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‘After #MeToo, Miss America Had to Change’: A Former Winner on Saying Goodbye to the Swimsuit Competition

3 minute read
Kazantsev is an advocate, speaker, and event host who served as Miss America 2015.

By taking away the swimsuit competition, Miss America is confirming to the world that there is no correlation between modeling in a swimsuit and receiving scholarships. It should be about what you say and do.

After that one day on television, Miss America goes on the road for 365 days out of the year, visiting a different city every two days and travelling about 20,000 miles a month. She becomes the national Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and works extensively with the United Service Organizations (USO) and our service members, as well as advocates on behalf of her personal platform.

All of these things require somebody that is witty, quick and inspiring, has grit and hustle and can get on the ground and talk to little kids one day, then walk into a senator’s office in Washington D.C. and advocate for causes they believe in the next. Clearly the person doing that job does have to be physically capable of handling it—but that doesn’t mean they need to be good at modeling a swimsuit in hi-definition on prime time television. As many contestants will tell you, being “pageant fit” and generally healthy are two different things.

I am not surprised by the June 5 announcement. In order for the organization to continue being relevant and to adhere to the cultural revolutions of the #MeToo movement, it does need to make some changes. These changes will be tough; Miss America has been around for almost 100 years and has a deeply ingrained place in people’s hearts. However, things are definitely moving in the right direction.

After winning Miss America in 2015, my life has been a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve traveled around the world, from Afghanistan to South Korea, visiting our military abroad with the USO. I’ve visited hundreds of children’s hospitals and sat with families losing their loved ones. I have also introduced Pitbull at the American Music Awards and presented an award to One Direction at the Billboards. It’s been crazy.

The life that Miss America has given me and the changes I have seen in myself have been really empowering. To be honest, swimsuit contributed to that—I did enjoy competing in a swimsuit, I liked strutting across the stage in that moment as it suited my personality—but looking back I have realized that it really had nothing to do with the job I went on to undertake. In fact, competing in a swimsuit consistently hindered me, as people I met on the road would often write me off and not take me seriously. For some it was even perceived permission to make lewd comments and even mock me.

Hopefully by eradicating the swimsuit round, people who saw that part of the competition as a challenge or an impediment can now take a second look and reconsider their position. I’m very excited to see what types of doors this will open to new possible representatives of the image of Miss America.

As told to Kate Samuelson.

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