It may be summer, but one group of teen girls won't be wearing their bikinis. Well, at least not on stage.
For the first time since it began in 1983, the Miss Teen USA Pageant will not have a swimsuit competition. Bodies will still be assessed, just in form-fitting athletic clothes and in motion.
The move is being largely lauded in the media. But what's not being talked about is that of the three major "Teen" pageants (in addition to Miss Teen USA there is Miss America's Outstanding Teen and Distinguished Young Women of America, more commonly known as "America's Junior Miss"), Miss Teen USA is late to the game. Miss America's Outstanding Teen, which is only 11-years-old, has never had a swimsuit competition. Ditto Distinguished Young Women, which since its first competition in 1957 has only had a fitness component.
Even in the 1950s teenage girls were seen as more wholesome, and less sexual, than their older pageant sisters, the Miss America and Miss USA contestants. Both "Miss" pageants in fact began as bathing beauties contests, and while they have faced heavy criticism for the swimsuit competition, the event remains popular (about 20 years ago America "voted" to keep swimsuit a part of Miss America). So when Miss Teen USA began as a sister organization to Miss USA and Miss Universe in the early 1980s, the inclusion of the "sexual" swimsuit competition was fairly surprising.
At the same time, this move by the Miss Teen USA organization is very much in line with broader cultural changes. We often hear phrases like: "Strong is the new skinny." Muscles, large or small, are privileged over thighs that don't touch. The implication is that exercise equals health, even if that isn't always true (compulsive over-exercise is also an eating disorder). But note that the body fat percentage on these pageant contestants is still quite low even if they aren't walking on stage in a bikini and heels-- the winner don't exactly have excess fat that is jiggling during jumping jacks, or sagging during plank.
While Miss Teen USA's move to eliminate swimsuit is in line with the fitness culture in the contemporary U.S., why make this change right now? Two possible answers are: 1) Donald Trump recently sold Miss Universe/USA/Teen USA to William Morris Endeavor/IMG. If the goals is to "clean up" its image after nearly two decades, then this is certainly a step in the right direction. 2) In 2007 Miss Teen USA lost its television contract for the first time since it began. For the past 9 years it has only been webcast. Perhaps with renewed interest in 2017, a decade after leaving the airwaves, it will make a triumphant return?
Because, who wouldn't want to see this in prime time?
Clearly the 2015 fitness routine was pretty tough at Distinguished Young Women of America, but the workout pants are also pretty tight, and unforgiving.
In 2014 the contestants competed in shorts, which revealed far more skin, and tighter tops, which left little to the imagination even without revealing the midriff.
And you'd be excused if you thought Miss America's Outstanding Teen contestants' fitness outfits closely resembled a bikini—at least one with boy shorts.
Note that Miss Teen Frisco, Madison Fuller, went on to be crowned Texas' Outstanding Teen in 2010. So her pseudo-itsy bitsy teenie weenie pink polkadot bikini served her well...
While it's good to focus on health and the exercise that goes into making a body fit, let's not kid ourselves that teen bodies won't be assessed. Though it is true we won't see quite as much skin. Now let's see how much skin, if any, we see on network television next year.