Miss America Pageant Will Judge Contestants on Health Not Beauty

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Hopeful contestants are confused as to how health will be evaluated instead of physical appearance.

Stamford, CT It was bound to happen at some point. Whereas once American woman would once do practically anything to maintain their beauty even if it wasn’t necessarily good for them, more recently, the trend has been to achieve beauty through a healthy lifestyle.

This has come about in part, because of the recognition that beautiful does not necessarily mean healthy, and that some extremes women were going to in order to become or remain beautiful, based on socialization, were leading to some big problems. The need for all women including those who do not possess what are considered to be traditional beauty attributes to create the illusion of beauty has always been important for women’s self-esteem.

There has been a “beauty standard” created long ago which is the way we aesthetically see women. This has set up unrealistic expectations of physical appearance in order to be considered beautiful perpetrated by the cosmetic industry and the media, including print, television and social. It’s no secret that these “myths of beauty,” and the often unhealthy means needed to maintain them have negative effects on women’s self-esteem, self-perception, mood, and how they view their bodies. Studies have examined the negative consequences resulting from the promotion of unhealthy beauty standards for the physical and mental health of young people, some as young as preschool age.

Beauty pageants like the Miss America pageant have long been criticized for objectifying women and evaluating them against an ideal version of beauty which was created by men. However, in recent years the competition has undergone some changes, to focus attention away from the more physical attributes of the contestants,

The development of the #MeToo movement that underscored the high rates of sexual discrimination and harassment against women across America, has contributed to altering the way the Miss America pageant judges contestants. In 2017, longtime Miss America CEO Sam Haskell was forced to resign after using demeaning language about the winners in emails that were subsequently leaked.

Gretchen Carlson crowned Miss America in 1989, and someone who spoke out about the sexual harassment she experienced as well as winning sexual harassment lawsuit for $20 million against former Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. She banned the swimsuit competition, replacing it with a live interactive session with the judges, where contestants were given the opportunity to discuss their goals and achievements and how they planned to use their talents to perform the job of Miss America. The evening gown competition was changed to allow participants to wear evening wear of their choosing as they spoke the ways they intended to promote their social impact initiatives.

“We are no longer a pageant,” Gretchen Carlson said. “Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment.”

The competition changed it’s mission statement saying the purpose was “To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.” This was created to focus on the participants character instead of their physical appearance.

Now, the Miss America Competition makes another change. From now on, judges will be expected to evaluate participants on health and wellness as opposed to beauty. How they plan to do this is unclear, however, though they’ve announced that they’ve apparently partnered with several ambiguous organizations in a new initiative “to redefine women’s wellness to be focused on optimal health rather than physical appearance.”

Unfortunately, if reports are accurate, two of these entities are a weight loss company and a diet movie. This seems to simply be focusing once again on how much the women weigh, while giving the message that to be healthy you must be thin. The public are waiting for additional details.

The vague new mission statement announced in a press release, stating, “Miss America is pivoting their mission to define women’s wellness as being based on optimal health, rather than physical appearance,” does provide many clues. People also are questioning how the new partnership between a weight loss company, a beauty competition and a diet movie “are committed to women achieving optimal health and wellness so they can enjoy a body that enables but does not define them.”

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