Career

Miss America pageant drops its swimsuit section - five years after Miss Universe NZ led the way

It seems NZ leads the charge on this one!

An announcement that Miss America pageant organisers are dropping the swimsuit section has gone viral.

"We're changing out of our swimsuits and into a whole new era," the Miss America Org declared on Twitter on Tuesday, with the hashtags #byebyebikini and #MissAmerica2019.

It's a big move in an industry that's renowned for being staid, sexist and outdated. The announcement came with a shake-up of management, with the top three leadership roles for Miss America now being filled by women. The pageant has been running since 1921. Miss America's management overhaul was triggered by an email scandal last December in which Miss America officials denigrated winners' intelligence, appearance and sex lives.

But if Miss America organisers are feeling pretty chuffed with themselves, they're well behind what's already been done in New Zealand.

Miss Universe New Zealand dropped its swimwear section five years ago in 2013 when TV producer/actor/director Nigel Godfrey and Wellington publisher Jack Yan took over as directors.

Yan explains, "It was important to us when we took over in late 2012 that Miss Universe New Zealand reflected our country's values. Losing the bikini parade from the live show and giving the contestants the option of active wear in a photo shoot was one of the most radical steps we took, and quite rare among the over 90 territories that participate in Miss Universe worldwide."

Yan says it was important to him and Godfrey that "each young woman is valued on who she is".

"In the last five years Miss Universe New Zealand has been about each contestant's journey and making it a positive life-changing experience."

Miss Universe New Zealand 2017, Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou)
Miss Universe New Zealand 2017, Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou)

He says the 20 finalists for this year's competition - which will air live on Bravo TV on August 4 - include a barrister, a trained classical pianist, two support workers, an architectural student and a freelance journalist.

Each of the finalists take on an entrepreneurial challenge where they are tasked with raising money for Variety, the Children's Charity. In the last five years Miss Universe New Zealand has donated over $150,000 to charity.

Miss America also announced that they're planning to judge contestants on 'what makes you you'.

As reported by the Press Association, Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America who became head of Miss America's board of trustees said, "We're not going to judge you on your appearance because we are interested in what makes you you."

Contestants will participate in an interactive session with the judges "where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America".

Miss America 1993 Leanza Cornett has spoken out in support of dropping the swimsuit competition.

"I hated it," she told the Press Association . "I always felt awkward and uncomfortable... In the climate of #MeToo, I think it's a really wise decision. We're living in a different era now, and when we move forward for the empowerment of women, we will be taken much more seriously, and I think that's huge."

But not everyone is impressed. Said one person on Twitter in response to the announcement: "Yes, it's an inner beauty contest now. But, for some weird reason, all the female contestants will still look like models, very attractive women. I wonder why? Must be some confusion there. Oh wait, I know. It's because this lame decision is all about virtue-signaling, no logic."

Said another, "So here we have a beauty contest, which has removed the... uh... beauty part of the contest? So how does this justify its continued existence, and what is it... an inner beauty contest? Clownworld."