In 2018, Miss America announced a few changes designed to drag it into the 21st century.
For a start, it would no longer be judging contestants based on their appearance and wanted to be considered a competition, rather than a "pageant". The swimsuit section was swapped out for an interview segment where contestants explained why they deserved the role of Miss America. The evening gown contest was also jettisoned. This new, supposedly more inclusive, version of the competition – which began in 1921 as a “bather’s revue” – was named “Miss America 2.0”.
Now the 2020 competition has been won by a biochemist from Virginia who wowed judges (including Kelly Rowland and Karamo Brown from Queer Eye) with an on-stage science experiment to clinch the crown.
Winner Camille Schrier, 24, is currently studying a doctorate in pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, with her win gifting her a $50,000 (£38,000) scholarship and a one-year reign as Miss America.
Schrier’s mantra throughout the contest was “Miss America needs to educate” and as Miss America, she plans to advocate for Mind Your Meds, a non-profit organisation that helps teens with substance abuse problems.
People are pretty happy about Schrier’s win, heralding it as a massive win for women in STEM and a step forward for the competition.
Can we talk about this?! A scientist wins Miss America 2020 👏👏 A role model for STEM and for girls and women in STE… https://t.co/tlE09YOgho
Which it undoubtedly is – but it’s worth noting that Miss America still carries the weight of its not-so-distant past on its shoulders.
For a start, despite the women no longer being explicitly judged on their personal appearance, they still very much all conform to conventional beauty standards.
And while the gown and swimsuit aspects may not be so prominent, it’s not like contestants are allowed to turn up in their sweatpants – Miss Virginia performed her winning experiment in a pair of towering high heels.
Mis America 2019 winner Camille Schrier demonstrating the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide
What’s more is an age limit still belies the roots of the contest – no women over 25 years old are allowed to compete.
The title is also a clue: “Miss” America implies singledom. And it enforces it; competitors for the crown can’t be married, pregnant or have children.
The runner-up for the 2020 title, Victoria Hill (Miss Georgia), even said that Miss America should not date or be in a relationship when questioned during the competition.
So perhaps we should hold off on celebrating Miss America as a bastion of women’s rights just yet?