Don’t call it a pageant anymore

Published 10:22 am Monday, June 11, 2018

You may have heard this week that they’re doing away with the swimsuit contest for the Miss America Pageant.

Oops! One more victim: It won’t be called a ‘pageant’ anymore, but instead be known as the Miss America Competition.

Don’t get me wrong – even though I’m about to get flamed and shamed – I was one of those who didn’t change the channel or turn a blind eye when that portion of the show came on for obvious reasons most men than women will understand. But now, without pressure from the #Me Too Movement, I can take comfort in knowing women no longer have to strut on stage in front of millions of TV viewers in a bikini and high heels to try to earn scholarship money.

Yes, no doubt this was the most sexist component of the event. Wear a swimsuit, but don’t swim in it. Don’t go barefoot in said non-swim attire, but instead wear 6-inch heels (something you always see at the beach!). Look slender and muscular, but not too thin and not too strong. And before you start showing more skin covered in oil than Jimmy Buffet can sing about, make sure you work to get those six-pack abs.

If you study the history of Miss America – Google it sometime – you will see that it actually began back in the ‘Roarin’ 20’s in Atlantic City, NJ as a contest between bathing beauties out on the boardwalk. Yet despite the surf being only a few yards away, rest assured none of these ladies wearing said apparel were about to get wet and it had nothing to do with their hair.

Evolution some 20 years later in the post-war era took it from ‘bathing suit’ to ‘swimsuit’. In fact, the 1947 winner, Tennessee’s Barbara Jo Walker, was actually crowned wearing her swimsuit. Since then, the committee has gone to wearing gowns.

Three years later, the winner refused to pose in swimwear and they claim that refusal led to the creation of Miss USA (a contest once owned by President Donald Trump until four years ago, but enough of that story!). When the 60’s and 70’s came along and two-piece suits were all the rage, Miss America hopefuls were still wearing one-piece, though with a ‘modesty’ panel. The 80’s brought on attire that, according to current Miss America chairman – and ex-FOX News anchor – Gretchen Carlson, “hugged your body in all the right places to enhance your bustline and slenderize your waistline.”

The end of the century brought on the bikini (sort of akin to its resurrection on the beach at the same time!), and that’s when (2001) it became known as the ‘lifestyle and fitness’ competition.

This brings me to wanting to see something like they have in the Miss Teen America competition. These ladies perform aerobic routines, including planks, squats and jumping jacks. The teens wear leotards, and when the camera cuts to the audience we see less shots of ogling because it has the feel of watching an exercise class.

Real competition of that sort would be a more accurate reflection of today’s young American women’s healthy lifestyle. Granted, even with that there’s too much emphasis on being thin; but one’s weight should reflect a fit lifestyle. And doesn’t that reflect what a body can do rather than only how it looks!?! Just check out Serena Williams or skier Lindsey Vonn.

That’s just an idea to float for the committee. I can’t say it’ll lead to higher TV ratings, but remember, if you still want to see women in bathing suits showing skin on TV, you can always tune in to the latest goings-on with ‘The Bachelor,’ or whatever island they’ve landed on ‘Survivor.’ If you want to go beyond that, you don’t need to be watching a scholarship competition, you need to be watching ‘Naked and Afraid.’


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.