The portion of the Miss USA pageant that judges contestants by their looks in a swimsuit has long been faced with criticism for the way that it objectifies women’s bodies while undermining personality and talent, so the pageant owners, the Miss Universe team that runs Miss USA and Miss Teen USA—and is no longer owned by Donald Trump—decided to change things for the junior pageant. The younger contestants will ditch the swimsuits and instead compete in athletic wear.
“This decision reflects an important cultural shift we’re all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same,” Miss Universe President Paula Shugart wrote in a memo obtained by USA TODAY. “Our hope is that this decision will help all of Miss Teen USA’s fans recognize these young women for the strong, inspiring individuals they are.”
The shift is intended to highlight a more realistic version of women’s lives: Most contestants likely spend more time in athletic gear than they do in bikinis. Katherine Haik, the reigning Miss Teen USA, told USA TODAY, “I have been an athlete my entire life. As a member of a softball team and a competitive dance team, I spend a lot of time in athletic wear. This new direction for Miss Teen USA is a great way to celebrate the active lives that so many young women lead and set a strong example for our peers.”
The Miss USA pageant also gained attention earlier this month when audiences noticed that judges were asking tougher questions during the question-and-answer portion of the competition. Critics noted that it could be a sign of a shift toward valuing intelligence and political awareness over beauty.
Earlier this month, host and creative producer Julianne Hough hinted to USA TODAY that changes may come to the Miss USA pageant, after admitting she understands the “cringe-worthy negative” feelings towards the swimsuit competition.
“There’s definitely some work I think still to be done, that’s where we’ve been talking with the producers,” she said. “In the next few years we may grow from that, but let’s see where this year goes.”
Hough did not respond to Motto’s request for comment on Wednesday’s news.