If you’re a pageant aficionado, you’ve probably already heard that the Miss Teen USA Competition plans to trade the traditional swimsuit competition for a look they are describing as athleisure (that ‘I just left the yoga studio’ look every woman between the age of 15-45 is always wearing). Athleisure is a major fashion trend right now; as a physical therapist and yoga instructor, I am a huge fan!
When asked about the decision, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) cites this change is designed to “celebrate women’s strength, confidence and beauty” as well as celebrate “women who lead active, purposeful lives.” How do I read that? I comprehend that to mean that the MUO is looking for real women and girls, which is a marked change from the typical supermodel look they have crowned in the past. To give you an idea, as I was being prepped to compete at Miss USA, I was told that the MUO looks first at body, then face, then hair. At the end of the day, Miss USA and Miss Universe have always been a true contest of aesthetic beauty. The fact that they are changing the focus is a great, yet confusing turn of events.
All in all, I am 100% supportive of this change from competing in swimsuits to competing in athletic wear, especially for the teen contestants. In a society where women (and girls) are already over-sexualized at an uncomfortably young age, I find athletic wear to be much more age-appropriate than expecting a 14 year old—and her parents--to be comfortable walking on stage in a bikini and heels (when I was 14, I didn’t even own high-heeled shoes). At 14, I spent four or more hours a day in a cheerleading gym and while I was in fantastic shape, I certainly didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model. Everyone’s ‘healthy’ looks different, so I would love to see the organization embrace ALL body types.
However, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. While the MUO is boasting a competition that celebrates an active lifestyle, they could also just put a supermodel body type in athletic clothing and call her fit. Although I have been successful in pageants (I have competed on both the Miss America and Miss USA stage), I have always struggled with the criticism of those that say I am too muscular. As a healthcare professional, I could write a narrative about the science behind different body types, but I doubt it would be read. Long story short, I can look at a dumbbell and my muscles bulk, while the contestant next to me has done 50 squats a day with no evidence of muscle activity.
I would love to see a contestant with an athletic build take home a national title in the world of pageantry, but it has yet to happen. Perhaps the Miss Teen USA Organization will embrace the “strong is the new skinny” movement, or maybe the MUO is simply pulling the wool over our eyes to capitalize on a trend and appeal to a broader audience. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Miss Teen USA Pageant on July 30 to find out. . .