Goodbye, Swimsuit Competition. Hello, ‘Miss America 2.0.’


It was all beauty pageant until 1936, when a talent portion was added. The competition was limited to never-married women ages 18 to 28, and for a time, until 1940, it was written in the guidelines that they must be “of good health and of the white race.” The organization would not have its first African-American winner until Vanessa Williams earned the 1984 crown.

“The Miss America state and national process was — and maybe still is — the single largest source of scholarship money for women in the U.S., yet the crucial requirements were physical, not intellectual,” the author and feminist Gloria Steinem said in an interview on Tuesday. “If the same were true for men, people would be saying, ‘No wonder China is winning!’”

“It’s not just the bathing suits, it’s physical appearance, irrelevant talents and, until very recently, being white,” Ms. Steinem added. “It’s also less about being unique than conformist.”

In 1950, the pageant winner Yolande Betbeze was among the first to break the mold, causing a ruckus when she refused to pose in a swimsuit during her reign. (“I was an opera student and didn’t have good legs,” she explained at the time.) In 1992, Catherine Ann Lemkau, a runner-up, announced that she would like to see the swimsuit competition eliminated.

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Two models displaying approved bathing suits for Miss America contestants in 1997. That year, they were allowed to wear two-piece swimsuits as long as the suits were “real and store-bought.”

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B. Vartan Boyajian/Associated Press

And in 1995, Miss America encouraged its viewers to call a 1-900 number to say whether swimsuits should be scrapped: two out of three said no.

“We are not stupid,” Leonard Horn, then the organization’s chief executive, said in 1993. “We are very sensitive to the fact that the swimsuit competition has always been our Achilles’ heel. The swimsuit competition has been controversial since the early 1920s, but it’s been retained because the majority of the people like it.”

Appearing on ABC News to announce the change on Tuesday, Ms. Carlson declared, “We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance.” But it is hard to imagine what Miss America would be without conventional beauty standards at its core.

[Read more: Miss America appointed women to top positions months after a scandal.]

The 2017 Judges’ Manual lists the qualities and attributes required of titleholders, in this order: “beautiful, well-spoken, intelligent, talented, able to relate to young people, reflective of women her age (she should not be a 35-year-old trapped inside a 20-year-old body), charismatic, dynamic/energetic — that ‘IT’ quality that is so hard to define, mature enough to handle the job and all of its responsibilities, comfortable ‘in her own skin,’ manageable, punctual and flexible.”

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In 1995, Yolande Betbeze Fox held the bathing suit she wore during the pageant. She refused to be photographed in her bathing suit after being crowned 1951 Miss America.

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Bob Strong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The American public has an expectation that she will be beautiful and physically fit,” the manual continues. “This is the same expectation they have for all of their celebrities, from music and film to sports, and Miss America is no exception. You must look at her physical beauty as well as her physical fitness.”

Margot Mifflin, an English professor who is writing a cultural history of the pageant, wrote recently in The Washington Post that Miss America “has always been deeply invested in protecting the status quo in the face of women’s progress.”

“No amount of tweaking over the decades, from adding scholarships to mandating philanthropy, could obscure its bottom line,” she said. “Regardless of how smart or talented a woman is, she’s a loser without the one thing she can’t control or achieve: beauty.”

Tuesday’s announcement was quickly added to the lengthy list of stunning changes that have reverberated through Hollywood, politics and workplaces around the world in the wake of #MeToo. It was a ripple effect, so to speak — one that expanded the conversation from sexual harassment to the larger way that women’s bodies are viewed and consumed.

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Contestants during the swimsuit competition for 2018 Miss America.

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Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions

Still, it seemed like a small step to some.

“If Miss America wants to get out of the sexism game, it should probably end Miss America,” the writer Jill Filipovic posted on Twitter.

“Sure, it’s a relatively good thing that in 2018 this organization has realized it’s dehumanizing to compare and judge women’s bodies in front of a vast, international audience,” said Julie Zeilinger, the founder of a feminist blog called FBomb. “But when Gretchen Carlson says we are ‘not going to judge you on your outward appearance,’ the implication is that the competition will still judge women — just not by measures of blatant physical objectification.”

As for the women who threw bras and girdles into the garbage can on the Atlantic City boardwalk a half-century ago — and then infiltrated the event itself, draping a giant bedsheet from the balcony that read “Women’s Liberation” — they watched with wonder, and a healthy dose of skepticism.

[Read a New York Times article from 1968 about the protest.]

“What can I say?” said one of them, Robin Morgan, the author of more than 20 books of poetry and nonfiction, including the 1970 anthology “Sisterhood Is Powerful.” “After 50 years, this is a start.”

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On Beauty: How to Care for Your Skin — While You Sleep


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Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi

In her Highland Park, Dallas, home, the facialist Joanna Czech has an arsenal of skin-care products for every need: vegetal placenta serums for lightening dark spots, green algae face masks to decongest pores — to name a few. “But the most important regime is your evening one,” she says emphatically. “Your skin absorbs a higher level of nutrients while your body is resting.” Czech is not alone in her devotion to nighttime rituals. Indeed, many facialists reserve their most potent, effective elixirs for their after-hours routines.

Cleanse and Cleanse Again

As a first step, skin-care experts agree that cleansing and toning should never be skipped (or rushed) at night. Danuta Mieloch, the facialist and founder of Rescue Spa, swears by a double-cleanse with Biologique Recherche’s Lait U ($33) using a muslin cloth to remove any last traces of makeup. Crystal Greene, a facialist at CAP Beauty, prefers to “keeps things simple” at night, and balances her acne-prone complexion with a few sweeps of In Fiore’s Treate ($70). For toner, both Mieloch and Czech use Biologique Recherche P50, which “exfoliates, hydrates and balances the pH of the skin,” Mieloch says. Czech then whips out her Environ Gold Roll-CIT ($298), a microneedling tool studded with tiny needles that puncture the skin, a (slightly painful) practice that she says stimulates collagen and helps topical ingredients absorb better. If you’re trying this at home, roll the device over your face multiple times but only do one to two passes on delicate skin around the eyes.

Personalize Your Serum

Next, according to all of the facialists we polled: an overnight serum. These concentrated liquids contain the highest doses of nutrients, and facialists often combine them to create customized, targeted tinctures. Currently, Czech favors a medley of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s firming Super Anti-Aging Serum ($350), mixed with the brand’s anti-inflammatory Calming Serum ($250), and a drop of Environ’s C-Quence Serum 1 ($137), which Czech says improves “cellular turnover, skin tone, hydration,” and keeps your complexion “youthful and healthy looking.” Britta Plug, a facialist with Mama Medicine in New York City, is so into nighttime serums that she makes her own: blending together hydrating jojoba, toning frankincense and purifying lavender oils. She works in this brew using facial gua sha — a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves gliding a flat crystal over the meridians of your face with gentle pressure to stimulate circulation and release blockages (the result, Plug says, is “a serious glow that lasts”).

The Manhattan facialist Negin Niknejad, meanwhile, applies “multiple, light layers” of her vitamin-E-rich Rejuvenating Facial Oil ($65) in the colder months, pressing it in with a kansa, a domed bronze-and-wood tool used in ayurvedic practices, to “draw out acidity in the skin and body,” she explains.

Moisturize Generously

Lastly, moisturize — and moisturize some more — since the body’s natural hydration levels dip at night. Czech is a fan of Swiss brand Meder’s Hydra-Fill Mask ($90 per pack), a sheet mask saturated with plumping hyaluronic acid. She heats the pouch (by running it under warm water) and once the sheet is on her face, glides over it with chilled Cryro-Sticks ($114) from Biologique Recherche — the combination of hot and cold increases absorption and brings down inflammation. Finish with a rich cream; Mieloch is partial to MBR Cream Extraordinary ($369), spiked with ultra-hydrating lanolin and light-reflective gold particles to subtly conceal any imperfections.

To lull yourself into a deep sleep, so you can reap all the restorative benefits that occur overnight — from skin-cell turnover to DNA repair — Greene recommends using incense. She burns earthy cypress sticks for a bit of “stillness and joy” before bed, and then lets her body do the rest.

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