Opinion

Miss America bikini ban just another way to police women's bodies

Thembalethu Zulu questions the organisers' decision to ditch the swimsuit and evening gown portions of the 2019 Miss America pageant

08 June 2018 - 03:52 By THEMBALETHU ZULU
Miss South Carolina 2017 Suzi Roberts participates in the swimsuit competition during the 2018 Miss America Competition Show in New Jersey, America.
Miss South Carolina 2017 Suzi Roberts participates in the swimsuit competition during the 2018 Miss America Competition Show in New Jersey, America.
Image: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions

Imagine a beauty pageant that does not want to judge contestants based on their looks? Well, look no further than the Miss America pageant which has made the (yawn) ground-breaking decision to scrap the swimsuit section of the event. 

Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, made the announcement this week. She added: “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. We are no longer a pageant. We are a competition."

Well, who knew that a pageant was not in fact a competition?

But wait, there’s more. The forward thinking institution, which is for the first time being led by women, announced how the evening gown competition will also be shelved.

Carlson said contestants will now be able to wear “whatever they choose”. Imagine a world where women finally have choices even in terms of their sartorial desires ... the mind boggles.

In lieu of the evening gowns, contestants (is that what they will still be called?) will have the opportunity to “wear attire that makes them feel confident”, because, as Carlson declared: “Who doesn’t want to be empowered … pay for college and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul.”

Now allow me to take my earrings off for a moment as I come for these fake-deep organisers who have inadvertently introduced another way to police women’s bodies. Why does it matter if women who have undoubtedly worked hard for their physiques proudly parade their bikini-clad bodies as part of what is already, in essence, a vanity parade?

By removing this portion of the competition we are yet again disseminating the message that women’s bodies are something to be regulated

By removing this portion of the competition we are yet again disseminating the message that women’s bodies are something to be regulated, that taking pride in and exposing one’s body is to be reserved for those with lesser ambitions.

While the thinking behind the removal of the swimwear competition probably comes from a good place, it is quite frankly a dated ideology that is a few decades too late. Sigh.

Ironically, getting women to cover up as a form of protest unwittingly stems from the idea that how one is robed somehow influences the way in which men should engage with our bodies. Who knew that centuries of the subjugation of women could be eradicated one burnt bikini at a time?

• This article is adapted from one originally published on SowetanLIVE; visit the S Mag section for more great lifestyle reads.


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