Women will no longer be making an appearance in bikinis in the Miss America Competition, dissolving its decades-long image as a traditional beauty pageant based partly on sex appeal into a competition of the #MeToo era.
“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment,” chairwoman of the organization’s board of trustees and former Miss America 1989, Gretchen Carlson, said in a press release Tuesday morning.
In place of swimsuit competitions, contestants will partake in a “live interactive session” with judges” where they will discuss their achievements and goals in life. In response to recent changes, the current Miss America Cara Mund tweeted, “We’re changing out of our swimsuits and into a whole new era #byebyebikini #MissAmerica2019.”
The annual pageant was formally established in 1921 as a beauty contest by local Atlantic City, NJ, businessmen in order to extend summer tourism in the area.
Since its inception, Miss America has slowly strived to become more than just a competition about women’s physical appearance. In 1938, the pageant added a talent section to the competition and in 1944, the organization awarded a college scholarship to the pageant winner for the first time. Today, the Miss America Organization, a non-profit, is the largest provider of generous college scholarships for young women in the U.S., awarding a total of $302,000 in the 2018 Competition. Its partners and sponsors over the years have included Dick Clark Productions, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Sherri Hill among others.
Despite its stated mission to empower young women and their education, the competition has often found itself in controversy over its practice of requiring contestants to don revealing gowns and swimsuits in high heels for an audience hungry for good looks. In the early 1990s, this controversy resulted in the organization asking its own viewers to vote whether or not to drop the swimsuit portion of the competition. The majority of polled participants actually voted in favor of keeping the tradition, and Miss America has since continued with it — that is, until Tuesday’s announcement.
The organization’s moves send an empowering message to young women, but the question of how the changes will impact viewership and potentially, ad revenue for its broadcaster, ABC, remain.