Miss America is starting to catch up
She waves her hand and smiles, with a tiara glinting in her hair and a sash draped across her satin gown. Little girls admire her like they would a Disney princess, teenage girls envy her and women wonder what sort of legacy she’ll leave behind.
Miss America winners have made their stamps on the world with their beauty, poise and brains, with former winners becoming major news anchors and Hollywood stars. Many of them have forged their careers on their looks and Miss America fame.
But, while the fame and connections the Miss America pageant gives its winners will continue, the pageant has finally realized it needs to catch up with modern-day America and leave one of its looks-based elements behind: the infamous swimsuit competition.
The change may have never been made, if misogynistic emails from former Chief Executive Officer Sam Haskell hadn’t been leaked to Huffington Post in December. They were investigated by multiple major news networks, including USA Today, Newsweek and The New York Times.
The leaked emails between Haskell and Miss America pageant telecast lead writer Lewis Friedman used four-letter words and other vulgar language to refer to former Miss America pageant winners. In multiple email conversations between the two in August 2014, Haskell accused Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan of being sexually promiscuous. A January 2015 email of Haskell’s was sent to Friedman and other male Miss America Organization employees, in which Haskell fat-shamed Hagan. Still another of Haskell’s emails, from December 2015, discussed Haskell’s successful attempts to sabotage Hagan’s business as a Miss America pageant interview coach, according to Huffington Post reporter Yashar Ali.
Haskell and several other members of the Miss America Organization resigned due to the emails, making room for a female-positive CEO – former Fox News host and Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson – to take his place.
The removal of the swimsuit competition is the first example of how Carlson plans on leaving Haskell and other sexist parts of the Miss America pageant in the past.
Although some people have protested this recent decision, many former Miss America winners have publically acknowledged the positive impact this will have on the future.
“I saw how (the swimsuit competition), unfortunately, perpetuated the objectification of women more than it empowered them,” said Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund in a public Facebook message. “If we are going to measure health and well-being, let us not measure it based on how a woman looks in minimal clothing or an evening gown completely out of the budget range for most college students. Let us base it (not measure it) on her character. On her leadership. On her compassion, kindness, community and service mindset, on her inclusivity and her strength of spirit.”
Although some elements of hyper-sexualization will continue with the Miss America pageant, including the evening gown competition, the removal of the swimsuit competition is one step in the right direction.
Maybe someday Miss America will be crowned based on her character alone. Maybe that’s too much to hope for, in a world where hyper-sexualization equals higher TV ratings.
But the Miss America Organization is trying to change, and we hope this change is only the tip of that iceberg.