SHERIDAN — Saturday marked the last year for the lifestyle and fitness — commonly known as “swimsuit” — portion in the Miss Wyoming competition. The Miss America Organization decided to eliminate the portion this year to focus more on the contestants’ talents and intelligence.
Miss America 2019 — which will be held Sept. 9, 2018, in Atlantic City, New Jersey — will be the first year in the competition’s nearly 100-year history without the swimsuit portion.
Instead of walking in a bikini and heels, “each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life, and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America,” the organization said in a press release earlier this month.
The evening gown competition will also get revamped this year. Rather than walking out in a dress, competitors will wear an outfit of their choosing and speak about their social platforms.
Miss America began in 1921 as a swimsuit pageant in Atlantic City but has evolved over time. The organization had considered ending the controversial swimsuit portion dating back to the early 1990s but didn’t choose to do so until this year.
The decision sparked a variety of opinions among Miss Wyoming contestants, from sadness to embrace of the change, with plenty of thoughts in between.
Miss Wyoming 2017 Cheyenne Buyert said she completely disagreed with the change, though she did still support the organization.
“We loved that (portion) and we saw it for more than just a woman in a bikini,” Buyert said. “It kind of felt like a stab in the back.”
Logen Livingston competed Saturday in Miss Wyoming’s Outstanding Teen 2018 contest — in which swimsuit is not included — and said the decision means there is a much higher chance she will compete for Miss Wyoming in the future. She would not have competed if the swimsuit portion was kept.
“I think that swimsuit is just — it’s to look at their bodies and that’s not what I’m about for pageants,” Livingston said. “I think it’s a scholastic event and I want to win scholarships and do that kind of stuff, but I wasn’t really into [swimsuit]. So I think them getting rid of the swimsuit competition will definitely open up an opportunity for me to compete.”
The six competitors in Miss Wyoming 2018 had varying thoughts on the subject.
Miss Natrona County Victoria Kelbert said it was “a little devastating” when she heard about the decision.
“That was very difficult for me because [the swimsuit portion] was something that made me want to join the Miss America Organization in the first place,” Kelbert said. “I have been dealing with a bunch of self-image issues and I felt that it was time to step out and say, ‘I’m ready to do this.’”
Miss University of Wyoming Emily Calzolari shared similar sentiments.
“I’m sad to see it go, because I can’t think of any other opportunity in my life to be able to strut my stuff on stage, regardless of what I’m wearing,” Calzolari said.
Miss Sheridan County Julie Tritschler said she was on the fence.
“It was definitely a shock when I heard about it,” Tritschler said. “I do think that it is a good thing that they took it away, whether it be forever or momentarily, to go ahead and focus on the girls’ brains versus their bodies. I know that’s what they say they do, but taking it away kind of proves it to the public a little more.”
Miss Wyoming 2018 and former Miss Northeast Wyoming Becky Bridger will be among the first group of Miss America contestants to not compete in the swimsuit portion. She had similarly ambivalent thoughts.
“For a long time I was really excited about it,” Bridger said of the decision. “But after being in the pageant and realizing how confident I felt and how much work I put toward being in my swimsuit on stage, I kind of am sad to see it go.”
Miss Laramie Jordan Hardman expressed sadness as well but said she knew why the decision was made.
“It’s so crazy to me, honestly,” Hardman said. “It kind of breaks my heart, but I also understand why they’re doing it.”
Hardman also said the decision sparked misconceptions among those not directly involved in the competition, a refrain echoed by several contestants.
“I feel like the message isn’t out there the way it should be,” Hardman said. “It’s called, ‘lifestyle and fitness,’ not ‘swimsuit,’ so it’s just trying to show everybody that we’re healthy people and that we’re not trying to walk around in a swimsuit and heels all the time.”
“We’re hearing a lot of opinions from outside people,” Kelbert said. “You will hear a lot of opinions from inside people who are very devastated about it, and those are the girls [who] really matter because they are the ones that want to compete.”
On the administrative side, Miss Wyoming Scholarship Organization Vice President Patricia Caywood said she was fine keeping or getting rid of the swimsuit portion, which accounts for a small percentage of a contestant’s final score. She said the more important thing is how competitors carry themselves.
“In the organization, we don’t feel that it’s that big of an issue,” Caywood said.
“What people perceive it as is not why we do it. The way a girl can carry herself in front of thousands of people is what the whole perception is when it comes to swimsuit. It’s not a skinny girl in a suit. It’s how she can promote herself onstage in front of a crowd.”
The Miss America contest will look different in September, to the dismay of some competitors and happiness of others, but the organization still seems to have strong support from within.