June 06–There she is, Miss America
There she is, your ideal …
Miss America, you’ve come a long way, baby — from the days when women’s waist, bust and hip measurements were listed as they strutted spray-tanned in stilettos and bikinis on an Atlantic City stage before millions watching on live network television.
It turns out the national ideal, the dream of a million girls who are more than pretty, the queen of femininity, as the song goes, doesn’t need a swimsuit or a form-fitting low-cut gown anymore.
Grabbing the coattails of the #MeToo movement, the Miss America pageant is getting a reboot, sans maillot de bain.
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” said Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America Organization Board of Trustees who won the crown herself in 1989.
The very definition of the nearly century-old Miss America pageant has been recast into a scholarship competition that instead highlights women’s talents, philanthropy and leadership.
“We are no longer a pageant; we are a competition,” Carlson, told “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning. Carlson also is a former co-host of “Fox & Friends” who later sued Fox News and its founder and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
The Miss America Organization says it is the world’s largest scholarship provider for women — but up until now, those women had to compete for college tuition dollars in a misogynistic contest judging them on a hotness scale of 1 to 10.
Really, it had to change.
The organization was rocked in December by scandal as three of its leaders resigned after they sent disparaging emails calling a former Miss America fat and suggesting she was promiscuous.
Following the resignations, Carlson was named board chair of the organization, and its leadership is now comprised entirely of women — women who axed the swimsuit competition and changed the evening gown portion of the event so contestants can wear whatever they like.
That news thrilled Kirsten Haglund, who was crowned Miss America in 2008 on a platform of raising awareness about eating disorders and helping women develop a positive body image.
“I am elated. This is a long time coming. … I have been in tears off and on all day today,” said Haglund, who entered the Miss Oakland County pageant on a whim in 2007 with the hopes of nabbing some scholarship money, and went on to win not only Miss Oakland County, but also Miss Michigan in 2007 and Miss America in 2008.
“As soon as I got the job of Miss America and I started traveling around the country, I saw what an impediment the focus on physical outward appearance — and especially the swimsuit competition — was to the things I and most other women value most about the program.”
She felt as if she wasn’t truly heard when she spoke to members of Congress, university students, heads of nonprofit organizations and corporations about eating disorders and about other charities, such as the Children’s Miracle Network.
“The message seemingly would always get lost. … It would always be eclipsed by the fact that this is a beauty pageant,” said Haglund, a Farmington Hills native. “That always really, really broke my heart because I knew I was more, and I knew the women who competed were more, and I also knew that the organization has to change with the times.
“Women are in a different place than they were in 1921, when the pageant was started as a bathing beauty review. If the organization wanted to be valued for the scholarships, for the service of its women, for their leadership skills and the leadership training that’s involved, they needed to live up to their values and stop judging women based on their physical appearance.”
But not everyone is applauding the move.
Ashlee Baracy, a former WDIV-TV (Channel 4) meteorologist and news reporter who now works in Cincinnati, was Miss Michigan 2008, and went on to finish in the top 10 in the 2009 Miss America competition.
“If swimsuit is that horrifying to people, then how has the ‘pageant’ or should I say ‘competition’ now (tomato vs. tomato) lasted 97 years? It is one thing to evolve, but another to completely demolish it,” she wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday.
Baracy told the Free Press that when she started competing in 2005, “my mother was going through cancer treatment. My dad’s overtime was cut and my family needed money to pay for my college.
“One of my dance teachers said to me,’You should try competing for Miss America. They’re the largest scholarship provider for women.’ My first reaction was, ‘I’m not getting on a stage in a two-piece swimsuit and high heels.’ … And she said, ‘You don’t have to wear a two-piece swimsuit. Wear a one-piece swimsuit if you want.’ So I did.”
She won the swimsuit award in Miss Wayne County that year, and also nabbed second runner-up overall in the pageant.
“I realized that the swimsuit competition was about a lot more than, you know, us thinking we’re objectifying women. It’s about being proud of the skin that you’re in and exuding that confidence and being scored on your confidence, not your physique,” Baracy said. “Your lifestyle and fitness is judged on how healthy and strong you are as opposed to how thin you are.
“I quickly began to respect what the swimsuit competition was about and respect the history of over 97 years that has been a component of Miss America. … I think we are losing a component of what makes Miss America well rounded.”
Her fear is that by axing the swimsuit competition and revamping the evening wear portion of the event, all the glitz and glamour will be gone, and the viewers will disappear, too.
“I would say my biggest concern … would be the ratings,” she said. “As a TV personality, I understand the importance of ratings. Without ratings, you don’t have the sponsors and commercials. Without sponsors and commercials, you don’t have money. With it being a scholarship program, we have to remember where that money is coming from so we can maintain the kind of sponsors that we’ve had over the course of the last 97 years.
“I think to myself, ‘how many little girls are going to tune in and watch other women just talking on stage?’ There’s a part of the appeal of ‘Oooh, you’re in an evening gown.’ There’s something kind of magical about that when you’re a little girl.”
And there she is
She’s walking on air, she is
Fairest of the fair, she is
“Change can sometimes be difficult,” Carlson said on GMA, noting that the organization must evolve to remain relevant in the era of #MeToo and “this cultural revolution.”
“We’re no longer judging women when they come out in their chosen attire — their evening wear, whatever they choose to do. It’s gonna be what comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in, when they talk about their social-impact initiatives,” Carlson said.
If all that Carlson is saying is true, the organization is going to need to find a way to draw viewers — one that doesn’t include a parade of scantily clad women.
And it’s going to need a new song, too.
This article provided by NewsEdge.