Before my fellow swimmers and I jump into the lap lane, we exit the locker room and do a strut across the pool deck like we are contestants in a swim suit competition. There is a window around the pool full of parents and children watching their child or sibling learn to swim. We hope they will glance at us, just for a second to acknowledge our swimwear and physical fitness.
Even though many of my fellow swimmers and I are not in the shape that we were when we were 20 years old, we all like to parade in front of the onlookers.
When it was announced that the Miss America pageant was discontinuing the swimsuit competition, I felt sad and nostalgic for the days when contestants were able to wear one piece bathing suits and there was much more body diversity.
I have always liked the fact that physical fitness was part of the competition. However, I was alarmed at the extreme thinness that has taken over the competition in recent years and that the only swimwear allowed is a skimpy bikini.
Rather than discontinuing the swimsuit competition, officials could have thought about a range of ways to judge fitness and conditioning, as well as opening up the competition to women of diverse body types.
Being a pageant watcher all my life, I know that many women feel confidence about the work that is involved in getting ready for the swimsuit competition. I heard one former contestant say that she felt empowered when she did her strut across the stage in front of millions of people. “Is there anything I can’t do after doing that,” she proclaimed.
This phase of the competition is a chance to show the power and strength of a woman’s body. If we think that the swimsuit competition is bad, at what point are we colluding with a culture that says women’s bodies are destructive and toxic.
The pageant had a golden opportunity to rethink the competition as they are trying to be more sensitive to our cultural climate.
Officials said that the bathing suit competition has been their Achilles heel over the years.
However, what if they had let the contestants have some say in how they demonstrate a healthy mind and body? Maybe the organization could have come up with a range of ways to show this, including swimwear. This would also be in line with having more diversity in body types and cultural backgrounds.
I am disappointed that bathing suits are out of the competition and like many controversies, I don’t think we can decide if this previous phase of the competition is objectifying or empowering.
However, I feel that the pageant missed an opportunity to rethink this important part of the competition.
Well….it is time for me to take my swim.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.