Oped: Miss America pageant sheds more than bikinis

Michael Joe Murphy
Tribune News Service

When the Miss America Organization announced it would no longer include a swimsuit competition, perhaps the reaction of many people was: What took so long?

One part of the explanation for the change was that Miss America wanted a more inclusive competition to inspire more women, so the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board sought out Jazmin Diaz, the president/CEO of Queens for Queens, an organization devoted to unifying millennial women, for her perspective.

Q: Swimsuits are out, and Miss America "will no longer judge candidates on outward physical appearance." What do you think?

A: Like many others, I say: It's about damn time. The fact that the Miss America pageant is only now stating it will no longer judge candidates on outward physical appearance in 2018 is long overdue. As someone who grew up in a household where watching the Miss America pageant was a family event, I know that seeing women being praised for their looks on such a grand scale affected the way I looked at my own body.

Q: There's also a revamping of the "evening gown" parade, and Miss America will ask contestants to use their clothes to express their personal style. Isn't "personal style" awfully subjective? What do you expect?

A: The concept of "personal style" doesn't have to be subjective if the panel of judges remains open to what personal style may mean for each contestant. I would love to see women from each state implement customized details based on the state they're from. I'm talking head wraps, pant suits, hijabs and all of the real-life attire women wear to feel beautiful.

Q: How significant do you find it that the Miss America leadership is now all-female?

A: Like many organizations that are dedicated toward "uplifting women" but where men outrank women within leadership, I find it shocking that Miss America had been part of this ridiculous concept. If men were still the ones leading a pageant based on judging women (historically) for their appearance, it would feed into our society's history of sexualizing women _ not only on a physical scale but sexualizing the fact that women are competing for the male gaze and acceptance. Having women leading this organization can be a step forward toward women supporting women, and the world needs more of this kind of influence. It is not only a significant change, but my hope is that the women within the leadership committee can implement innovative changes toward how women can qualify to enter or win the Miss America contest.

Q: Do you think the #MeToo movement propelled the change? What other culture effects should we expect?

A: The power that we are seeing from the #MeToo movement is only the beginning. I can say that this movement among many others inspired me to launch my own organization, Q4Q. With that being said, women are now being recognized for having a voice, stepping outside of gender norms, and leading the way for the changes we have been dying to see, and because of this I believe we are more receptive and aware of women's issues. My hope is that women unapologetically express themselves without considering any type of societal backlash. Whether people like it or not, the world is valuing our thoughts, concerns and ideas now and for the days to come.

Q: Will the Miss America makeover sway many millennials you know? There is, after all, the lure of free college tuition.

A: If we were to take all of the requirements for one to enter a Miss America pageant and all of the requirements for someone to apply for scholarships, I'm certain Miss America would outrank any scholarship. Thankfully, the millennial generation is a part of the changes we're seeing within organizations like the Miss America pageant. Millennials are fixated on making a positive impact and change. I don't think millennials will be "lured" into participating in the pageant. I think they will be the ones who are changing it.