The Miss America Competition was under fire last year when CEO Sam Haskell and other board members in the Miss America Organization had their emails uncovered to reveal sexist content concerning the pageant participants. These emails were extremely hurtful to the organization, the contestants, and women across the United States. Miss America is a very controversial topic; there’s a lot wrong with the organization, which has been the center of objectifying contestants, and the generator of sexism, xenophobia, and racism towards women since its birth in 1921. Miss America was always meant to be a reflection of the social and political situation of women in the United States. Miss America has always been evolving — it was not until the 1970’s when a pretty lady involved in charity work was no longer the standard for a winner, but an educated successful role model for young women. Now, with the rising social status of women, feminism, and especially in light of these emails, the Miss America Organization has officially decided to try and change the pageant for the better.
From now on, the Miss America Competition will be judging competitors based on their intelligence and talent over their physical appearance. The biggest change the organization has made is the decision to eliminate the swimsuit section. Beauty has always been a prominent aspect in the competition, however, forcing the candidates to walk across the stage in high heels and nearly no clothing places too much emphasis sexualizing them. Instead, the swimsuit component will be replaced with an interactive session between each participant and the judges. The judges will be able to interview the candidates and discuss what their goals are, how they want to use their talent to make an impact on the world, and what they want to achieve with their passions and interests. The focus should be on how well-rounded and cultured the girls are, not on their cup-size.
Another part of the competition that will change is the evening gown contest. Earlier in the year, Chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, Gretchen Carlson, claimed that this would be eliminated along with the swimsuit modeling. Yet, there was a fair bit of pushback— instead of eliminating the evening gown, the girls preferred to dress sophisticatedly and have intelligent conversations. They want to be allowed to choose the evening dress they feel best represents themselves and the image they are trying to promote. Officially, this has always been the case but the pressure from previous winners’ looks were limiting the contestants’ styles: dresses were typically form fitting, sparkling, with cleavage exposing, paired with stilettos and long shiny hair or a classy up-do. It was very uncommon for a girl to break away from this unspoken standard. This freedom is very new to the Miss America Competition, and it will be interesting to see how each candidate’s individuality comes through in her dress and speech. Perhaps it will encourage them to challenge what society has deemed “beautiful” for so many years.
The judges criteria for each candidate will also be completely revamped. Physical appearance, aside from posture and grace, comprised of the majority of the criteria for the Miss America candidates. In future competitions, talent will be the most compelling aspect. Although, a guide for the judges has not been released yet, we do know that talent will make up nearly half of each participant’s score.
Miss America has been struggling to define itself in a world of female empowerment. It was very clear to the Miss America Organization board that the competition needed to modernize and relate to ambitious young women. Not everyone agrees that recreating the system is going to fix the years of hatred these contests have promoted towards women. Yet, they are beginning to represent an American society that values and respects women.