From Beauty to Brains: What Does Miss America’s New Strategy Mean for The Pageant Industry?


What does it mean to be Miss America? And in a #metoo #timesup world, do we need to revisit the entire concept?

Although the words “beauty pageant” may bring to mind heavily made up faces, glittering gowns and skimpy swimsuits, according to Chairwoman of Miss America Board of Directors [and SWAAY investor], Gretchen Carlson, the time has come for those same two words to remind young women, instead, to celebrate their uniqueness and follow their professional aspirations.

Photo courtesy of Jessielyn Palumbo

“Everyday when I travel this country I meet somebody who has participated in this [the Miss America] program ... who benefited from [the competition’s scholarship prize] and became lawyers and doctors and members of Congress,” Carlson said on Good Morning America. “We want more women to know they are welcome in this organization.”

Carlson, who today announced that the Miss America pageant would be scrapping its bathing suit and evening gown competitions in favor of a focus on substance and inclusivity, is changing the face of the competitive “beauty” industry. Crowned Miss America in 1989, Carlson also announced that the event would no longer be known as a “pageant” but rather a “competition,” where contestants would be encouraged to wear “whatever makes them feel empowered” and reflects self expression. According to Carlson, the move isn't meant to take away the glamorous portion of the event, but rather put emphasis on judging by a more empowering criteria.

"We aren't getting rid of the evening gown category!," Carlson told SWAAY. "We are simply not judging on a candidate's physical appearance in evening attire. The difference is that candidates will have a choice of what kind of evening attire they will wear -- what makes them feel most self confident. That may still be a glamorous evening gown! We love the idea of the discipline it takes for young women (any women!) to be physically fit -- and we applaud that -- we just aren't judging on that anymore."

With the goal of encouraging more young women to enter the 97-year old event, Carlson, also the first to win a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox CEO Roger Ailes in 2016, wants to make it clear that winning the title of Miss America will no longer be centered on looks.

When asked what would take the place of the bathing suit portion of the show, Carlson tells SWAAY: "We are still finalizing competition elements but some sort of interactive interview live on stage with the judges so the judges and the viewing audience gets to know the substance of the candidates more," says Carlson.

Another goal with the event's new programming, to be sure, is to highlight the fact that the Miss America contest has been historically designed to help women pursue educational and career ambitions.

“We have always had talent and scholarship and we need to message that part of the program better,” Carlson said on GMA. “But now we are adding in this new caveat that we’re not going to judge you on your outward appearance because we are interested in what makes you you. Tell us about your goals and achievements in life and by the way at the end of the day we hand out scholarships to these women.”

But isn’t the pageant based, at least partly, on outward appearances? Some former titleholders and current competitors think so, and are adamant that the appreciation of physical beauty does not detract from, but instead enhances the program’s mission of female empowerment. According to Jessielyn Palumbo, Miss New Jersey USA 2016 (not part of the Miss America pageant system), wearing a bikini on stage actually celebrates femalekind and all the body shapes within it.

“How are bodybuilding competitions, and the Victoria’s Secret show acceptable in today’s society, yet pageantry is still looked down upon?” - Jessielyn Palumbo

“My favorite part of the competition was the bathing suit competition, I never felt more empowered,” Palumbo tells SWAAY. “Why should I feel ashamed of my body? I worked hard and was proud of my dedication & healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, it was a chance to embrace different body types of the contestants, and display that we are all strong. My fit is not the same as another contestant's fit, yet we both lead a healthy life.”

She goes on to say: “Unless you have competed in pageants, or know someone that has, you will never understand the true value of them. People automatically assume ‘beauty pageants are sexist’ and ask ‘why do they even exist?’ Pageants are established to find an incredible woman who is determined to make a difference in the world; someone who is well-rounded in every category which includes intelligence, personality, confidence, healthy lifestyle, and yes poise. Why is that so bad?

Another title-holder, Veanna Johnson, similarly expressed the opinion that cutting the swimsuit competition actually makes the pageant seem less inclusive, as it subcounsly tells women who aren’t a size 0 that they should not be wearing bikinis. Miss Georgia USA 2017 took to the social media waves to say: “I’m sorry but why in order to be inclusive of all sizes do they have to cut the bikini competition? Why not just be inclusive of all sizes...They do know curvy girls wear swimsuits too right?”

On the other side of the coin, women like Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, are siding with Carlson, underscoring the belief that being a representative for the Miss America Organization has nothing to do with physical beauty. Although incidentally gorgeous, Davuluri- the first woman of Indian descent to win the crown- is also an avid supporter of racial inclusivity, gender parity and STEM education.

“Since my time serving as #MissAmerica and beyond, I’ve been fortunate to experience many proud moments in my career & recognition for my advocacy work [sic],” wrote Davuluri on her Instagram page. “My swimsuit score had nothing to do with any of them. Today, the @MissAmerica organization moves into an era where we focus on inclusivity & empowerment by emphasizing what truly matters: substance within. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this evolution.”

Initially presented as a “bather’s review,” the Miss America contest began in Atlantic City as the “Inter-City Beauty Contest.”

Echoing the sentiment was Miss America contestant, Maddie Steele who wrote: “They made the decision hoping the girls who don't fit in the typical pageant size would be encouraged to join the sisterhood of Miss America. Maybe women have expressed that they wish they could compete but weren’t comfortable wearing a swimsuit and heels on stage, which is absolutely fair.”

As the focus on the show moves from entertainment to empowerment, CNN reports that viewership is plummeting. To wit, last year’s Miss America pageant had 5 million viewers, while “a few decades ago” it was 85 million. Critics of the move away from gowns and bathing suits believe that taking away more of show’s entertainment value will only continue to negatively impact its popularity among an audience in search of a glittery show.

“Although I think their heart was in the right place, I see this change as the beginning of the end in pageantry,” continues Palumbo. “Viewers of Miss America tune into the pageant not only to see incredibly talented women, but to also see the diversity and fashion. The swimsuit and evening gown portions of the competition are part of the tradition. I think the organization is changing itself to appease to people who will never be pro-pageants. Meanwhile, they’re losing their existing fan base.”

Initially presented as a “bather’s review,” the Miss America contest began in Atlantic City as the “Inter-City Beauty Contest.” Back in 1921 when the competition was first launched, event organizers had to wager for a temporary suspension of a ban on swimsuits in order to crown “America’s most beautiful bathing girl.” At the time, modesty laws dictated not even men could go shirtless on the beach in Atlantic City. The evolution from there saw skimpier swimsuits, lower necklines and higher bikini lines, and, when in 1997 the first bikini was worn on stage, it became the standard bearer for all future competitions. Since then, of course, the focus on women's body's and what many view as innattainable physical ideals has become more and more evident. Critics of the bathing suit competition have called it everything from "tacky" to "dangerous," while its supporters call it "empowering" and "body-celebrating."

So, the question remains: two piece bikini — empowerment tool or distraction device?



How This Twice Bankrupt Founder Built Herself Up To A $240M Net Worth

Nobody knows what it's like to be sh*t out of luck like Suzy Batiz. Maybe that's why her million-dollar idea was a spray to stop your sh*t from stinking.

Yes, this woman is on a mission to keep your bathroom dos (and don'ts) on the DL, and she is doing it all with a hefty dose of personal philosophy and spirituality. It's hard to pick just one place to start with a maverick like Batiz. Though, maverick doesn't quite do her justice.

We could talk about her early life, growing up poor in Arkansas with two parents struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Or we could discuss her two bankruptcies and a lifelong history of failed hustles and side-hustles. Then there's her personal life; she's been divorced twice, has three kids, and is a survivor of abuse. You could say she's been through some sh*t. (Okay, the poop jokes end here, I swear.) If this all sounds too crazy to believe already then you better stop reading now because it gets wilder. This woman is all that and then some.

But, there's no time like the present, so I guess we'll start there.

Suzy Batiz is one of the richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $240 million. She's currently working on uplifting other business owners and creative-thinkers with her personal and professional philosophy of "alive ideas" as well as running her own companies, Supernatural, a 100% natural cleaning product company, and Poo~Pourri, the famous odor-eliminating toilet spray line that started it all with a bang (or a plop). (Okay, now the poop jokes are really done.)

Poo-Pourri's first commercial, which has now garnered almost 50 million views since its release in 2013, absolutely blew away viewers with its hilariously crass yet poetic verbiage surrounding this lovely woman's "cavernous bowels." Even I remember first seeing it almost seven years ago. Though I wasn't even sure if it was a real product at first. I was so busy laughing that I almost missed the line: "Yes, it is a real product. And yes, it really works." No one but Batiz could have thought up an idea so new, so wild, and at the same time so deeply necessary for people everywhere. It seems that poop is the market's natural equalizer.

(Seriously though, how good is this commercial?)

She's reached some of the highest peaks of success when it comes to consumer goods, but Batiz's newest venture asks people to turn inward and evaluate their thoughts and personal processes to support a culture of deeply conscious creation. Alive Ideas represents all of the lessons in both entrepreneurship and spirituality that Batiz has learned firsthand. Because, for her, the entrepreneurial and the spiritual are often one and the same. In her own words:

"Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out."

She takes this marriage of philosophies very seriously and infuses it into every level of her business, offering her employees training in transcendental meditation (a non-negotiable daily activity for Batiz) and Headspace app subscriptions. Batiz knows that good work has to start from the inside out, and that's why she's so keen to share this philosophy with the world and help other people realize that, too. That's what this new enterprise is all about.

Alive ideas are those twinges of inspiration that you can feel in every inch of your being — the ones that are just bursting to take shape in the world. Take Poo-Pourri as a perfect example, it was something that no one could have expected. A product that needed to exist, but a need that had never before been conceptualized (let alone actualized) by anybody. Until Batiz, that is.

Suzy Batiz

She's always been a "natural creator," so it's only natural that her current state of being revolves around bringing to life new ideas and products. But even that could only have come about through what she describes as the "luxury of losing everything."

It took 38 years and a lifetime of both personal and professional hardships before Batiz was ready to call it quits. After all the hustles, there was just no hustle left in her.

So she took a four-year spiritual sabbatical, during which she realized that she'd spent her entire life thus far "selling out" and "making deals" for all the wrong reasons. "Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it!" That was what really set her off. "It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing." There's those alive idea's she's talking about!

Suzy Batiz is the antithesis of your stereotypical entrepreneur. She wears flowing skirts, makes poop jokes, and has the vibe of a fun-loving guru. She basically spent her entire life trying (and failing) to find success through financial means, only to lose everything and then some. It took hitting rock bottom to realize that she needed to start fresh. It was only once she'd chucked all of the typical toxic motivators out the window that her real genius could shine through all the bullsh*t.

Full Interview Transcript

1. How would you describe your climb from growing up, to bankruptcy, to millionaire? And how does it feel to have come so far?

I grew up in Arkansas very poor, with a mother that was depressed on pain pills and a father that was a bipolar alcoholic. From an early age, I had the impression that money was my way out. If I could just make money, I would be somebody and I would mean something in the world.

By the time I was 22, I'd already been married, bankrupt (for the first time), divorced and attempted suicide. Shortly after that, I met and married a wealthy man who turned out to be abusive. I clawed my way out of that terrible situation to find myself divorced again and homeless with two boys under the age of 2. I continued to work multiple jobs and soon met my ex-husband of 26 years. He was a drummer who didn't have much to offer aside from his love at the time, which sounded like a dream after the last situation I was in. I constantly hustled and side hustled, but all my business ventures typically ended in failure. At 38 years old, I lost funding for a dot com recruiting platform that I'd invested our life savings into, leading to my second bankruptcy and what I call "the luxury of losing everything".

I vowed to leave business behind entirely and went on a four-year spiritual sabbatical. I looked back and realized that I'd spent my whole life husting, selling out and making deals that felt wrong in order to get something I thought I wanted. Basically, I'd lost it all and didn't even have a good time doing it! This is when everything changed for me. It was only when I changed my mindset to only follow ideas that lit me up that the real success started flowing. I was no longer living for external validation, but rather from the inside out. Ironically, it was once I'd sworn off business and chasing money that my success and wealth came.

2. You seem to be innately entrepreneurial person, was there any moment or experience in your life that made you really think: "This is what I have to do."

I've always been a natural creator. Growing up we had very little, so if I wanted a new outfit for my Barbie, I'd sew it myself. I've always had that spirit in me — but at one point I actually believed I was the worst entrepreneur in the world. I had more than a dozen failed businesses and two bankruptcies by the time I was 38, so I swore off business altogether. It wasn't until I realized chasing money and success wasn't making me happy and I did my internal work that Poo~Pourri was born.

A few years later, a friend of mine was interviewing and asked how I knew which ideas to follow — how could I tell which ones would turn out to be successful? The question piqued my interest. I realized it had nothing to do with the analytical or rational reasons a business should succeed. Rather, I remembered the feeling in my body when I first got the idea for Poo~Pourri. I felt a zing up my left arm, I got chill bumps, it felt like everything went into hi-def and I had so much energy to research and create because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. My curiosity continued and I had a conversation with Dr. Bruce Lipton to ask him a burning question: Can ideas be alive? His answer, in short, was: absolutely! He said that everything, including thoughts and ideas, has energy, and "every living thing is seeking more life-force energy." This was my aha moment. When I focused on ideas that gave me energy, that felt ALIVE, they turned out to be more resilient and successful. I followed the breadcrumbs of what made me feel alive and it's led me to here — what a wild ride!

3. What drives you to keep moving forward in life and in business after all the success you've attained thus far?

My ultimate goal is to reach my highest evolution in this lifetime. I strive to be lit up daily in my personal and business life and follow only things that resonate (though it's a practice and I misstep all the time). I love bringing alive ideas into physical form, and my businesses are those manifestations. I truly believe that I was lucky enough to have the luxury of losing everything. I know that at any time I can lose it all, and if that happens, I want to make sure I can look back and know I had a damn good time.

4. A lot of people feel that there is a big disconnect between capitalism and spiritually, but you seem to have found a sweet spot for both yourself and your business ventures. How closely intertwined is your spirituality with your entrepreneurial ventures? And why?

I don't think of things as being a part of my work life or a part of my personal spiritual life. It's all the same for me. Your external reality is just a reflection of your internal reality, so you have to do your personal work to shift from the inside out. Daily transcendental meditation is my number-one non-negotiable. Starting my day with space to clear out the noise of the outside world has been just as essential for my business as it has for my personal wellness. I share this gift with Poo~Pourri employees as well by offering TM training and Headspace app subscriptions and providing only healthy fuel and snacks in the office so we are all operating at optimal levels.

I also believe that there's nothing wrong with wanting money and success. Who wouldn't? But where I've found the most impact is in my actions. If I'm doing something or chasing an idea only to get money, it doesn't come. When I do my internal work and follow what's resonant because it feels good within my being, wouldn't you know that's when the money flows.

5. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self that you'd one day be one of America's richest self-made women by way of selling poop products, how do you think you'd react?

I'd lose my shit and probably laugh in your face because it would be so far beyond what I could have imagined. When I was little, I had the dream of working in a factory or at the post office because those were steady and consistent jobs. I wouldn't have ever even known to dream of being the one to finally break a pattern of generational poverty.

Breaking these types of patterns, the ones that are outdated and no longer serve us, is a huge passion of mine. I've got the world comfortable talking about shit, now what else can we get people to talk about?