The Miss America Organization is dropping the swimsuit competition, saying it will no longer judge contestants on their appearance.
The competition began nearly 100 years ago in Atlantic City, N.J., as a bathing beauty contest designed to keep tourists coming to the seaside resort in the weekend after Labor Day.
But it has run into resistance to the swimsuit and, to a lesser extent, evening gown competitions that had come to be seen as outdated. An email scandal last December in which former Miss America officials denigrated the intelligence, appearance and sex lives of former title winners led to a shake-up at the top, and the group’s top three leadership positions are now held by women.
“We’re not going to judge you on your appearance because we are interested in what makes you you,” Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America who is head of the organization’s board of trustees, said while making the announcement Tuesday on “Good Morning America.”
Carlson, whose sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes led to his departure, said the board has 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.”
Asked if she is worried ratings for the nationally televised broadcast might suffer because of the elimination of swimsuits, Carlson said she is not. 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.
She also said the group will make changes to the evening wear portion of the competition, adding it will not judge women on their chosen attire.
“It’s what comes out of their mouths that we care about,” she said.
The changes will start with this year’s broadcast Sept. 9.
Carlson said the Miss America Organization will emphasize its role as a scholarship provider.