The bikini round was never the problem with Miss America

Miss America has said it will no longer judge contestants on their appearance
Miss America has said it will no longer judge contestants on their appearance Credit: AP/Mel Evans 

The organisers of Miss America have decided to remove the swimsuit round from their pageant. Which some people seem to believe is a good start.

Those people are not wrong. It is a good start. Next, they should scrap the talent contest. Then the interview section. Then all the weird dance-walking. Then they should send everyone home, turn the lights off, save their electricity bill and congratulate themselves on a job well done. Because here’s the thing: swimsuit round or no swimsuit round, pageants are weird. Really, really weird.

The organisation (which now has a female chair, following last year's email scandal which saw contestants denigrated for their appearances) claims the competition will now be based around talent and ‘inner beauty’ which is, if you’ll forgive the phrase, a load of toss.

At least before they were being honest and open about judging women on what they looked like. Now it’s more likely to be covertly eyeing up a teenager, while writing on your scoresheet that you were convinced by her purported love of puppies and world peace.

Mallory Hytes Hagan is crowned Miss America 2013 Credit: Isaac Brekken 

The bikini round was never the problem with Miss America, nor with any other pageant. There’s nothing wrong with having an incredible body, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to show off a body that you’ve worked hard for. I’m never sure why a set of abs that took three years to sculpt is regarded as more impressive than a set of A-Level results. Either way, you set your mind on something and you make it happen. All power to you.

The problematic bit comes when - rather than being delighted with your incredible body, impressive dance skills or baton twirling - you need to have them assessed and ranked by a group of judges, some of whom will inevitably be rich old men.

Why would any young woman want to do that to herself? Well, I’ll tell you. Because (and please, be kind when you read this) I used to desperately want to be in pageants.

I lost quite a lot of weight in my final year at school and went from an unremarkable teenager to a bit of a bombshell. But the fact I had men swooning over me didn’t matter. I needed more. I needed to be told that I was beautiful by someone who I could believe, and as a typical type-A high achiever, I liked the idea of that person having a clipboard and a score sheet. I needed to be told that I was worthy - special even - because I didn't believe it.

Rebecca Reid in her teens

Thankfully, I got distracted by moving to London and discovering sex, so the whole pageant idea went by the wayside. But please believe me when I say, I understand why a girl would want to do such a thing, because I very nearly did it myself.

I’ve heard lots of people, outraged that yet another beacon of sexism, Miss America, has caved and got rid of their bikini round (no-one seems to want to listen to the fact that whether it’s Grid Girls, Darts Girls or Bikini Rounds, big business drop scantily clad girls in a bid for ratings, not to kowtow to feminism) and comparing pageants to Love Island.

If you’ve managed to miss the phenomenon which is Love Island, it’s a bit like Big Brother only instead of trying to make them fight all the time, they’re trying to make them have sex. Like when zoos want giant pandas to mate in captivity.

Love Island takes lots of very beautiful people, sticks them in a nice sunny villa and waits for the inevitable to happen. And you know what? They spend the entire thing in a bikini. All the women are beautiful and all the women are thin. That’s part of the reason they’ve been chosen to take part. And yet while I would happily see pageants go the way of the wooden clog, I think Love Island is a valuable part of the cultural lexicon.

Why? The bikini was never the problem.

The female contestants of Love Island spend the entire series in bikinis Credit: ITV Picture Desk /Joel Anderson

Beauty pageants celebrate values that I don’t believe we should push on women. Sweetness. Placidity. Respectfulness. Let’s face it, can you imagine Miss America winning the contest – bikini or no bikini – after shouting ‘we need gun control’ and bearing an unshaved armpit?

The women on Love Island can win the competition through being real people. Just look at last year’s runner up Camilla if you need proof. She’s a bomb disposal expert who used her time on Love Island to talk about the meaning of feminism and the ways in which women still don’t have equality. Shocker - she managed all that while wearing fake eyelashes and a bikini.

If you win a pageant, you’re usually contracted to the organiser. You have to dress, act and behave in a specific way. You operate under the umbrella of an organisation who profit from you.

If you win Love Island you can do whatever you want. Every clothing line, beauty product and Instagram post belongs to you. Yes, you might be wearing a bikini but to quote the oldest adage in feminism, it’s your bikini, your body, your choice.

So while I think it’s sweet that Miss America feels a bikini-free, more feminist pageant will keep the outdated institution going, they’re wrong. I think young women in 2018 want more than being expected to pose with one leg in front of the other. And my inner teenage self agrees.