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Cara Mund competes as Miss North Dakota at the 2018 Miss America Competition
Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian
Girls & Women

Miss America Is Scrapping Its Swimsuit Contest for the Best Reason

The Miss America pageant is getting a major overhaul this year.

For starters, it’s no longer a pageant — it’s a competition — and it’s ditching the swimsuit round, which has been part of the competition for nearly 100 years.

Gretchen Carlson, the first chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, announced the changes on Tuesday during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

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"We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That's huge," Carlson, who was crowned Miss America herself in 1989, said. "We’ve heard from a lot of young women who say, ‘We’d love to be a part of your program but we don’t want to be out there in high heels and a swimsuit,’ so guess what, you don’t have to do that anymore."

Critics have said the swimsuit portion of such pageants and their strong emphasis on physical appearance have reinforced the objectification of women and sexist attitudes. The Miss America competition is not the first to axe the swimsuit round. The Miss Teen USA competition announced in 2016 that would be replacing the swimsuit contest with an athletic wear competition.

But the Miss America competition is taking things a step further to refocus the competition on the contestants themselves.

Going forward, Miss America hopefuls will participate in a “live interactive session with the judges” in lieu of strutting down the catwalk in swimwear, according to the organization. The live session is intended to give each contestant ta chance to “highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America," the organization said in a statement.

Read more: This Model With Down Syndrome Just Became First to Appear in Miss USA Pageant

Contestants will also be invited to wear any kind of attire in which they feel confident during what has previously been the evening gown portion of the competition. Carlson added that the competition aims to be more inclusive of women of “all shapes and sizes.”

The body-positive changes to the competition are part of a larger effort to reform the competition in response to the #MeToo movement and leaked emails in which then-CEO, Sam Haskell, and other members of the Miss America Organization made derogatory and sexist comments about former pageant winners.

Following the scandal, Haskell and two other board members resigned in December 2017, leading to Carlson’s appointment to the board. As the chairwoman of the Miss America Organization, Carlson now leads an all-female team.

"We're experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues," Carlson, who has been a vocal advocate against sexual harassment in the workplace, said in the statement. "Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement."

While the changes to the Miss America competition and within the organization represent progress, some critics argue that ending the competition altogether would be the ultimate step for the organization to target sexism.

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