For decades, the Miss America pageant has been synonymous with satin sashes, high heels—and the swimsuit competition. When it first launched in 1921, the pageant centered around this very spectacle: Contestants walked in the sand of Atlantic City in bathing suits and high heels. In 1936, the talent portion of the pageant was added, but the competition was anything but inclusive. Contestants had to be between 18 and 28 years old, never married—and white.
Now, as we experience a long-awaited cultural shift with the #MeToo movement, the Miss America Organization is taking a step to creating a shift of its own. Led by Gretchen Carlson—chairwoman, previous Miss America winner and former anchor who sued Fox News for sexual harassment—the organization announced recently that come September 2018, the swimsuit component will no longer be a part of the Miss America pageant when it returns to Atlantic City. The focus instead will be on talent and social justice platforms, for which the organization will award scholarships; last year, the Miss America Organization awarded $2 million in scholarship money.
“This is a new beginning, and change can sometimes be difficult,” Gretchen said in Vanity Fair. “But I know a lot about change. My life has worked in mysterious ways. I never thought I’d be the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, but here I am and we’re moving it forward, and we’re evolving in this cultural revolution.”
The hope seems to be that dropping the swimsuit competition will encourage more women to participate in the Miss America competition. As the organization continues to evolve to meet modern mores, perhaps it will become a competition that truly represents, and is inclusive of, the diversity of American women, as well.
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