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Miss America's Makeover

Contestants in the 97th Miss America competition take the stage in Atlantic City N.J. on Wednesday Sept. 6, 2017 in the first of three nights of preliminary competition. (Wayne Parry/AP)
Contestants in the 97th Miss America competition take the stage in Atlantic City N.J. on Wednesday Sept. 6, 2017 in the first of three nights of preliminary competition. (Wayne Parry/AP)

With Robert Siegel

There she is, but no longer in a swimsuit. We’ll look at Miss America’s makeover and new message.


Jessica Bennett, gender editor of The New York Times, where she covers women, gender and society. (@jessicabennett

Gretchen Carlson, crowned Miss America in 1989, she is now the chair of the Board of the Miss America Organization. Former host of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson on the FOX News Channel. (@GretchenCarlson)

Afia Ofori-Mensa, teaches a course at Oberlin College called, “How to Win a Beauty Pageant.” Assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and assistant professor of Comparative American Studies and Africana Studies at Oberlin. (@AfiaMensa)

From The Reading List:

The New York Times: Goodbye, Swimsuit Competition. Hello, ‘Miss America 2.0.’” — “Fifty years later, it appears that #MeToo has done what a protest could not: eradicate one of the most derided aspects of the competition, the swimsuit.

The Miss America Organization — whose chief executive resigned in December over lewd emails and whose new chairwoman, Gretchen Carlson, once sued Fox News for sexual harassment — on Tuesday announced it would scrap both the swimsuit and evening gown portion of the competition, replacing them with ‘a live interactive session with the judges’ in which a contestant ‘will highlight her achievements and goals in life.’

Ms. Carlson, the 1989 Miss America, said in an interview that her aim was to ‘make the event more inclusive’ and described it as a ‘competition,’ not a ‘pageant.’ The organization’s new motto is ‘To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.’ And its website indicated a broad rebranding effort: ‘Miss America 2.0. Coming soon: New website. New show. New experience.'”

TIME: Why the End of Miss America’s Swimsuit Competition Is a Big Deal, According to Pageant History Experts” — “In fact, though Miss America started specifically as a swimsuit competition, that format was then considered by some to be liberating for participants.

The first such event, held in 1921 in Atlantic City, N.J., was originally conceived as a marketing stunt to keep summer tourists around after Labor Day; it worked, and pageants started being held at other resorts nationwide for the same reason. This was a moment in history when the sportswear industry was booming amid the rise of middle-class leisure time and tourism, which was in part a product of the establishment of the 40-hour work week. It was considered liberating for women to be free to show off bare limbs in a swimsuit, when even a trip to the beach had long required respectable American women to dress modestly.

‘In some ways, you could say women were participating in these contests because they saw them as vehicles for a degree of sexual liberation,’ says historian Blain Roberts, author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South. ‘This was a time women were cutting off their hair. Cosmetics were not acceptable before this time period; only actresses and prostitutes wore makeup. These are middle-class women saying, ‘I should be able to wear makeup and go out in public in [shorter clothing] that doesn’t go down to my ankles.’ They are rebelling against Victorian mores saying you have to cover your body.'”

Okay, it’s not about the state of U.S.-China relations, immigration, or internet privacy. But – millions of us watch the Miss America pageant every year and this year, there’ll be some changes. No swimsuits. Forget the evening gowns. Forget about even calling it a pageant. We’ll hear from among others the Chairwoman – Gretchen Carlson.

This hour, On Point: Will a reset save Miss America?

– Robert Siegel

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