At the next Miss World pageant, bikinis won't be making an appearance — a first in the event's 63-year history. The organization's chairwoman announced Thursday that they will be nixing the swimsuit round.
Chris Wilmer, the national director of Miss World America/Miss United States organization, explained the decision, saying, "The organization has decided to take itself out of the swimsuit world because it isn't the path they're trying to take. It's not just a beauty contest, it's 'beauty with a purpose'. There didn't seem to be a purpose to have the swimsuit."
The swimsuit portion will be replaced with a beachwear round so "it'll be more of a fashion competition than a bikini show," Wilmer said.
It's a step in the right direction. This is a definite improvement for the world of pageantry that has long been lambasted for promoting unhealthy societal beauty standards and for blatantly objectifying women's bodies. While pageants are still problematic for making women's bodies and cosmetic beauty so central to the competition, doing away with the swimsuit portion allows pageants to better make their case and highlight their arguably more positive elements.
And as numerous self-proclaimed feminists have pointed out, there can be affirming aspects to pageants. The Daily Dot's EJ Dickson writes, "I think it celebrates female achievement and independence way more than anyone gives it credit for."
Dickson points out that many of the women who compete in such competitions are in fact educated, well-spoken and talented women — qualities not included in stereotypes of pageant queens. To toss aside the event by categorizing "the women competing [as] shallow and vapid" is "inaccurate and offensive," she writes. The New York Times reports that recent winners have gone to Ivy League universities and even run for Congress.
Pageants can have purpose. As former Miss America contestant Nancy Redd said in a column for the New York Times in 2013, pageants can provide opportunities that girls wouldn't otherwise have, such as a platform to talk about the issues they care about. She writes, "Being affiliated with the Miss America brand gave me an incredible opportunity to offer youth a different perspective on life from a persona that they admired and respected."
Not all pageants care about this higher calling, of course. The Donald Trump-backed Miss USA competition eschews a talent portion altogether, making no pretenses of focusing on anything besides physical beauty.
But underneath the shiny, bikini-clad facade, there can be more to pageants than just hot bodies, perfect smiles and stylish outfits. Now that the most problematic segment is out of the Miss World contest, the more defensible parts of pageants can take center stage.