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PAGEANT'S BATHING BEAUTY CONTEST SUITS MOST OF ITS ENTRANTS JUST FINE

The swimsuit competition should remain in the Miss America Pageant because it is a tradition as well as an incentive to stay in shape, the vast majority of this year's contestants say.

Forty-two of the 50 contestants polled by the pageant said it is appropriate to judge candidates based on how they look in a swim-suit."The media can make you feel a lot more naked than a swimsuit," said Miss Oregon, Emily Orton. "So if you can't be comfortable competing in this aspect of the program, you won't feel comfortable being Miss America."

"I feel neither exposed nor exploited by the swimsuit competition," said Miss Massachusetts Marcia Turner. "Knowing that I will have to compete in swimsuit has encouraged me to undergo intense physical training, which has greatly increased my stamina."

To some, it is a matter of custom.

"It's been a tradition for 75 years and the system has evolved so it's a fun production number, not sleazy," said Miss Iowa, Jennifer Curry, who called it "a stress reliever" for her.

Seven contestants favored eliminating the competition, calling it a misguided method of measuring physical fitness, a "veiled strip show" and a stain on Miss America's image.

Miss New York, Helen Goldsby, abstained from the poll, saying she was comfortable with or without the swimsuits.

The pageant, which started in 1921 as a bathing suit contest, will let viewers of the Sept. 16 telecast vote on the swimsuit competition through a call-in poll.

The poll, conceived as part of the pageant's 75th anniversary, will be conducted during the first half of the three-hour show. If a majority of callers vote against swimsuits, that segment will be replaced by something else, said Leonard Horn, chief executive officer of the pageant.

The results of the poll will apply to that night's pageant only.

Miss Montana, Amanda Granrude, said as the pageant approaches the 21st century, "it's time to incorporate more feminist aspects into the program."

"We shouldn't have women in a veiled strip show," she said.