The Miss America Organization, which began in Atlantic City in 1921, is the world’s largest competitive scholarship program for young women, and one of the nation’s leading achievement programs.
Margaret Gorman, Miss District of Columbia, was declared “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” in 1921 at the age of 16. Since then, annually, there are over 13,000 contestants who compete for local and state pageant crowns in the fifty states, US Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It has evolved from a mere beauty contest of young ladies in bathing suits to a more professional and more competitive experience with an emphasis on public speaking, community service, and educational achievement.
This week, Gretchen Carlson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, announced that the Miss America Pageant would no longer be operated as a pageant. She said that she has spoken to thousands of Miss America hopefuls and they want to be a part of the program, but they don’t want to parade around in a swimsuit. Carlson said that this was the catalyst that prompted the board to make the decision to drop the swimsuit category of the contest.
The decision has sparked a controversy throughout social media as people have debated the merits of the swimsuit category and whether it should be continued or eliminated. Scores of former pageant contestants and winners have spoken out and although they are not pleased with the decision, they agree that the Miss America program as a whole is still responsible for the women they are today. More interestingly Carlson is Miss America 1989 so she is also a beneficiary of the process that she is eliminated.
So is it about beauty, ratings, or a response to a cultural revolution in America? Carlson said that no longer will contestants be judged on their outward appearance. Instead, the competition will be based on the contestant’s ability to talk about their platform of community service, their goals and their achievements in life.
I find it questionable that the organization expects ratings to increase and ticket sales to continue without the very thing that the competition began as….a swimsuit competition. Will people continue to attend Miss Monroe, Miss Louisiana or Miss America pageants and pay hundreds of dollars for tickets to see contestants sit on a stage and talk with judges?
Two years ago, Playboy Magazine decided to drop the nudity in its magazine. It said that it was going in a different direction. However, it only took a year for the magazine to revert back to its original design. The February 2017 issue of the magazine saw a return to full nudity in the magazine that had been operating since Marilyn Monroe graced the cover in 1953. Hefner’s son said that removing nudity from its magazine was a mistake.
I would think that in a year or two, the Miss America Organization will come to a similar realization…that taking the swimsuit out is a mistake. Sure, there is more to the Playboy Magazine than the centerfold. Some men do read it for the articles. And as such, there is more to the Miss America Pageant than beautiful ladies parading in swimsuits. But the two are centerpieces of these two operations.
The competition has long since been solely about the swimsuit. There are five categories of competition in the pageant: Interview, Talent, Evening Gown, On-Stage Question, and Swimsuit areas.
Each category is weighted as to give the contestants a fighting chance if they so happen to lack in one area. Despite the five categories, the interview decides the winner of the pageant. Most viewers and attendees of the pageant never see the interview, so it’s possible they see the glamour and pageantry of the talent and swimsuit and assume their contestant won. However, the on-stage categories are basically last looks for the few candidates the judges have already selected to win prior to the main event.
“With so many beauties, she’ll take the town by storm, with her all-American face and form, and there she is, walking on air she is, fairest of the fair she is, Miss America,” are the lyrics performed annually in a recording by Bert Parks.
Beauty and outward appearance are enshrined in the pageant’s culture, tradition, and it’s history. It is not the only thing that defines the women wearing the crown, but it is an essential aspect. To expect that America should stop appreciating the physical attractiveness of females is an idea that will be short lived.
There are countless former pageant contestants whose careers in entertainment and mass communications were kickstarted because of their beauty and presence while wearing a Miss America crown.
To say that the process that it took to get them to be the professional women they are today is wrong is an insult to them, their families, and the local communities that served as incubators for their rise to the stages in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
With all of the social and cultural changes in this Trump Era of America, maybe one day we’ll make Miss America great again!