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SALT LAKE CITY — Though Meganne Ferrel felt she was a good candidate for the position of Miss Utah when she competed for the title in 2017, she was repeatedly told it was impossible to win if she didn’t wear a bikini.
“Since this was against what I wanted to do from a religious standpoint, I had to sacrifice my chance for the title so that I could uphold that. I was happy to do that, but … I feel like (the swimsuit competition) was outdated,” she said.
Though she believes the Miss America pageant system can help empower young women, the swimsuit portion conflicted with that ideology, Ferrel said. When Miss America chairwoman Gretchen Carlson announced Tuesday morning that the nationwide Miss America pageant would officially retire the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, Ferrel was ecstatic with the changes.
“One of the tenets of modern feminism is that we should not be viewed as objects — which is actually one of the popular platforms that young women chose to promote during their term — but rather that we should be valued for who we are as people and not for our bodies. But that is not what is shown in actions by walking around stage in a swimsuit,” she said.
Though Ferrel said she was willing to "walk around stage in a swimsuit" because she strongly believes in the focus of the pageant system, she is glad the organization is now moving toward a “more modern evaluation of excellence.”
While the Miss America organization confronts a harassment scandal and tries to find its place in the #MeToo era, the institution has decided to end a focus on outward appearance and focus more on talents, intelligence and ideas.
Instead of the swimsuit and evening wear competitions, the pageant contestants will wear something that makes them feel confident, shows their personal style and reflects how they hope to advance the title of Miss America.
“We want more women to know that they are welcome in this organization,” Carlson said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday.
The changes will not take effect until the Miss America competition in September, however, and the Miss Utah pageant will still host its last-ever swimsuit and evening wear events during the pageant that ends June 16 at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City.
“As a state, we’re very excited about the changes because we think it’s very forward-thinking and will make the program more relevant for more girls in America that are interested in winning scholarship money and making changes in their community,” said former Miss Utah and pageant communications director Whitney Thomas.
No title holder will ever represent their area in a swimsuit, and therefore it has no bearing on whether or not they are a good candidate.
–Meganne Ferrel, former Miss Utah contestant
The organization is looking forward to celebrating how far the contest has come and embracing the old ways “one last time,” Thomas said.
Yet some believe the swimsuit competition was about more than just showing off a woman’s body. Former Miss Utah Elizabeth Craig, who won the Miss America swimsuit competition in 1991, said the swimsuit portion can help girls focus on fitness and healthy living — something she’s seen in her own daughters since they’ve become a part of the program.
“It’s lifestyle and fitness, and I’ve seen both of my daughters evolve in really paying attention in how to take care of their bodies,” Craig said. “One of my daughters told me this morning, she said, ‘You know, Mom … because of that part of the competition, I really focused on how to feed my body properly, how to exercise and how to make it not just a crash diet or starvation to get onstage.’”
Craig believes, however, that the pageant board will look for other ways to assess physical and mental fitness and hopes these changes are a step forward in the right direction.
Ferrel knows they are.
“No title holder will ever represent their area in a swimsuit, and therefore it has no bearing on whether or not they are a good candidate,” she said.