Miss America will no longer make contestants parade on stage in swimsuits and will stop referring to itself as a pageant – an effort to move the 97-year-old event forward in the #MeToo era after its upper ranks were rocked by scandal.
Gretchen Carlson, the new chair of the board of trustees for the Miss American Organization, announced the changes on ABC’s Good Morning America Tuesday morning as part of the competition’s attempt to shift its emphasis away from comparing women’s looks and bodies.
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” Carlson, who was crowned Miss America in 1989, said. “That’s huge.”
The re-imagined event will feature “a live interactive session with the judges” in place of a swimsuit competition and contestants can opt to wear any attire that makes them feel comfortable and confident during what typically is the evening gown portion, according to ABC News. The changes will be in place for the next Miss America competition, set for Sept. 9 in Atlantic City.
“It’s going to be what comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in when we talk about their social impact initiatives,” Carlson said.
By shifting the emphasis away from physical appearance and focusing instead on personality and intellect, Carlson said she believes the competition will see an “influx” of new contests and new company sponsorships. In her appearance on Good Morning America, Carlson emphasized the Miss America Organization’s work to provide women with educational scholarships and opportunities. Contestants between the ages of 17 and 25 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia can compete.
The change comes amid a national reckoning of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace — a conversation Carlson herself helped draw attention to when she spoke out against and sued her former boss, former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment in 2016.
“This is a new beginning, and change can sometimes be difficult, but I know a lot about change,” she said on Good Morning America. “My life has worked in mysterious ways.”
In the years since Carlson spoke out against her former employer, more women have stepped forward to share their stories and demand an end to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace as the #MeToo movement garnered widespread attention. Miss America itself came under fire in the winter when a Huffington Post report exposed emails from former Miss America CEO Sam Haskell that included disparaging language about contestants, their bodies and their sex lives. Haskell resigned from his position, and so did the organization’s former chair, Lynn Weidner.
“Thousands of women have been inspired to know that they can stand up and speak up and their voices can be heard,” Carlson said. “And if I’ve been a beacon of hope to any woman in that process, it will have been worth it.”