Editor’s note: The Miss America Organization recently announced several significant changes. The show will now be a “competition,” not a pageant, and will no longer feature swimsuits.
Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, said, “We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance.”
To get perspective on the change, we asked Kelly McCorkle Parkison to share her thoughts. Parkison was Miss South Carolina 2002 and placed in the top 15 at the 2003 Miss America pageant.
By Kelly Parkison
While Miss America started as a bathing beauty competition, the organization adopted requirements such as talent, interview skills, and community service long before the current social causes were en vogue.
The new competition format will allow the audience for the first time to see that Miss America is selected not based upon her physical appearance but rather upon her embodiment of the values of the organization.
During my time of competing in the Miss America Organization, I never once felt objectified as a woman. In fact, I felt quite the opposite—I felt empowered.
I was empowered to use the God-given gifts and desires He had placed in my heart to try to bring Him the most glory possible and to serve others in my community and state.
Even with the existence of the swimsuit competition, the focus of the Miss America organization was—and still is—to equip young women to positively impact our communities and to encourage women to achieve their highest educational goals through the awarding of scholarships.
My platform was learning disabilities awareness, as I was diagnosed with two learning disabilities at age 5. I had hoped to make the world aware that children born with these “hidden disabilities” are capable and valuable in God’s eyes but also valuable to our society.
Participation in pageants prepared me for my future. It provided scholarship funds to further my education and gave me valuable skills that I took into my job opportunities, which included working in the office of a U.S. congressman and in the development office at my alma mater, North Greenville University.
And I’m not alone. Many former contestants today are legislators, attorneys, doctors, teachers, CEOs, authors, missionaries, and incredible mothers and wives.
In addition to scholarships, the development of career skills, and the ability to raise awareness for learning disabilities, Miss America provided me with many opportunities to share the gospel. It was a mission field to me and I felt called to strategically use the opportunities the Lord granted me.
I hope in the same way the pageant empowered me to share my faith, the media attention surrounding the changes to Miss America will inspire our churches to engage in conversation about very real issues facing our society. It’s not about turning the swimsuit portion or the evening gown competition into a theological debate. Instead, this can spur us to recognize the value of women as a biblical issue.
The Bible is clear that women were created in God’s image and that He values all lives. We grieve our Heavenly Father’s heart when we look at women as anything less.
The problem of objectifying women is much deeper than portions of a pageant. We face sex trafficking, rape culture, pornography, and much more. To make true progress, we must dedicate ourselves to standing against all the ways the devaluing of women can be seen in our world.
KELLY PARKISON (@KellyParkison) is a pastor’s wife, stay-at-home mom to five kids, and author of He Knows Her Name: A Relentless Pursuit to Adopt from India.