Even Without Its Swimsuit Competition, Miss America Has No Place in 2018

Can we just scrap the whole thing, please?

Contestants from the Miss America swimsuit competition stand on stage and clap. They are wearing swimsuits.

(Photo: Getty)

They may have recently scrapped the swimsuit competition, but that doesn’t mean that Miss America (and all other beauty pageants for that matter) belong in our modern era.

Gretchen Carlson, chair of the board of trustees of the Miss America Organization—and 1989 winner of the competition—announced the big change as part of what event executives are calling, “Miss America 2.0.” “We are no longer a pageant,” she told Good Morning America on June 5, “We are a competition.” Carlson also explained that going forward, the “competition” will be accepting women of “all shapes and sizes,” in an effort to create a more inclusive and empowering event.

But even with these—frankly, overdue—changes, how does this competition actually determine what makes a ‘winner’? It’s 2018, maybe it’s time to just scrap a televised excuse to openly judge women all together. Here’s why:

The emails that revealed the BTS misogyny

In December 2017, HuffPost published a news piece that exposed emails belonging to the competition’s (now former) CEO Sam Haskell. Over the span of five years, Haskell engaged inappropriate conversations with the former lead writer of the Miss America telecast, Lewis Friedman. The emails include several fat-shaming and slut-shaming comments from the former CEO towards former Miss America winners, including one particularly lewd email that referred to 2013 winner Mallory Hagan as “huge” and “gross.”

The news outlet also reported that months before the emails were released to the public, the competition’s affiliate Dick Clark Productions resigned their board positions after the organization neglected to penalize Haskell when his disturbing emails were brought to their attention.

A statement to HuffPost by a Miss America spokesperson said that Friedman had been “let go,” and the organization was working to change its internal communication guidelines. Two days after the exposé was published, Haskell resigned from his position. A new CEO has since taken the helm (who—Carlson says—is a woman), but it is disturbing that a man in such a powerful position within the organization was able to get away with his actions for so long.

But are these changes really enough to change Miss America?

Historically speaking, Miss America’s commitment to supporting unrealistic beauty standards for women has been reflected in the consistently thin, tall and conventionally beautiful contestants that have graced their stage. Women who are considered “plus-size” have been notably absent from the group of eligible contenders, which has left audiences with a strong impression of what the company’s judges, board members and executives consider worthy of representing the coveted title of Miss America.

In addition to achieving physical perfection, contestants have been encouraged to act according to old-school ideals of ladylike perfection. Participants have been expected to exhibit perfect poise and grace while standing in sky-high stilettos on-stage, seemingly defying gravity while also personifying traditional ideals of femininity.

A scene from Miss Congeniality where Michael Caine is explaining to Sandra Bullock how to walk like a beauty contestant

(Credit: GIPHY)

Carlson explained that the competition will eliminate appearance-based judgements, instead making decisions based off contestants’ social initiatives alone. However, it seems like a big statement coming from an organization that has based so much of its identity around statuesque models in evening gowns. I mean, if we’re just judging candidates purely on their work, wouldn’t an online application be more suitable?

Don’t get us wrong, it’s great that the organization is making the progressive changes it so desperately needs (a change that we hope state-level pageants will take note of), but if it really is committed to being the “largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States,” why televise the competition at all? Miss America has had its time, and it is not in 2018.


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