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Miss America 2.0: the new wave of pageantry

| Friday, September 14, 2018

Diane Park | The Observer

If you had tuned in to ABC News on Sunday, you would have noticed a fairly drastic change to the Miss America pageant: there is no longer a swimsuit phase of the competition. Along with this change comes the implementation of an onstage interview the contestants must have with the judges. The show was still full of glamour … but with a lot less skin.

The chair of the Miss America Board of Trustees, Gretchen Carlson, axed the famous swimsuit portion in early June. Carlson reported to “Good Morning America,” “We are no longer a pageant; we are a competition. We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance.” In order to make the program more inclusive for all eligible young women, Carlson — the 1989 Miss America — dubbed the new competition “Miss America 2.0.” Not only did she decide to cut the swimsuit portion, but the contestants are no longer judged on their evening-wear attire. They can choose to wear what they want for the short onstage question during this phase, as a means of self-expression. However, it was still interesting to see that many of this year’s competitors continued to wear elaborate gowns, and some even showed a little more skin than what’s considered normal.

Many of the constituents in the pageant system were actually quite displeased by the changes. In response to Carlson’s decision, a group of previous Miss America titleholders wrote a letter asking for Carlson to step down from her position. They claim that she made the decision without asking any of the constituents, and state that directors were unsure of the process, which makes it difficult to help their girls prepare for the national competition. Both state and national titleholders made impactful posts on social media about how the swimsuit phase helped them gain a new sense of confidence, and helped exhibit the hard work and determination that molded their character. Savvy Shields Wolfe, who won the contest in 2017, wrote in an Instagram post: “[At] Miss America … I was at a new level of strong that I didn’t think my body or mind was capable of … I felt empowered when I was wearing my evening gown, when I was in a swimsuit, when I was in my workout clothes.” The women expressed that they felt the changes were undermining what the organization had always stood for — empowerment. Shields Wolfe continued, “Miss America has always been, and always will be, an organization that empowers women.” With a swimsuit portion or not, women participated in the pageant to gain scholarship money, work on interview skills and acquire the tools they need to become successful leaders of the future. Carlson still remains on the board, but this year’s competition lit a fire under each contestant to show America their talents, aspirations and social impact initiatives.

The winner of the night’s competition, Nia Franklin, hails from New York. For her talent, she showcased her vocal abilities and performed an operatic piece. Geared toward challenging the contestants with real-world issues, the onstage question portion showcased each young woman’s education and ability to eloquently speak about a pertinent topic in society. In response to a question about how she would promote positive body image in America, Franklin replied, “I grew up in a school with only 5 percent minority, but growing up, I found my love of arts and through music, I felt positive about myself and who I was. That’s what I would encourage young girls to do, find who you are.” Franklin will be remembered as the first winner in 98 years who was not asked to wear a swimsuit onstage. Her thoughts? “These changes … will be great for our organization. I’ve already seen so many young women reaching out to me personally as Miss New York asking how they can get involved.”

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