The Miss America Organization is eliminating the swimsuit and evening gown portion of the annual contest effective immediately, ending a 97-year tradition for the iconic beauty pageant. And no one is happy.
From feminists who have hammered the event as “degrading” to hopeful young women striving for the iconic crown, the responses to the announcement are more than mixed; they are weirdly bi-polar. The vehement testimonials from a myriad of interesting parties now prompts the question: should the grand dame of beauty pageants die a quick and merciful death, remembered fondly as entertainment of “those quirky ancestors of ours?” Or do we allow Miss America to linger as the vestiges of a bygone era are ripped from the organization, in a degrading, public mockery?
Recently appointed chairwoman, Gretchen Carlson, yes, the Gretchen who sued Fox News for sexual harassment, made the policy change official in a press release:
“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment. We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”
If Miss America is not a pageant, focused on well-rounded, intelligent, physically fit women, why shame the name and tarnish the tiara?
In the 2017 Judges Manual, they state the obvious:
“The American public has an expectation that she will be beautiful and physically fit. This is the same expectation they have for all of their celebrities, from music and film to sports, and Miss America is no exception. You must look at her physical beauty as well as her physical fitness.”
An all-young-woman event—at least so far—will now resemble a very lengthy televised interview process. Boring. Perhaps the gender-neutral activists will have the identity of “Miss” removed and allow for participation tiaras. Less boring, but much more sensational. Bert Parks, long ago host and crooner who warbled “There she is, Miss America” for decades as men ogled and women wept, is certainly flailing against the confines of his sarcophagus in an attempt to resurrect himself and right this egregious wrong.
The Bathing Beauties
Miss America was launched in 1921 by Atlantic City businessmen attempting to lure tourists past the typical beach season. They began with eight bathing beauties, competing for the crown, who once off the beach would be allowed to wear their dipping suits in public.
On the heels of women earning the right to vote, many suffragettes viewed the contest as a way for women to liberate themselves further in a male dominated society. Blain Roberts, noted historian and author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South, told Time:
“This was a time women were cutting off their hair. Cosmetics were not acceptable before this time period; only actresses and prostitutes wore makeup. These are middle-class women saying, ‘I should be able to wear makeup and go out in public in [shorter clothing] that doesn’t go down to my ankles.’ They are rebelling against Victorian mores saying you have to cover your body.”
And the feminists are scratching their short-cropped heads and wondering how they missed that bit of historical information. Especially one Julie Zeilinger, author the blog classily titled FBomb, who snarled from the screen, “But when Gretchen Carlson says we are ‘not going to judge you on your outward appearance,’ the implication is that the competition will still judge women — just not by measures of blatant physical objectification.”
Well how else do you win? Heck, I’m judging Zeilinger’s blog right now.
There are those that think the idea is, well, stupid. Madison Gesiotto, Miss Ohio 2014, told Fox News, “Of course outward beauty is not as important as inner beauty, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that outer beauty can’t exist.”
For all the brouhaha surrounding the #MeToo hysteria, sweeping cultural changes are, for the most part, long overdue and positive. But unceremoniously tossing an almost century old American tradition into the cultural dumpster, labeling it degrading to contestants, is flat out ridiculous and will end the reign of Miss America in one fell swoop. Ratings will wither and die, and without sponsorships and advertisers, the organization, a leading provider of scholarships to young women, will cease to exist. How does that advance and empower women?