“I understand where the organization wants to go. They want to be more inclusive,” she said. “I hope I continue to see the essence of what Miss America stands for: a role model for younger generations to look up to whether that includes swimsuit or not.”
Brooke Doss, the reigning Miss Atlanta, will be ready for the swimsuit portion - it’s one of her favorites. In past years, wearing crowns including Miss Cobb County and Miss Conyers Cherry Blossom, she has claimed swimsuit preliminary awards ahead of Miss Georgia pageant.
“That’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” she said. “I believe in the work I’ve put in, I know how hard I’ve worked. I just get to go out there and have fun and show my hard work off.”
She believes in fitness and a healthy lifestyle, but not crazy diets or punishing exercise.
“When I made the decision I was going to feel amazing in my swimsuit, it was a tough one. I got a personal trainer. I had to really readjust my body to not eating fast food and junk food,” she said. “I never restrict myself. I eat all day, every day. I have my cheat meals. That’s okay. We are human. We can’t be perfect all the time. I don’t believe in a strict, harsh diet.”
Here’s an audio clip of Doss discussing pageant prep with AJC reporter Amanda C. Coyne:
Chari Guzman, who is the current Miss Fulton County, sees mastering the swimsuit portion as mental triumph in addition to a physical one.
“The swimsuit portion, coming into it, was so nerve-wracking. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, everybody’s going to see me in a swimsuit!’ It’s not like being on the beach, when everyone’s in a swimsuit,” she said. “Preparing for it my first year, I didn’t really have to do much. My metabolism was still working for me. Later on, my second year and my third year, I had to do workouts four times a week and had to follow a meal plan.”
Coyne spoke wtih Guzman as well. The interviews were conducted several days ago, in preparation for a podcast Coyne plans to publish next week, but are timely today:
Miss America board chairperson Gretchen Carlson announced the national event’s changes Tuesday morning on “Good Morning America.”
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” the former Miss America said. “That's huge. And that means that we will no longer have a swimsuit competition."
She also stressed that the contest is a competition, not a pageant.
“It’s going to be what comes out of their mouth that we’re interested in, when they talk about their social impact initiatives. We want to be open, transparent, inclusive to women who may not have felt comfortable participating in our program before.
The changes are in effect as of September 9, the next time Miss America contenders take the stage in Atlantic City.
“We have always had talent and scholarship,” Carlson said. “We need to message that part of the program better as well.
The evening gown segment will be revamped, and the event will stress talent and individuality.
"We're interested in what makes you you," Carlson said. "Tell us about your goals and achievements in life. We want more women to know they are welcome in this organization."
Gene Phillips, executive director of the Miss Cobb County Organization, said his group was still absorbing the news.
“We knew that there were changes coming, but we didn’t know what they were until Gretchen announced them this morning.”
His recommendation for improvement: give contenders more time to showcase their skills.
“If they were to change anything, it should be the amount of time for talent,” he said. “Ninety seconds is not enough time for talent. They should change it to two minutes.”
Sociologists cheered the news that Miss America is done with swimsuits.
“Ever since U.S feminists gathered in 1968 to protest the Miss America pageant as emblematic of the objectification of women, those advocating gender equality and deploring the subjugation of women have been critiquing this pageant’s focus on women as objects rather than subjects,” said Eileen O’Brien, professor of sociology and associate chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University’s Virginia campus. “A full 60 years later, this has been a very long struggle indeed. The fact that the pageant requires women to compete against each other for male approval, and that elite white men set the very narrow (ageist, racist) standards upon which they are judged has long been problematic.”
Desiree Nathanson co-owner of Interfusion Fitness in Brookhaven and a past member of the Atlanta Hawks dance team, has a different take.
“I understand where they’re coming from, especially right now, but these women aren’t being forced to enter the competition,” she said. “They know what they’re getting into.”
Nathanson, who sits on the board of the Eating Disorders Information Network, has dealt with body image issues and at one point dropped more weight than was healthy. Her wellness journey included earning a masters degree in nutrition.
“Absolutely, I think all bodies are beautiful,” she said. “Keeping the swimsuit competition and increasing the diversity of bodies would be a better way.”
She previously spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the recently released movie “I Feel Pretty.” The comedy stars Amy Schumer as a Renee Benett, a woman struggling with image issues until a conk on the head temporarily leaves her seeing herself as a physically perfect knockout. Newly confident in her appearance, Renee enters a beauty pageant, rendering her T-shirt and shorts into a makeshift bikini on the spot. Although she isn’t as slender as the other contestants, Renee’s spirited performance and sheer joy at seizing the spotlight bring the crowd to its feet.
"It''s fun to go out there and shake a tail feather," Nathanson said. "It's a pageant."