Is America Going to Miss This Part of the Miss America Pageant?
Where will men turn to see women in swimsuits now?
The Internet—along with the millennials who barely remember life without it—is blamed for destroying a lot of things. Video rental places, print media, shopping malls, society’s collective sense of shame. This year, it—and we—can also take credit for finally killing off the swimsuit component of the Miss America Pageant. This week, Gretchen Carlson, former Miss America (go 1989!), Fox News host, recent #MeToo figure instrumental in bringing down Roger Ailes, and current Miss America chair announced that the nearly 100-year organization would be dropping the controversial swimsuit component from the competition.
In interviews, Carlson said that they are making the change because it was time for Miss America to be a competition based solely on a woman’s talent, intelligence and social enterprise. The whole #MeToo emphasis on not valuing women just for their bodies played a role, too. And it’s true. If it were 2015, say, the world wouldn’t be ready for the seismic change of ridding the world of such an antiquated and blatantly sexist practice. But, a few years and a few indictments later, the world is a different place.
The real news here though is that the swimsuit competition lasted this long at all. Because let’s be honest, as much as some former Miss Americas like to claim that the swimsuit portion was about body positivity and health, it was always really about giving men an excuse to ogle and judge women’s bodies. See, back before the Internet made looking at women’s naked bodies super easy and stigma-free, ladies wearing swimsuits on television was one of men’s main sources of titillation. It’s why Baywatch was a thing, and why Entertainment Tonight always seemed to have at least one story about a Sport Illustrated model or actress posing for Playboy (I know because those segments were very important to me when I was 12).
The bar for televised sexiness was so low as to be quaint. But, the Internet has been delivering pornography to the masses for more than 20 years now. Swimsuits on television offer only diminishing returns. The only real successful holdover from those adorably PG-13 days is the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but that’s arguably because it’s leaned into both the fashion show aspect and the musical performances. The Swimsuit portion of Miss America has nothing left to justify it. After all, there are other, less gratuitous ways of establishing a candidate’s health and fitness. Like, why not a Miss American Ninja Warrior type thing? Hopefuls should be able to wear whatever they want while running through the impossible courses, including and especially evening gowns.
The point is, no one watched the pageant for the chance to see some skin. So, while it’s commendable that the organization is modernizing, the move is entirely risk-free. That’s better than nothing, but it is a crappy reminder that social change rarely happens if it costs anything.