The Miss America Organization says contestants have always been judged on personality, interactions with the crowd and interviews with the judges’ panel. However, the underlying “beauty pageant” tone of the competition has always been a point of contention.
Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, who was the target of several former Miss America board members’ email exchanges criticizing her weight, said she was thrilled with the announced changes to the competition.
“No part of my job (as Miss America) was about me wearing a swimsuit,” Hagan said in a video posted on her Facebook page. According to Hagan, the Miss America contract signed immediately after the crowning stipulates the winner cannot be photographed in a swimsuit during her year of service.
“That just never made a whole lot of sense to me. Why require our contestants and young women who are participating, to participate in a portion of the competition for something she’s not even allowed to do for the remainder of the year?” Hagan said.
Hagan candidly said she struggled with her body image as during his reign and after.
”Unless swimsuit is something that comes naturally to you, I don’t know very many former titleholders who have a very positive body image. There is a lot of internal struggle that goes on post-pageant, post-Miss America that goes with getting back to normal or what is right for your body type,” she said.
When 16-year-old Margaret Gorman won the first pageant of what later became Miss America it was as “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America.” But as the competition made the shift to focus more on talent and personality, the swimsuit competition became more problematic.
Miss America 1943 Jean Bartel refused to model in a swimsuit after the pageant, resulting in Catalina Swimwear dropping its sponsorship and starting the Miss USA pageant. Bartel was the first college student to win Miss America and helped create the scholarship program.
In 1947, the first two-piece swimsuit was worn during the competition. That was later disallowed but brought back in 1997. The Miss America Organization also tested the idea of letting contestants walk barefoot on the swimsuit runway in 1994, but contestants favored wearing high heels.
Miss New Jersey 2017 Kaitlyn Schoeffel, who was a second runner-up in the 2018 competition, has said she “never felt more confident” than when she walked across the stage during the swimsuit competition. She said Tuesday she was sad to hear lifestyle and fitness would no longer be a part of the pageant.
“What drew me to (Miss America) was that each phase of competition prepared you for life after competition,” Schoeffel said. “It may sound vain to some people, but in the corporate world you have to present yourself.”
Schoeffel won the lifestyle and fitness scholarships three out of the six years she competed for Miss New Jersey, which she said helped pay for books for her college courses.
The Miss America Organization had not changed the competition guidelines or scoring card on its website as of Tuesday night.
Donna Ayres, co-executive director of the Miss New Jersey pageant, told The Press the Miss America board is working on revising the local and state contracts and judging guidelines.
“While our winners (as well as the winners of the other state competitions happening over the next few weeks) will be competing in the swimsuit phase at the state level, the national competition will be quite different,” Ayres said in a statement. “Hopefully this initiative will help our local contests reach even more young women across the state to take advantage of the scholarship opportunities the program offers.”
Eight more state titleholders will be crowned this weekend, and the Miss New Jersey pageant will take place June 14-16 in Ocean City.