With the announcement that Miss America will be removing the swimsuit competition (#byebyebikini) and changing the evening gown competition, I've been thinking about my time in pageantry a lot this week. I've mostly been thinking about the conversation surrounding the swimsuit competition, pageantry in the public eye, and my own interesting journey with wearing a bikini on stage. It seemed, though, that most of my negative experiences regarding swimsuit came from those not in the judge's chairs, but backstage or behind their computer screens.
I will never forget when, at my first state Miss South Dakota pageant standing backstage in my swimsuit, another contestant looked me in the eye and told me I would never win the crown because "Your boobs are too big and they won't pick that".
I remember before that preliminary swimsuit competition, ten minutes after that comment, wiping a tear before I stepped on that stage. I felt like my body didn't belong. I still haven't forgotten that feeling 6 years later.
Over and over I've heard comments ranging from the above (born with it, sorry), to commentary on my athletic build (I ran Division I track in college), to the fact that I'm 5'6" and not 5'10, etc. etc. etc. Some said to my face by directors, contestants or strangers, and some on those nasty online anonymous forums.
I've never spoken about a lot of this criticism before, and I'm choosing to now because I know I'm not alone in what I've been told.
I'm choosing to share now because this very criticism in the world of pageantry truly helped me to realize that the naysayers have nothing to do with how positive, successful, and hardworking I choose to be. Not just in a silly pageant, but in my personal life and professional career. I doubt, though, that these naysayers will quiet down about pageantry despite saying goodbye to the bikini.
I loved the swimsuit competition and pageantry because even though I heard every negative comment in the book about my physical appearance, year after year, I chose to prove those voices wrong. And... I could probably out talk them in the private interview, anyway.
I learned to be healthy and to be confident in the body I was given. I won preliminary swimsuit awards, interview awards, talent awards, Miss South Dakota 2013, Miss South Dakota USA 2017 and competed on both the Miss America and Miss USA stages, despite being 5'6", having a "thick/athletic/not feminine/etc" body type (whatever. I'm happy with me!), and being told I was wrong for the pageant stage every single year I chose to compete. That is not an exaggeration.
I competed anyway. I loved the swimsuit competition anyway. I loved my body and build and bettered myself through health and fitness anyway. I proved everyone wrong and won anyway.
Perhaps the problem isn't with the swimsuit competition or pageantry or the women who compete, but with those that feel it is their place to tell you you don't belong, you are different, you will never succeed, you are not relevant in today's world. That doesn't just happen to women who compete in pageants, but women, the LGBTQ community, people of different races or religions, and so many more populations across the world each day. These people who ostracize or judge others are the problem, not bikinis.
The quick fix of removing swimsuits from the Miss America stage most likely isn't going to change this commentary. And, really, why can't I have substance, intelligence, AND wear a swimsuit if I want to?
Will taking out the swimsuit competition actually change the way conversation around pageantry exists?
Just a few rambling thoughts. What if pageantry as a concept and competition isn't the problem and instead, the people who chose to mock and insult the women competing are?