Old-timers probably heard — or maybe even said — these six words an awful lot during the glory days of print publications: “I buy Playboy for the articles.”
The late Hugh Hefner’s magazine actually and regularly contained some top-notch journalism; a compilation of its famous interview series could seriously be used as a history book.
But get real — we all know the motivation of 99.9 percent of the people who bought or subscribed to Playboy.
And while organizers always protested (a little too much) that beauty pageants really were about empowering women, we also know the motivation of a goodly number of viewers in the same bygone days when TV ratings for pageants were high and the results were front-page news. Don’t lie — you didn’t run to the fridge for refreshments during the swimsuit competition, and you didn’t gripe a couple of decades ago when those swimsuits became bikinis.
The most famous pageant of all, Miss America, actually started in 1921 as a parade of “bathing beauties” to draw tourists to the boardwalk and beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Pageant officials announced last week that the swimsuit competition is being dropped from the final competition, although it won’t disappear from all local and state pageants until 2019. Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America and Fox News host who now chairs the pageant’s board of trustees, said, “We’re not going to judge you on your appearance because we are interested in what makes you you.”
Instead of donning swimsuits, contestants will, according to organizers, interact with judges to “highlight (their) achievements and goals in life and how (they) will use (their) talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”
Contestants also will be permitted, if they choose, to wear something besides a gown in the evening wear competition.
Part of this is a reaction to last year’s scandal involving emails by former pageant officials that lambasted contestants’ appearance, intelligence and sex lives. Those folks lost their jobs and the top three spots in the pageant’s leadership now are held by women.
Part of it is changing times. Women in the #MeToo era rightfully are tired of being objectified and rated on their looks rather than their smarts and skills. Except for one woman who said getting into swimsuit shape involved discipline and healthy habits, which certainly are positive concepts, the news was greeted with applause by former Miss Americas and pageant contestants. One mentioned how “awkward and uncomfortable” it was to walk around on stage in a swimsuit and high heels.
The past motivations we cited also have changed. Pageant organizers say these days, the talent competition gets higher ratings than the swimsuit competition.
So few mourners are bemoaning this move. We see it as a positive step and hope other pageants follow Miss America’s lead.
Will it boost the pageant’s ratings, which are roughly a sixth of what they were 30 years ago? Probably not; there are too many other TV options in 2018.
Will it silence critics of pageants in general, who see them as sexist and an anachronism? Probably not; the philosophical disagreements there transcend bikinis.
Is it the right thing to do? Yes; the bathing beauty aspect actually is an anachronism that has long passed its expiration date.
Besides, you can still cheer for your state’s representative or another favorite contestant. Just bring “what makes her her,” as Carlson put it, into the equation, and don’t make it all about easiness on the eyes.