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Miss America Scraps Its Swimsuit Competition

The shift in the competition format is an outgrowth of the #MeToo movement, Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson said

Miss America, which started as a bathing beauty contest nearly a century ago, is ending its swimsuit competition and will no longer judge women on their physical appearance. 

"We are no longer a pageant. We are a competition," Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Miss America Organization's board of directors, said Tuesday on "Good Morning America." 

Carlson is a former 1989 Miss America winner and Fox News anchor who took the helm in January after leaked emails showed a former CEO and other pageant officials disparaging the intelligence, appearance and sex lives of former title winners.

Carlson described the big shift in the competition format as an outgrowth of the #MeToo movement and said her organization is now led by women and wants to be more inclusive. 

She said she heard from potential contestants saying, "We don't want to be out there in high heels and swimsuits." 

"Guess what?" she said. "You don't have to anymore."

Besides ending the swimsuit competition, the event will revamp its evening gown part of the show and allow women to choose their own attire. 

"It's going to be what's coming out of their mouth that we're interested in when they talk about their social impact initiatives," Carlson said. "We're interested in what makes you you. Tell us about your goals and achievements in life." 

Carlson settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against then Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in 2016, which led to his departure. 

"I could have never have expected what would happen when I sued my former employer at Fox News for sexual harassment 22 months ago. But look what has happened," Carlson said of the #MeToo movement. "Thousands of women have been inspired to know that they can stand up and speak out and their voices will be heard. If I've been a beacon of hope to any woman in that process, it will have been worth it."

Carlson predicted a "huge" influx of young women competing for scholarships. 

"Who doesn't want to be empowered, learn leadership skills and pay for college?" she said. "And be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul."

Leanza Cornett, Miss America 1993, supports the change, adding the swimsuit competition was something she felt she had to endure. 

"I hated it," she told The Associated Press Tuesday. "I always felt awkward and uncomfortable. But I did recognize the significance of that part of the competition. Part of the tradition of why we were here in Atlantic City was that it started as a bathing beauty competition. So I put up with it. 

"In the climate of #MeToo, I think it's a really wise decision," she said. "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." 

Carlson said she is not worried ratings for the nationally televised broadcast might suffer because of the elimination of swimsuits. She said that the swimsuit portion is not the highest rated section of the broadcast and that viewers seem to be more interested in the talent competition.

"Miss America's new mission statement is: 'To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women,'" said Regina Hopper, the group's president and CEO. "We want more young women to see this program as a platform upon which they can advance their desire to make a real difference and to provide them with the necessary skills and resources for them to succeed in any career path they choose." 

The competition will air live on ABC on Sept. 9 from Atlantic City.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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