Contestants commend, criticize Miss America's swimsuit elimination

Miss New Jersey Kaitlyn Schoeffel (third from right) reacts as she is chosen as one of the finalists in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City on Sept. 10, 2017. The organization is now eliminating its swimsuit competition.

The Miss America Organization announced Tuesday that it would end its famed bathing suit competition, a decision that prompted a range of reactions from contestants, comedians and spectators.

Gretchen Carlson, the chair of the organization’s board of trustees, announced the move and other changes in a live interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“We are no longer a pageant, we are a competition,” she said. “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance.”

Carlson said the organization would shift its focus to competitors’ initiatives and work toward inclusivity, a move away from the event’s roots. The pageant began in Atlantic City in 1921 as “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl” competition. The winner, Margaret Gorman, became known as Miss America. By 1923, the event had more than 70 contestants and 300,000 spectators, according to the pageant’s website.

>> READ MORE: Gretchen Carlson was ‘the smart Miss America,’ but her swimsuit decision is really dumb | Opinion

Since the announcement, current and former contestants have been both commending and criticizing the organization’s new direction.

Heather Kendrick, who held the title of Miss Michigan 2017, praised the shift in an interview with MLive Media.

With the move, Kendrick said, “we are taking the focus off of physical appearance and on to what’s in our brains and what’s in our hearts, and that’s really what Miss America is and stands for.”

A’Leah Burrell, who will be competing in the Miss Georgia pageant next week, posted a tearful Facebook video that detailed her own struggles with body image. In the video, Burrell said she was “excited” to see more variation in the physical appearances of future contestants.

>> READ MORE: Former Miss America contestant: Girls like me don’t belong anymore 

My real and raw thoughts on the MAO swimsuit change. It's long, but I hope you'll watch!

Posted by A'Leah Burrell on Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Not everyone affiliated with Miss America is embracing the change, however. Carly Mathis, who held the Miss Georgia title in 2013, took to Instagram to express her disappointment.

“Not going to lie, I’m not happy about Miss America getting rid of swimsuit,” Mathis wrote to accompany a photo of herself participating in the competition. “But if I’m going to make my mark on history at least I did it looking like this.”

Miss Massachusetts 2016 Alissa Musto echoed Mathis’ dissatisfaction with the change.

“Some women find it empowering to go out there and compete in a bathing suit. A woman should be able to walk out on stage, on TV, in everyday life wearing whatever she wants,” she said in a statement to NBC Boston.

Other responses, meanwhile, centered on President Trump, who owned the Miss Universe Organization — a separate pageant organization — from 1996 until 2015.

Despite Trump’s lack of affiliation with Miss America, many Twitter users took the opportunity to make jokes referencing the president. Comedian Chelsea Handler made a veiled reference to accusations that Trump would enter contestants’ dressing rooms when he owned Miss Universe.

The organization’s new structure will be first implemented in the Sept. 9 Miss America competition, which determines who will wear the sash and crown in 2019.

>> READ MORE: Miss America sets next pageant date