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This week, the Miss America Organization announced that it’s eliminating the swimsuit competition in an effort to focus less on women’s appearances. It’s not clear what, exactly, the beauty pageant will be about now that it’s trying to deemphasize the “beauty” part. In any case, the decision coincides with the 50th anniversary of a feminist protest that criticized the contest as a sexist “cattle auction.”
The Miss America pageant has courted controversy ever since it began as a 1921 newspaper “bathing beauties” contest and marketing scheme for Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the beginning, the controversy stemmed from conservative critics who thought that women should cover their bodies when they appeared in public.
People - Contest - Thing - Women - Swimsuits
“Early on, people are critical of this contest because it was not really seen as an acceptable thing to have women stand around in swimsuits and be judged,” says Blain Roberts, a history professor at Fresno State University and author of Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South.
To counter the perception that the contest was just about “bathing beauties,” it added a talent competition in the 1930s and started awarding scholarships to finalists after World War II. Despite this, the point of the pageant was still to crown one woman as the most beautiful. Critics continued to take issue with the pageant into the 1960s. But by that point, the criticism wasn’t coming from conservatives worried about women’s propriety anymore—it was coming from liberal, second-wave feminists who considered the contest demeaning.
Example - Criticism - Protest - Miss - America
The most public example of this criticism was a protest at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. Women carried signs with messages like “Welcome to the Miss America cattle auction” and “All women are beautiful.” In a ten-point statement, organizers argued that the pageant judged women like animals at a county fair...
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