Miss America Is Scrapping Its Swimsuit Competition. Here’s What Contestants Will Be Judged On Instead

Can a forward-thinking rebrand make up for the famed pageant’s 97-year past?

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Miss America pageant 2018
Miss North Dakota 2017 Cara Mund celebrates the round of victory during the 2018 Miss America Competition. Photo, Donald Kravitz/Getty Images.

If you’ve ever seen Miss Congeniality, you’re probably well-acquainted with Candice Bergen’s expertly nefarious portrayal of Kathy Morningside — a former “Miss United States” winner and the pageant’s director — who, in addition to being pure Stepford Wife on the outside, repeatedly doubles down on the event being, foremost, a “scholarship program.”

This week, taking a very Kathy Morningside tack, the Miss America Organization announced plans to scrap the swimsuit portion of its yearly lady-parade. The move marks a decisive pivot away from superficial judgments of contestants’ physicality and towards making superficial judgments about “who you are as a person from the inside of your soul.” (That’s a direct quote.)

That’s a huge change, right?
You bet, especially considering the Miss America pageant’s origin as a Labour Day bathing-beauty contest out of Atlantic City, New Jersey, almost a century ago. (Its express purpose? Ogling.)

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The announcement was made on Tuesday’s broadcast of Good Morning America by Gretchen Carlson, current chairwoman of the pageant’s all-female board of trustees, and a former Miss America herself. With plans in the works to also dismantle the evening-gown segment — and, instead, allow contestants to sport “whatever makes them feel confident” — Carlson has pooh-pooh-ed “pageant” lingo in favour of the more cerebral positioning of the event as a “competition,” (who does that sound like?), based on “what comes out of their mouths” and “what makes you you.”

Why the rebrand?
“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,’” Carlson explained. “So guess what, you don’t have to do that anymore!”

Let’s not forget however that the pageant has recently been embroiled in its very own #MeToo-era scandal: Last December, a Huffington Post investigation unearthed three years’ worth of emails between high-ranking Miss America officials, some of which included nasty messages about contestants’ sex lives, weight gain and intelligence. This reveal led to the resignation of the pageant’s entire board, and the installation of women in the group’s top three positions.

And because it is a TV show, there are ratings to consider: Carlson said that pageant-watchers are mostly interested in the talent portion of the show anyway — which sounds a lot like that old chestnut about Playboy readers buying the magazine for the articles.

When will the women officially be allowed to put their clothes back on?
The new policies will be implemented in time for this year’s broadcast on Sept. 9.

Will these policies actually make for a less objectifying competition?
I personally believe that one can certainly hope! (A very pageant answer.) Cara Mund, Miss America 2018, seemed to think it was a good start: