When you think of beauty pageants, you probably think of gowns, crowns, makeup, and sashes — and you also probably think of the swimsuit competition. For the first time, a major pageant is ditching bikinis in favour of athletic wear.
The swimsuit competition has supposedly been a chance for contestants to show off their grace and athleticism, but the pageant runners are hoping to create a healthier way of expressing that.
In an announcement, Miss Universe president Paula Shugart said the transition to athletic wear is meant to “celebrate women’s strength, confidence, and beauty” in a way that’s relevant to the 15- to 19-year-old participants — and the girls who watch them compete.
“This decision reflects an important cultural shift we’re all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same,” she said, according to USA Today. “Our hope is that this decision will help all of Miss Teen USA’s fans recognise these young women for the strong, inspiring individuals they are.”
Current Miss Teen USA Katherine Haik was extremely supportive of the new move. “I have been an athlete my entire life,” she explained. “As a member of a softball team and a competitive dance team, I spend a lot of time in athletic wear … This new direction for Miss Teen USA is a great way to celebrate the active lives that so many young women lead and set a strong example for our peers.”
According to psychologist Karla Ivankovich, it’s an important change to the standard pageant setup, especially for teen girls. “This removes the objectification of women and supports the idea that ‘athletic’ is more important than bikinis and just looking fit,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “I think ditching the swimsuits is a sign of the times — that we are emphasising that young women are more than a body type. I’m very excited for that.”
Ivankovich says that it’s important to model the goal of staying active, of which sportswear is a huge part today. “Athleticism is linked to a conscious concern for one’s health and well-being through exercise,” she explains. “This promotes [a] healthy lifestyle choice, which is sorely needed in a community that has historically struggled with appearance issues and partaking in the ‘by any means necessary’ mindset when it comes to achieving a standard of beauty.”
Miss Teen USA’s shift from swimwear to athletic wear reinforces to young women that a healthy body is a beautiful body — something we can definitely get behind.