Miss America: Bikinis banned in #MeToo era

Miss America: Bikinis banned in #MeToo era

JUST IN: "We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That's huge. And that means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition." - @GretchenCarlson on the major changes coming to @MissAmericaOrg https://t.co/ICRIsRN71h pic.twitter.com/IWKcVvCC50

07 Haziran 2018 - 02:00

The swimsuit competition has been a part of the Miss America pageant for nearly 100 years.

So why, in 2018, did the powers that be at the Atlantic City competition decide to get rid of it?

It was a perfect storm of events over a period of several months: the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the rise of the #MeToo movement, and an internal pageant scandal that catalyzed an overhaul in leadership.

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America who took over as chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors in January as part of that overhaul, delivered the news on Tuesday.

"We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance," a triumphant Carlson said on "Good Morning America."

"That's huge ... and that means that we will no longer have a swimsuit competition," she said, starting with the 2019 competition at Boardwalk Hall on Sept. 9. She added that the event would be "revamping" its evening gown competition. 

Paul Morigi | Getty Images
#MeToo and Gretchen Carlson

When Carlson, 51, assumed leadership of the pageant following a scandal that pushed out the former CEO, she became the first woman to lead the Atlantic City pageant in its nearly 100-year history. 

But in the age of #MeToo, Carlson's ascendance carried further significance.

The cultural moment played a key part in both determining her role in salvaging the increasingly out of touch pageant and contributing to the conversation about whether or not the pageant could really claim to empower women when it was sending them down the runway in swimsuits and heels.  

Carlson, after all, had famously toppled Roger Ailes, former Fox News chairman, after suing him for sexual harassment in 2016, claiming that after she rejected his advances, he retaliated by not renewing her contract. Fox News reportedly settled with Carlson for $20 million and Ailes resigned just short of a year before his death in May of 2017.

When Carlson sued Ailes, it was still more than a year before stories in the New York Times and The New Yorker would bring to light allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein

Those stories started a cultural reckoning in which women and men began to speak out about their claims of sexual harassment and assault. But Carlson's actions caused a domino effect at Fox, where other employees came forward with their own allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct.

As news of Carlson's settlement hit the pageant in 2016, contestants were asked about her decision to speak out against harassment in their pageant interviews.

To many of them, a fair few aspiring broadcast journalists and advocates in the mix, she represented more than just a former Fox News anchor — she symbolized the type of career they could have even if they didn't win the crown.

At a time when Hillary Clinton was still running for president, Carlson served as another visible woman with a voice, standing up to a man who commanded a media empire. Against all odds, she won. 

JUST IN: "We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That's huge. And that means we will no longer have a swimsuit competition." - @GretchenCarlson on the major changes coming to @MissAmericaOrg https://t.co/ICRIsRN71h pic.twitter.com/IWKcVvCC50

-- Good Morning America (@GMA) June 5, 2018
The pageant email scandal

Later, within months of the Weinstein revelations in October, Miss America weathered a controversy of its own involving a powerful man at the top who for years had controlled the pageant. The leak of emails from former pageant boss Sam Haskell in December upended the whole power structure of the pageant system, which includes events at the state and county level across the country. 

The emails showed correspondence with a pageant scriptwriter that contained misogynistic comments and messages from Haskell himself that disparaged former titleholders and the appearance and sex life of Mallory Hagan, Miss America 2013 (who is now running for Congress in Alabama). 

In a climate where people had been openly sharing their experiences as victims of sexual harassment and assault on social media as part of the #MeToo movement, a large group of former Miss Americas mobilized to stand in solidarity and call for Haskell's ouster.

He was suspended and resigned on Dec. 23, making way for Carlson and other former titleholders to take the reins.

Aristide Economopoulos | The Star-Ledger
A Miss America says 'me too' and the conversation changes

Other pageant executives made their exit and former titleholders tried to wipe the slate clean, making room for a new pageant board and an all-female leadership team that was announced in May, including Regina Hopper, Miss Arkansas 1983, who is the new president and CEO of the Miss America Organization. 

Hopper, the new Miss America president and CEO, tells NJ Advance Media that the cultural moment and Carlson's leadership crystallized a progressive direction, even as critics had long ago written the pageant off as irrelevant at best and deeply offensive at worst. 

"We have seen a major shift in the country over the past few months," Hopper says. "I do think that the cultural shift that we've experienced right now is allowing this to happen."

Hopper is now responsible for managing regular pageant business and the event's TV broadcast. An executive at Gridsmart, a Tennessee traffic technology company, the former pageant queen is also an Emmy-winning former correspondent for CBS News.

She pointed to Carlson's public example as a source of energy and inspiration for change within the pageant. 

"When she went out on her own, she was doing that before there was a #MeToo movement," Hopper says, referring to the post-Weinstein version of Tarana Burke's original 2007 hashtag campaign. By the time Carlson's book, "Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back," came out, the Weinstein story was dominating the headlines and she was being cited as a women's empowerment and equality advocate instead of just a former Fox News employee.

"Here is a former product of the (Miss America) system who was able to do what she did and now wants to open up that system to more people," Hopper says.

(Pictured above: Theresa Vail, the first contestant to show tattoos on the Miss America stage, in 2013.)



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