The Miss America Organization will no longer judge contestants on physical appearance as the 2019 winner is crowned on Sunday.
The next Miss America will be judged on brains, not beauty.
The 97-year-old beauty pageant airing on ABC on Sunday night has dropped its swimsuit competition — and will stop rating women on their physical appearance, period.
“We are no longer a pageant,” Gretchen Carlson, who was crowned Miss America in 1989 and is now the organization’s chairwoman, told “Good Morning America” recently. “We are a competition.”
Instead of having contestants parade around on stage in bathing suits, the new program (rebranded as “Miss America 2.0”) will include a “live interactive session with judges,” according to the Miss America Organization, where contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will be asked to talk about their passions and how they would uphold their title of Miss America. The organization is also ditching the evening gown portion of the program, and will instead allow participants to slip into something that makes them feel more confident and comfortable while expressing their personal style.
“We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program, but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and a swimsuit,’ so guess what, you don’t have to anymore,” Carlson told “GMA.” “Who doesn’t want to be empowered, learn leadership skills and pay for college, and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul? That’s what we’re judging them on now.”
Carlson took over the Miss America competition with a new all-female leadership team earlier this year, after the organization’s former executive director Sam Haskell and president Josh Randle resigned over leaked emails that insulted former pageant winners’ appearance and sex lives — including Carlson.
The new rules also come amidst the #MeToo era, as women have shared their stories and advocated on behalf of victims of sexual harassment and abuse. Carlson voiced her #MeToo support after settling a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2016 against former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
“Thousands of women have been inspired to know that they can stand up and speak up and their voices will be heard,” Carlson said. “If I’ve been a beacon of hope to any woman in that process it has been worth it.”
But this year’s pageant has also been clouded with controversy after the current reigning Miss America, Cara Mund, recently claimed in an open letter that the Miss America Organization has marginalized her over the past year. “Our chair and CEO have … essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis … The sheer accumulation of the disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion has taken a serious toll,” she wrote. And reps from 22 state pageants have called for Carlson and the organization’s CEO Regina Hopper to resign.
The Miss America Organization responded that it “supports Cara,” but, “It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately. Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns.”
This article was originally published on June 5, 2018, and has been updated with Cara Mund’s claims ahead of the 2019 Miss America Pageant.
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