#Becauseits2016, the 33-year-old American beauty pageant has decided that it will no longer require its contestants—girls aged 15 to 19—to trot around in swimsuits onstage and be judged on it. Of course, it’s still a beauty competition so there will be appearance-based judging, but the original notion that bathing suits allowed for shows of athleticism—really?!—has been vetoed for a brand new athleisurewear component.
While we applaud a shift that’s meant to “empower women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same,” as Miss Teen USA president Paula Shugart told USA Today, we’re doubtful that the contestants will be stepping onstage in yoga pants and a comfy sports bra. If there’s a way to sexualize and scandalize fashion’s fave—and inherently casual—trend, we’ll probably see it here. BUT, baby steps.
The attempt to make the pageant seem less like an audition for Baywatch extras is just the latest industry move towards inclusiveness after the Miss Universe Pageant Organization (which produces the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions) shed the orange-tinted shackles of previous owner Donald Trump. You may recall that NBC Univision dropped the broadcast last fall following the Republican politician’s offensive comments about immigrants, after which Trump sold the rights to talent agency WME-ING, which has started to rebuild.
What does that look like? This year will see the first openly gay Miss America contestant, Miss Missouri Erin O’Flaherty, while the recently crowned Miss USA Deshauna Barber is a lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve.
In fact there’s hope for a ripple effect that will see bikinis eliminated from other high-profile beauty pageants as well. Julianne Hough, who is the host and creative producer of this year’s Miss USA show, told USA Today that even within the organization, the direction is more health and wellness than T&A: “They’ve talked about different ideas for that aspect of the competition…being confident in the fact you worked hard to get that body and you go to the gym and you eat healthy and do certain things.” Amen to that.