“We are no longer a pageant” was the highlight of the media tour of Gretchen Carlson, the chairperson of Miss America Organisation, as she went on to explain new changes in the upcoming edition of Miss America. On June 5, 2018, Miss America tweeted a video of a bikini vanishing in thin air with slogan “bye bye bikini” and it took social media by storm. Within next few hours, Miss America became a trending topic on all the social media platforms with speculations about how the pageant would replace the swimsuit round (or bathing suit as Miss America calls it). But the real shock came when Gretchen Carlson appeared on Good Morning America to clarify what the new changes meant. The words “we are no longer a pageant; we are a competition” will keep echoing in the minds of pageant followers for months to come as we watch the end of world’s oldest surviving beauty pageant.
Yes! End of the Miss America pageant. Many of you might oppose this idea of calling it an end of the “pageant”. Some may say Miss World also removed the beach beauty segment and it is still a pageant. It is worth noting that even after removing the beach beauty, Miss World still remained a pageant which chooses facially beautiful winners. In case of Miss America on the other hand, the organization itself has said that they are not a pageant anymore. As ironic as it sounds, the pageant which used to be considered as the original beauty pageant or the mother of all the pageants itself is afraid of being called a pageant. The pageant which gave birth to Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and became the base for many beauty pageants across the globe will now be known as a “competition”. This makes me wonder since Miss America was a pioneer in establishing the pageant industry, whether its act of rejecting the tag of a beauty pageant become a cause for the collapse of the global pageant industry?
Ever since the MUO was taken over by WME/IMG (now known as Endeavor) the pageant witnessed many changes. Many of those changes were not taken well by the pageant community. Former Miss USA winners like Shandi Finnessey and Susie Castillo called out MUO for trying to be similar to Miss America system. The decline in the number of applicants for Miss USA and Miss America isn’t a secret. The drop in ratings of Miss USA, Miss Universe, and even Miss America is also very much evident. In such an environment if the original beauty pageant itself starts saying it is not a pageant; it’ll have disastrous effects on the pageant industry in the United States. If Miss America pulls off these changes successfully, it’ll be just a matter of few more years before MUO adopts some of these changes. And once MUO adopts these changes, pageant organizers around the world will have no option but to follow these changes. A domino effect which will eventually lead to elimination of the core concept of pageantry has already begun. It will be interesting to see how much deep impact these changes will have not only on the American pageants but also the global pageant industry.
I completely support Miss America’s decision of ditching the swimsuit round. Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that Swimsuit round objectifies women. But there was absolutely no need to change the evening gown round. The Miss America 2019 (upcoming edition) will allow girls to wear any outfit of their choice for the evening wear round. If so, then what will be the criteria for such round or how this will be carried out on stage? That is something we will get to know only when the pageant/competition airs in September 2018.
Rather than saying we are not a pageant, Miss America could have tried to give a new meaning to the word “pageant”. The Miss Universe Organisation with their new direction has been making a lot of progressive changes but they never stopped calling themselves a pageant. It is worth noting that Miss World had faced protests from feminists groups as early as 1970 and the pageant was dropped by mainstream media in the UK due to heavy criticism. The pageant again attempted a comeback on UK’s mainstream TV during the late 90s and early 2000s only to be canceled after the Nigerian controversy. Even though Miss World still has a good hold on the audience in some parts of the world, the main pillar of support for pageantry come from America as the big four TV networks in America continue to air pageants in primetime. If Miss America fails to properly execute these new changes, the ratings of the pageant may suffer a serious drop. And if that happens, it might face the same fate as the Miss World pageant causing further damage to the pageant industry.
In the light of the “me too” movement and the recent scandal relating the management of Miss America, it was well anticipated that Miss America will bring some changes this year. But just as Miss America moves closer towards its 100th edition, they are unfortunately killing their identity as a pageant. Whether this is a milestone in the new direction in which beauty pageants are moving or whether this is a gravestone of the oldest surviving pageant will only be determined in due course of time. Till then you can only keep hoping for success or failure of the newborn Miss America “Competition” depending on which side you are on.
Author: Jinendra Aherkar
Photo Credit: Miss America Organization