In ‘Secrets of Miss America,’ the bikini battle rages on

It’s been five years since the Miss America pageant scrapped the swimsuit contest, but after Monday’s episode of Miss America’s secretsit’s clear that the debate still rages among past Miss America winners and beyond.

Last week’s premiere episode of the new A&E series put an end to the 2017 email leak that ultimately upended the contest and prompted the resignation of CEO Sam Haskell. This week’s episode explored what happened as a result of this upheaval, which included the organization bringing in former FOX News anchor and 1989 Miss America Gretchen Carlson to chair the board of administration.

Carlson previously sued Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment, and won a $20 million settlement in one of the first high-profile cases of the #MeTooMovement. And one of Carlson’s key orders for Miss America when she arrived in 2018 was to scrap the swimsuit pageant, which was the pageant’s original basis when it began in 1921 as a way to keep tourists in Atlantic City. after Labor Day. .

The decision was announced in June 2018 with Carlson telling hello america“We will no longer judge our candidates on their physical appearance” and call the movement Miss America 2.0, using #byebyebikini. And what remains five years after this decision is a very divided line among the former winners.

One of the biggest arguments some past winners have made to get rid of the swimsuit competition is the unrealistic body standards they feel it sets, leading competitors to do things that are dangerous to their bodies to try. to gain an advantage or even simply to maintain it. On Tuesday’s show, Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan gave more details about what she witnessed during the competition.

“I’ve seen laxatives, I’ve seen caffeine pills, diet pills, things that probably shouldn’t be sold in a market. I’ve seen prescription drug abuse, you name it,” Hagan said. “I didn’t drink water for 24 hours before a swimsuit competition to dehydrate me to the point of showing my muscles and I’m not the only one.”

Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008, who has battled anorexia in the past, also spoke on the show and saw the negative impact contestants had on young women – the very people they were. meant to serve as role models. She said she knew getting rid of the bathing suit “would ultimately end up saving lives”.

“It’s a horrible, horrible dark cycle of, like, self-abuse,” Haglund said of the eating disorder. “I fell into this hole very quickly, because at first it’s intoxicating, but then it becomes deadly. But you can’t get out.

However, other past winners view the swimsuit contest as an essential part of the history and fabric of the contest. Ericka Dunlap, Miss America 2004, said it “takes away the elegance of Miss America”. And Betty Maxwell, Miss America 2016, called the idea “ridiculous”.

“I’ve never felt more empowered than walking onto the Miss America stage in a bathing suit,” Maxwell said. “You’re just like, ‘boom’, you just know you’re so beautiful and you’re so confident. Something about wearing a bikini with high heels, it just feels really good. You just know you look awesome like, ‘I’m a woman, look at me.’ It’s a woman, right there.

Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron also pondered the question when she spoke with Yahoo’s Taryn Ryder ahead of the show’s premiere:

“I am a professional swimsuit competition. Only because, you know, you don’t want to go to Burger King and they say we don’t serve burgers, like, girl, what! For me, I think the most important thing was to reimagine how we could potentially judge this phase of the competition, as opposed to crowning the skinny girl and judging one body with another body. I think we should judge girls by their body type today. People of color, their bodies will be different from a white girl. It’s just reality. But also, what you do for fitness – a swimmer is like a softball player, he’s going to have a lot more butt than a ballerina. So we shouldn’t think that the girl who is the softball player is tall… I think we could have redesigned the competition without removing it altogether.

Carlson’s tenure only lasted about a year, but for now, the swimsuit competition remains on the sidelines. And while no talk of his return has officially surfaced, the organization’s vice president of marketing and development, Brent Adams, isn’t closing the door on anything.

“Miss America will not survive unless she continually re-evaluates and evolves. That is what we failed to do as an organization 30 years, 20 years, 10 years ago,” Adams said. “But society is changing, no business stands still, and Miss America is no different. It must continually seek to be relevant to young people and sponsors.

Cameron – Miss America 2010 – on the other hand, sees a pretty clear path to bringing him back.

“There’s a fitness component that comes back, and there’s more emphasis on what the girl is doing for her fitness component. So hopefully this will eventually help us get back to the swimsuit and where we used to be,” she told Yahoo.

And then there’s Haglund, who not only doesn’t see the swimsuit competition returning, but she thinks the whole organization could go even further.

“I believe the time and the need for a woman with a crown and a sash is almost over. I think she had a good run, I think it did an amazing thing for a lot of women, me there But I don’t think America needs a Miss America anymore,” Haglund said. “It’s going to drive some people crazy, but that’s okay.”

Miss America’s secrets airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.

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