In 1951, 26 women dressed themselves in bikinis and floated down the River Thames on a barge as part of Eric Morley’s attempt to raise both money and spirits in the devastation of World War II. Garnering the attention of the press and the public, the spectacle of beautiful woman was a major success, thus giving birth to the Miss World competition.
The organizers of the annual, iconic Miss World pageant have announced plans to eliminate the swimsuit segment of the competition, citing lack of purpose as the reason. Julia Morley, the chairman of the pageant, first announced the decision to members of the Miss World board of directors during the competition last week in London, reports The Washington Post.
"The organization has decided to take itself out of the swimsuit world because it isn't the path they're trying to take," said Chris Wilmer, the national director of Miss World America/Miss United States organization, in a statement to ABC News. "It's not just a beauty contest, it's beauty with a purpose. There didn't seem to be a purpose to have the swimsuit."
Accordingly, Wilmer is keen that, in the future, the pageant shouldn't just be based on appearance. "Miss World should be a spokesperson who can help a community. She's more of an ambassador, not a beauty queen," Wilmer continued, The Washington Post also reported. "It's more about the outreach and what a woman could do with a title like Miss World."
To promote her values, Julia Morley, wife of the competition’s founder, began Beauty with a Purpose, the service element of Miss World, in 1974. This part of the competition has helped to divert attention away from the more superficial side of the competition and raised over $1 billion for charity.
Also significant to Morley’s cause is the fact that in recent years, the bathing suit competition has been held immediately before the finale, and the women were judged privately by a modesty panel rather than during a live broadcast. During the competition, most women even opt to wear one-piece suits or to wrap scarf around their waist rather than pose in a skimpy bikini. "We don't want to just make them feel like they are walking bodies, you know?" Morley says.
The Miss World team’s decision to remove the swimsuit portion of the competition is certainly significant to current discussions about the objectification of the female body in media and popular fashion shows, like the recent Victoria’s Secret show, which, according to Vogue, receives much heat for its exploitation of female sexuality and promotion of unrealistic body types each year.
While Miss World’s revolutionary move to focus less on a woman’s physical features and more on her mind has already received a great deal of positive response from feminist groups, it is uncertain whether or not other popular beauty competitions will follow suit. Donald Trump’s The Miss Universe pageant, for example, places a strong emphasis on the swimsuit element of the pageant, Elle reports. Further, it does not include an interview or a service element to the competition: it is entirely based upon physical appearance.
Morley speaks for many women when she says she does not miss the days in which the female body was so blatantly put up for display. “I don’t need to see women just walking up and down in bikinis,” she told Elle. “It doesn’t do anything for the woman. And it doesn’t do anything for any of us. … I don’t care if someone has a bottom two inches bigger than someone else’s. We are really not looking at her bottom. We are really listening to her speak.”
What do you think about Miss World’s decision to remove the swimsuit portion of the competition? Do you think other pageants will do the same? Do you think this will help or hurt the popularity of Miss World?