It's not just the skimpy swimsuits

For decades, women competing in the "Miss America" contest donned skimpy swimsuits and heels and paraded on the natio...

Posted: Jun 6, 2018 12:59 PM
Updated: Jun 6, 2018 12:59 PM

For decades, women competing in the "Miss America" contest donned skimpy swimsuits and heels and paraded on the national stage - before TV cameras and millions of men and women, boys and girls across America -- turning carefully so judges could inspect their bodies from every angle.

No more. On Tuesday, Miss America Cara Mund tweeted a video of a white bikini going up in smoke.

In an interview on "Good Morning America," Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the organization's board of directors, announced the event will no longer feature a swimsuit competition and contestants will be able to wear "whatever they choose" during the evening gown contest. "We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. That's huge," she said.

It is. But so is the larger problem it is trying to chip away at.

It can't be coincidence that the changes were made now, when for the first time the Miss America Organization is being run exclusively by women. The women took over after previous leaders were accused of making inappropriate comments about the sex lives and weights of contestants.

And the decision must feel like special vindication for Carlson, who competed in the swimsuit competition herself before being crowned Miss America in 1989. Some 27 years later, Carlson received a $20 million settlement and an apology from 21st Century Fox after she accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

Ailes was a major supporter of President Donald Trump, who has used beauty pageants (he co-owned Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA) to achieve his business goals around the world - and boasted that he could walk in on contestants, naked in their dressing rooms ("I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant and therefore I'm inspecting it").

This is the larger context - and ongoing challenge -- against which Carlson and the Miss America Organization have made their revolutionary move. It is #MeToo time, and so it is high time for Miss America, which bills itself as "one of the nation's leading achievement programs for young women" -- to stop being all about beauty and sex appeal.

But while women everywhere can certainly celebrate this retrograde institution catching up with the country's cultural moment, the truth is society as a whole hasn't quite made this leap. In short, the problem with judging women based on their appearances didn't go up in smoke with that white bikini.

Indeed, women remain more assiduously regarded and judged than men based on their personal appearances in everyday life.

In a 2015 study, for example, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati found that, when people look at pictures of women and men, they gaze at the women for longer amounts of time.

The media reinforces this emphasis and, despite noble pushback from institutions like Miss America, it is literally everywhere you look. Last year when human rights attorney Amal Clooney went to the United Nations to warn the world about a genocide in Iraq, Time magazine tweeted, "Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations."

Even so-called feminists do it. In her best-selling book "The Female Eunuch," Germaine Greer wrote that women want "freedom from being the thing looked at rather than the person looking back." But that didn't stop Greer from disparaging Meghan Markle's "cow turd hat" in an interview last month. Men rarely get such treatment.

This petty emphasis on women's looks rather than accomplishments isn't just inappropriate, it also promotes gender inequality and makes it harder for women to compete with men.

In her memoir, Hillary Clinton complained about "how much effort it takes just to be a woman in the public eye." She calculated that she spent a total of 25 DAYS in a hair and makeup chair during her 2016 presidential election campaign. That's time she wasn't out campaigning in swing states.

It's also cuts into women's income. A 2017 Groupon study found that, over the course of a woman's lifetime, she'll spend over a quarter of a million dollars more than a man on her appearance - spurred on by a vast fashion and beauty industry whose stock in trade is the canard that a woman's worth is tied directly to how good she can make herself look.

Focusing on women's bodies rather than their contributions to society is also, of course, deeply unhealthy. It can help explain why women are twice as likely to be depressed as men, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Among teens, for example, negative body image is a key driver of depression, anxiety and suicide.

So it is great that the Miss America contest isn't going to overtly judge women based on their bodies anymore. But, to fix the bigger problem, all of us need to demand that our other cultural institutions do the same-and slowly push back the sexist tide that continues to wash over our culture.

And on a personal level, we can all follow the ethos of the Miss America competition, and make a conscious effort to start looking more at what women are contributing to the world, and less at what they're wearing.

This article is updated from an earlier version, which included an incorrect Editor's Note.

Terre Haute
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 74°
Robinson
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Indianapolis
Scattered Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 76°
Rockville
Broken Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 71°
Casey
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 75°
Brazil
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 74°
Marshall
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 74°
Fireworks Forecast for Tonight
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Illinois Lottery closing claims centers temporarily

Image

Travel safely this holiday

Image

Rubber Duck Regatta winner to donate portion of prize

Image

Remembering Eva Kor a year after her death

Image

The Mile supports kids running program

Image

Conservation club dedicates new flag

Image

Demonstrators demand immigration reform

Image

Saturday Morning Forecast Update

Image

Blue Lives Matter Rally takes place in front of THPD

Image

Annual Brazil Rotary Club celebration underway

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 145750

Reported Deaths: 7005
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook917744618
Lake9864421
DuPage9192474
Kane7796274
Will6839320
Winnebago306796
McHenry208897
St. Clair1965137
Kankakee130265
Rock Island99629
Madison99169
Kendall98121
Champaign93012
Boone60221
DeKalb56719
Peoria54628
Sangamon44032
Jackson33519
Randolph2877
Stephenson2755
Ogle2684
McLean26713
Clinton24017
Macon23222
LaSalle22417
Union19319
Whiteside19215
Coles17317
Grundy1695
Iroquois1605
Tazewell1468
Warren1430
Knox1360
Cass1346
Morgan1303
Monroe12913
Williamson1224
Adams1061
Jefferson10617
McDonough10215
Lee982
Henry931
Vermilion772
Pulaski760
Marion680
Perry561
Douglas540
Macoupin543
Livingston502
Jasper477
Jo Daviess461
Montgomery461
Unassigned460
Christian454
Ford371
Jersey351
Woodford342
Bureau292
Franklin270
Menard240
Fayette233
Alexander220
Carroll222
Mason220
Wabash220
Mercer210
Piatt210
Washington210
Johnson200
Hancock191
Moultrie190
Shelby191
Crawford180
Logan160
Clark150
Fulton150
Massac150
Wayne141
Bond131
Effingham131
Schuyler130
Cumberland120
Brown100
Edgar100
De Witt90
Greene90
Marshall90
Saline90
Henderson80
Lawrence70
White60
Hamilton50
Richland40
Stark40
Pike30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott10
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 46915

Reported Deaths: 2681
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11499683
Lake5053242
Elkhart316443
Allen2717128
St. Joseph186366
Cass16369
Hamilton1518100
Hendricks1386100
Johnson1254118
Porter71237
Tippecanoe6778
Madison64864
Clark63844
Bartholomew58244
Howard56057
LaPorte55326
Kosciusko5124
Vanderburgh4806
Jackson4653
LaGrange4657
Noble45728
Hancock43735
Boone43443
Delaware42949
Marshall4273
Shelby42025
Floyd37144
Morgan32531
Montgomery29320
Grant29026
Clinton2852
Monroe26628
Dubois2646
White26010
Decatur24832
Henry24315
Lawrence23624
Vigo2288
Dearborn22723
Harrison21022
Warrick21029
Greene18432
Miami1812
Jennings17111
Putnam1688
Scott1607
DeKalb1594
Daviess14116
Orange13523
Wayne1346
Perry1279
Steuben1262
Franklin1248
Jasper1142
Ripley1147
Carroll1102
Wabash1102
Fayette987
Newton9710
Whitley884
Starke853
Randolph784
Huntington712
Wells711
Jefferson701
Fulton681
Jay680
Washington661
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay604
Gibson592
Rush563
Adams481
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer351
Fountain302
Tipton301
Crawford290
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike90
Unassigned0193