By: Claire Crowley, Staff Writer, HCWM
In early June, the Miss America Organization announced that it was doing away with the swimsuit portion of the Miss America competition. It’s a move that is being praised by Heather DeSantis, who proudly holds the title of Miss Ohio International, 2018.
“I couldn’t be more happy about it,” stated DeSantis. “Women should be judged on their hearts, not their bodies.”
The choice to replace the swimsuit competition, which had been part of the Miss America competition since its inception in 1912, with an interactive discussion about contestants’ talents, goals and accomplishments, shows that the pageant industry is not immune to the modern era of female empowerment. Pageant competitions nationwide are likely to follow in the footsteps of the Miss America Organization and restructure their competitions to focus less on critiquing the physical appearance of contestants.
“Models like Ashley Graham are helping,” said DeSantis, noting that, like the modeling industry, the pageant world is evolving to be more inclusive of women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. “It’s an exciting time for women,” said DeSantis.
It’s not only the pageant competitions that are changing – pageant competitors, like DeSantis, are also breaking from tradition. Often times a pageant career begins at an early age and emphasises the achievement of outward perfection to the point of obsession. DeSantis did not begin competing in pageants until her early twenties, instead focusing on building a career in charity work, including donating her time to help to inspire and empower young girls who have survived tumultuous and abusive backgrounds.
DeSantis hopes that pageant competitors will feel empowered by wearing a tiara that represents their achievements in their careers and charity work rather than feeling pressured to spend countless hours at the gym chasing a fleeting glimpse of physical perfection in order to excel in the swimsuit portion of the competitions.
As for her advice to young girls looking to follow in her footsteps and enter the world of pageant competitions, Desantis says that “there’s no right path for everyone, instead the focus should be on helping others and giving back.”
It’s yet to be known if ending the swimsuit portion of the Miss America competitions will keep potential viewers from tuning in, but it’s likely to have the opposite effect in this new era – thanks to women like Desantis and Graham – where women are valued more for their accomplishments and goals, rather than how they look in a bathing suit.