For the first time in nearly a century, Miss America contestants will not strut onstage in swimsuits this year, the organizers announced on Tuesday, as the pageant tries to redefine its role in an era of female empowerment and gender equality.
Miss America and swimsuits have been synonymous since its first contest in 1921 on the Atlantic City boardwalk. But what started as contestants wearing one-piece bathing suits, conservative by today’s standards, became women in revealing bikinis and high heels parading around for a leering television audience.
Now under mostly female leadership, the Miss America Organization said Tuesday that it was scrapping the swimsuit competition, starting at the national contest in September, in a sweeping change that will also reshape local and state contests.
“I’ve talked to tons of young people who’ve said to me, ‘I’d love to be a part of that program, but I don’t want to parade around in a swimsuit,’” Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who is now the organization’s chairwoman, said in an interview. “I get it.”
The organization, confronting its own harassment scandal and searching for its place in the MeToo era, had worked on the new format for several months. The nine members of the board of directors — seven are now women — unanimously approved the change in March. It was kept a secret until two days ago, when state directors and former Miss Americas were informed.