Miss America is getting a makeover.
Gretchen Calrson, who won the competition in 1989 and is now the organization’s chairwoman, announced the program will no longer feature a swimsuit portion during an appearance on “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning.
“We are no longer a pageant,” she said. “We are competition. We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance.”
In place of the swimsuit portion, Miss America contestants will take part in a live interactive session with the judges, aimed at highlight their achievements and goals for the future, according to a press release from the organization. The new segment will also give women an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of and passion for the role of Miss America.
The event was first held in 1921 as a swimsuit pageant in Atlantic City as part of the “Fall Frolic” – a two-day event established by local businessmen to extend the summer season.
Magaret Gorman, a 16-year-old from Washington D.C., won “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America,” which would eventually develop into the “Miss America” competition.
And while the competition’s foundation is in the swimsuit portion, it’s not among the highest rated parts of the show, Carlson noted.
“People like the talent part of the competition,” she said.
The evening gown portion is also getting the boot. Instead, contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will be asked to sport a look of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives.
“We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and swimsuit,’” Carlson said. “So guess what? You don’t have to do that anymore.”
The former Miss America also acknowledged the underlying pageant tone has long been a point of contention, but emphasized talent and intelligence has always been an important part of the program. Now, she said, it’s just a matter of highlighting that.
“We are now open, inclusive and transparent and I want to inspire thousands of young people across this country to come and be a part of our program” Carlson said on GMA. “We want you and we to celebrate your accomplishments and your talents and we want to hand you scholarships.”
The nonprofit foundation behind the pageant had come under fire in the past year after misogynistic emails by former CEO Sam Haskell and other leaders were exposed in a Huffpost report.
In the leaked emails, Haskell – who later resigned – were among several officials demeaning the intelligence, personal lives and appearances of former Miss America participants, including Carlson.
The board suspended Haskell to launch an internal probe, sparking fury among former Miss America winners, who demanded his immediate resignation. Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan slammed the move as “absolutely inadequate” while 1998 winner Kate Shindle said Haskell would “take down the whole ship, rather than relinquish control.”
Haskell’s eventual departure and the competition’s latest revamp is not the first time Miss America has been slow to implement change. The competition did not welcome its first black contestant – Cheryl Boone, Miss Iowa – until 1970. A decade later Miss New York Vanessa Williams became the first black winner, though her victory was met with intense discrimination and backlash.
She later resigned after Penthouse announced it would publish raunchy photos she had posed for two years earlier while working as a photographer’s assistant.
“Change can sometimes be difficult,” Carlson said Tuesday. “I could have never expected what would happen when I sued my former employer at Fox News for sexual harassment 22 months ago, but look what has happened,” she said.
Carlson, who joined the Miss America board in a bid to bring stability amid Haskell’s resignation, has also been at the forefront of the #metoo movement and an advocate for victims of sexual assault. The former Fox news host in 2016 settled a lawsuit against former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who stepped down from his position amid a slew of similar allegations from employees.
“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,” Carlson said. “Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”
The revamped Miss America will return to Atlantic City for its 2019 competition and air Sunday, Sept. 9.
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