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Miss America Contest To End Swimsuit Portion Of Competition

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The time when the Miss America pageant meant young women in bikinis and high heels is over. Miss America Board chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, a former pageant winner herself, made the announcement on ABC's "Good Morning America."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

GRETCHEN CARLSON: We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance. We will no longer have a swimsuit competition.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

They'll no longer have an evening gown portion either. And don't call it a pageant.

KELLY: Sorry.

SHAPIRO: It is a competition. This move turns the annual event if not on its head at least in a new direction.

KELLY: Swimsuits have been part of the Miss America competition since it began in 1921 in Atlantic City as a way to attract tourists to its beaches. Contestants were also rated on their personality and social charms. But that is not what Miss America became known for worldwide, as this old British newsreel makes clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The United States always seem to be seeking something easy on the eye. Look them over, boys. Look them over. Over there, everything seems to stop while they study curves and dimples in their anxiety to ensure that Miss America 1940 shall be the last word in loveliness.

SHAPIRO: Today some people are still trying to cling to that idea of loveliness. Naysayers are arguing that without swimsuits or gowns, the Miss America competition might not have great TV ratings either.

KELLY: That does not seem to bother the Miss America Organization's CEO Regina Hopper. She was a contestant herself in 1984.

REGINA HOPPER: The swimsuit part was never my favorite. I have to admit I never really was comfortable in it.

SHAPIRO: Today Hopper credits the #MeToo movement for propelling Miss America beyond bathing suits. She came into the organization after its own sexual harassment scandal a few months ago. Plus, she says, young women are reluctant to parade in swimsuits just to get a chance at a scholarship.

HOPPER: Now young women shouldn't have to worry about, do people think I'm pretty, or what do people think about the way that my physical being is? Now these young women, they're getting what I had hoped for, which is talk to me. Listen to me. Give me an ability to tell you what's in my head.

KELLY: So many changes. But one thing stays the same - Miss America is staying put. The 2018 competition is set to take place in Atlantic City this September.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS AMERICA")

JOHNNY DESMOND: (Singing) There she is, miss... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.