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Girls & Women

It’s about time: Miss Teen USA ditches swimsuits

missmnteenusa via Instagram

The swimsuit round of the Miss Teen USA pageant has been lost at sea.

The 2016 pageant, which takes place this weekend, will feature an athletic wear competition in lieu of the traditional swimsuit portion. The move follows in the footsteps of the Miss World pageant, which struck the swimsuit round from its competition in 2014.

"[The pageant is] committed to continuing to evolve in ways that celebrate women’s strength, confidence, and beauty for years to come," said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization which operates the Miss Teen USA pageant.

Shugart added that the decision to replace swimsuits with athletic wear “reflects an important cultural shift … that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same.” The new athletic wear portion of the competition hopes to focus more on health and wellness than being “beach body ready.”

While the shift from swimsuits to athletic wear reflects progress, there’s still a long way to go in reforming the way we value women and girls. Pageants have long perpetuated narrow norms of female beauty, rewarding those who happen to possess those traits, thereby legitimizing the objectification of women and girls. The mere fact of their existence and prevalent media coverage reinforces the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily for their physical appearances.

A photo posted by Erin Snow (@missalteenusa) on

To combat this message, the French government banned beauty pageants for girls under the age of 16 in 2013. The major proponent of the ban Chantal Jouanno said the ban makes the statement that “what counts is what [girls] have in their brains.” In 2014, the Argentine town of Chivilcoy banned beauty pageants altogether, opting instead to hold a competition in which the award goes to the young woman who has contributed the most to her community.

Miss Teen USA’s announcement marks a step forward, but still reinforces the idea that girls and women should be prized for their subjective beauty, rather than their accomplishments and talents. In the future, we hope to see a system that values people for their personalities and capabilities over their appearances.