Miss Teen USA is no longer having a swimwear competition.
The news, first reported by USA Today, marks an unprecedented move. USA Today notes parent company Miss Universe is aiming to shift its brand image following WME/IMG’s purchase of the company from Donald Trump.
But swimsuit competitions have long been a part of beauty pageants, and one contestant slammed the show’s decision to nix it.
2010 Miss Teen USA winner Kamie Crawford told Insider that she was upset because it was a “part of tradition.”
“Removing it is sending a message that something is wrong with it, and there’s nothing wrong with it,” she said to Insider.
But it appears that a lot of consumers today might not agree with that statement. Aside from the fact grown adults judging the bodies of girls ages 14-19 in bikinis is downright weird and unnerving, the decision to eliminate swimwear is indicative of just how much Americans’ values are shifting. Wellness is a much more important priority now.
As further proof, Miss Universe president Paula Shugart said that the reason to ditch the category was to “celebrate women’s strength, confidence and beauty” in a better way, according to USA Today.
“This decision reflects an important cultural shift we’re all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same,” USA Today notes she wrote. “Our hope is that this decision will help all of Miss Teen USA’s fans recognise these young women for the strong, inspiring individuals they are.”
After all, teens today no longer feel the pressure to whittle their waists to get so-called “bikini bodies.” Companies like Aerie with its unphotoshopped #AerieREAL campaign have encouraged teens to celebrate their bodies as they are. There’s an often-cited platitude nowadays that says that you can attain a bikini body in two steps: 1) have a body, 2) put on a bikini. The implied emphasis is twofold: beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and true beauty comes from within.
Of course, “what’s inside” has never really been the heart of beauty pageants. Sure, there’s a desire to focus on education and bolstering women (as Miss America aims to do, for example) but at the end of the day, it’s still called a “beauty pageant.” And if we wanted to really talk about groundbreaking shifts, we’d be seeing a bigger variety of body types on the pageant stage — which isn’t what’s happening here.
What is happening here is that rather than just eliminating this component of the competition, it’s replacing it with an activewear section. After all, if Miss Teen USA isn’t showing off women frolicking in bikinis, it can sell a different point of view that jibes with contemporary women’s values: strength, power, and wellness.
As I’ve written before, the dieting industry has experienced a massive shift as consumers focus on wellness rather than thinness. As a result, many traditional “dieting” companies have seen sales suffer — people want healthy food (think: avocados, olive oil) and not processed snack replacements. But in turn, people are exercising more than ever, because the goal is to achieve health.
And along with that focus on wellness, we’ve seen activewear become one of the only sectors of the apparel industry to thrive (even if that’s not that much of a compliment given how poorly the apparel industry as a whole is doing). Morningstar analyst Bridget Weishaar recently wrote that one of the reasons activewear companies have convinced consumers to pay a premium for products is because in order to fulfil certain experiential activities (like a workout class), they need the apparel to do so.
“This fits with our belief that consumers now value experience over material goods, as performance-based apparel is used in activities,” she wrote.
Activewear is so profitable, that Victoria’s Secret has decided to totally ax its swimwear sector. In addition to turning the company into three core categories (lingerie, beauty, and its younger sister brand, Pink), it’s planning to zero in on its activewear sector.
Analyst and founder of consulting firm A-Line Partners, Gabriella Santaniello, explained to Business Insider in April how eschewing swimwear for activewear was a smart marketing move.
“It’s about not only being sexy, but being fit [and] strong …. Focusing on the athletic wear is a better fit for the total brand and their 360 vision of the brand than swim,” Santaniello said at the time.
It appears that Miss Teen USA is trying to send a similar message.
But make no mistake: it’s also a savvy business move. Victoria’s Secret’s decision to switch gears means the company is betting on the fact that American consumers are putting their dollars into that market.
If American consumers are putting their money into activewear, then it makes sense for a pageant to show that, too. But perhaps more notably, it shows that activewear may very well be the new swimwear: though people will always need bikinis, it might be more attractive to show off one’s health by exercising and taking action.
And it’s a business move for Miss Teen USA, too.
“If they are looking to expand this is a very shrewd move. It’s consistent with the overall brand and message the new owners are talking about,” pagaent coach Valerie Hayes said to USA Today. “I think that it will cause more parents to be open to their daughters competing in a state or local Teen Miss USA pageant, because it’s been a concern of parents in the past.”
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