Last week, the Miss America Organization announced, “Miss America 2.0” – an initiative to bring big changes to the 96-year old organization. In addition to scrapping the swimsuit and evening gown aspects of the event and rebranding as a competition (versus a pageant), they have also added a “live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life…” I’m hopeful that making the Q&A aspect a central component of the competition will draw a new group of accomplished women to the event and let their skills and achievements shine.
In shifting away from physical appearance and over to inner beauty and personal accomplishments, the new Board Chair, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, added “We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.” Those are poignant words from Carlson, who stood up in 2016 and filed a sexual harassment complaint against then-Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes in one of the early salvos in the #MeToo movement.
As someone who has dedicated significant portions of the academic and professional aspects of her life to women’s issues, I am pleased to see this evolution. I know that many in society have changed their views on the importance of such things as beauty pageants. It may surprise readers to know that I was in a beauty contest – as Mrs. District of Columbia 2009. I’m also pleased that the changes afoot in our society did not push the Miss America Organization too far (out of existence) and they were able to find a new profile that better suited the times and served their contestants.
From my own experience, I know what many women do about their own participation in organizations – when we engage, we make them a vehicle for our own goals. As Mrs. District of Columbia, I leveraged my crown to advocate for military families. I ran the Army Ten-Miler with my sash, spent time with the children of deployed servicemembers at military bases, and spoke to young girls about their futures and ambitions. I feel I was able to contribute to a cause that mattered to me because of my role and I’m grateful for the experience.