The talent portion is remaining, and in lieu of the swimsuit portion, each candidate will participate in a “live interactive session” with the judges, where she will “highlight her achievements and goals in life” as well how she plans to use her “talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”

People are having mixed reactions on social media:






Miss America was founded as a beauty pageant in the 1920s, and it’s stayed that way for decades. At its core, the competition is predicated on looks. Can changing the format really get rid of that? Maybe not.

While licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that dropping the swimsuit portion of the competition is an “excellent idea,” he points out that a beauty pageant is still a beauty pageant.

Dropping the swimsuit competition sets “somewhat a good example,” Mayer says. But, he adds, it may not make the impact the organization is hoping for. “Most young people still view this spectacle as silly, outdated, and insulting,” Mayer says.

Given how rooted the competition is in judging women based on beauty, it may be tough to move beyond that. “Beauty pageants are exploitive by definition and origin,” Mayer says. “They were started by men as a marketing gimmick to attract customers to their entertainment venues — it continues to be an exploitive marketing exercise.”

David Frederick, PhD, an assistant professor in health psychology at Chapman University, agrees: “In the past, the Miss America pageant has made it clear that the best person to represent America not only has a talent, but also has a very narrow set of body types that fit into a narrow idea of who is attractive.”

While he admits that the new format has the potential to put less emphasis on objectifying women for their appearance and more emphasis on showcasing their talents, ideas, and perspectives, “We will not know until September 9th whether there truly is a radical change in the role models that the Miss America pageant is emphasizing to young girls.”

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